Help! Our family of three loves our 2004 Subaru Legacy station wagon – low centre of gravity with the boxer engine, lots of room and, call me crazy, but I like the elongated lines of a station wagon over the CUV pod shape. Even the AWD is fun for those few snowy nights or drives home from the cottage in winter. We didn’t want the extra height and plastic bits of an Outback in 2004, and we certainly don’t buy into the more dangerous, higher, smaller, and more expensive CUVs now. I can't convince my wife (or the bank, I’m sure) that a Mercedes-Benz E350 wagon fits our budget. What is a station wagon-loving family to do? – David in Toronto
Cato: David, you’ve pinpointed what my colleague Justin Hyde calls “the global conspiracy to keep wagons out of Americans’ (and Canadians’) hands.” The nature of that conspiracy? As Woodward and Bernstein learned in All the Presidents’ Men, follow the money. You see, car companies can charge you more for a so-called sexy CUV (crossover utility vehicle) than a mundane station wagon.
Case in point: the last year Subaru Canada sold a Legacy wagon, back in 2009, the most expensive version listed for $30,495; the most expensive Outback topped out at $43,595.
Vaughan: Cato’s lost it. We get a simple question about a station wagon and he launches into global conspiracy rant, punctuated by a pop line from the 1970s. Now, David, are you certain about the opposition of wife and bank to the Mercedes? I love that E wagon.
Cato: First, let’s be fair here. After killing the Legacy wagon, Subie Canada lowered Outback prices. The most expensive version now lists for $38,495.
Vaughan: Still, $40,000-plus with taxes and fees. So, again, why not consider that E-Class wagon, one of the classiest things on four wheels? Solid as a tank; drives beautifully. The engine is a 3.5-litre, direct-injection V-6 at 302 horsepower.
Cato: There you go spending other people’s money. Did you notice the starting price?
Vaughan: Just north of 70 thou. I concede that might be a little excessive.
Cato: Twice that of a loaded Outback? Excessive? Or obscene?
Vaughan: We’re offending Cato’s socialist sensibilities, so the alternative is the new Mercedes B-Class – the Merc for the middle class.
The Mercedes B250 Sports Tourer is a refined little wagon with a 208-hp four-banger and an excellent seven-speed automatic. It starts at a far more reasonable $29,900.
There is no all-wheel-drive version, but most people never need it anyway, just good winter tires. One reason it wouldn’t work for me is that you can’t attach a trailer hitch to one, but that’s not a David necessity.
Cato: David, another thought is to wait for something interesting from Volvo, the Swedish Subaru. Recently at the New York auto show, Volvo shocked all of us with new model announcements – including a racy V60 wagon. Can’t say how much yet because it will be a 2014 model.
Vaughan: Finally something new for Volvo’s long-suffering dealers to sell. For their sake, David, perhaps you should wait.
Cato: Or take a look right now at Toyota’s Camry station wagon. Of course, Toyota doesn’t call it the Camry wagon; no, it’s called the Venza and it’s an excellent vehicle. You want AWD, David? You can get it in a Venza for $30,490, minus a $2,000 factory discount. Or take the zero per cent financing for five years. Reliable, functional, comfortable, not bad-looking …
Vaughan: When I first saw the Venza wagon, I didn’t really expect it to catch on. But you see these things on the road all the time. Toyota nailed the aging boomer market with it.
It certainly is comfortable and the basic 2.7-litre, four-cylinder, 182-hp engine is adequate. And you can buy two of them for less than the price of the Mercedes E-Class you lust for.
Cato: Now, David, I want to appeal to your “green” sensibilities. So a hybrid. Toyota’s Prius v is one option, but it’s under-powered. That brings us to Ford’s C-Max hybrid ($27,199). This Ford leaves the Prius v in its dust – 188 hp for the Ford versus 134 for the Toyota.
Vaughan: David didn’t say he wants a hybrid; though if he’s doing a lot of city driving, it might be a good idea. What I will say is the C-Max really performs. It can even run (briefly) on battery power alone, and up to nearly 100 km/h. If David wants to go green and does lots of stop-and-go, this could be for him. If it’s all cottage trips, then driving around with a load of batteries doesn’t make much sense.
Cato: In the end, it’s gotta be the Venza. Take it and the $2,000 Toyota has on the table.
Vaughan: The E wagon is my top choice, but if your budget puts you into the B-Class you won’t be disappointed. If you’re really hung up on all-wheel drive, then it’s Venza.
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HOW THEY COMPARE
|2013 Toyota Venza AWD base||2013 Mercedes-Benz B250 Sport Tourer||2013 Ford C-Max SE hybrid|
Track, front (mm)
|2.7-litre four-cylinder||2.0-litre four-cylinder, turbo||2.0-litre four-cylinder/hybrid electric drive with lithium ion battery pack|
|182/182 lb-ft||208/258 lb-ft||188/176 lb-ft|
|All-wheel drive||Front-wheel drive||Front-wheel drive|
|Six-speed automatic||Seven-speed automatic||CVT|
Curb weight (kg)
Fuel economy (litres/100 km)
|10.2 city/7.1 highway||7.9 city/5.5 highway||4.0 city/4.1 highway|
Base price (MSRP)
Source: car manufacturers
Jeremy Cato and Michael Vaughan are co-hosts of Car/Business, which airs Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. on Business News Network and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. on CTV.
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