What's a good wagon for a recovering SUV driver?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Dec 01, 2004

Dear Tom and Ray:

I know you guys don't like big SUVs, so you'll be glad to hear that we are downsizing from an SUV to a wagon. We are having trouble finding a wagon we like. We want something sporty, with some power. Consumer Reports recommends the Volvo wagon only. It is neither sporty nor powerful, and it looks like a box on four wheels. We like the Audi wagon, with its 250 horsepower and twin turbos, but Consumer Reports won't recommend it due to its lack of reliability. We haven't driven the Mercedes wagon yet, but it is low on horsepower and high on price. What would you recommend? -- Tom

RAY: What's with the power obsession, Tom? You know, there are other ways to combat hair loss -- minoxidil, for example.

TOM: If you don't like the looks of the Volvo, that's fine. But the V70 wagon has four optional engines, ranging from 168 to 300 horsepower. What's not powerful about that?

RAY: And actually, we find the 2.5-liter 5-cylinder turbo engine that makes 208 horsepower to be just right for that car.

TOM: Getting more power than you need usually just adds weight to the car, wastes your gas money and encourages you to drive like a knucklehead and wrap yourself around a tree. And I guess if you're going to drive like a knucklehead and wrap yourself around a tree, you might want to take another look at something nice and safe -- like that Volvo, Tom.

RAY: Fortunately, for recovering SUV drivers, there are lots of great wagons and sport wagons on the road now. But if the Volvo is too boring-looking for you and the Mercedes wagon is too expensive, you're a perfect candidate for a Dodge Magnum -- IF you can convince your wife to be seen in it.

TOM: Yeah. It does tend to drip testosterone, if you know what I mean. Especially the red ones. So, show her a nice, subdued silver one.

RAY: But it's a pretty nice car. It's got a chassis based on the previous-generation Mercedes E-class (Mercedes and Chrysler are part of the same company now). It's large, roomy, comfortable and available with all-wheel drive.

TOM: Reliability is unknown, so we can't give you any assurance there. But the price is right. With all-wheel drive and a 250-horsepower V-6 engine (like the one you wanted in the Audi), the Magnum starts at about 28 grand.

RAY: With the stupid engine ("That thing's got a Hemi?"), it's another four or five thousand bucks. Plus a wad of sawbucks every time you hit the gas pumps.

TOM: So, try it with the 3.5-liter V-6 engine, Tom. I think you'll find it's everything you need. And then you can spend the savings on a week at the Skip Barber Racing School -- and wrap HIS cars around a tree next to the track, where aggressive driving belongs.

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