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Mercedes-Benz E350 wagon.

Daimler AG/Mercedes-Benz

Jeremy and Michael: I will soon part with a VW Passat wagon that has served me well for a decade. I am looking for a replacement vehicle that will be practical (family of four with two teenagers carrying a lot of sports gear), fun to drive (hey, I am turning 50 soon) and fits in a normal-size parking spot (I don't want to be constantly worried about denting the car next to me when opening the doors). Put another way, I am looking for a mid-size vehicle with car-like driving dynamics, five doors, at least 900 litres of cargo space (without folding the back seat), decent mileage and good reliability. Left on my own, I would get the Mercedes E-Class wagon. But my accountant tells me I can only go so far as the low-$30,000s. What is available out there? I wish the Acura TSX sport-wagon was available to us in the great white north (and don't get me started about the infinite number of mid-size wagons car manufacturers think only Europeans want to drive). – Will in Chelsea, Que.

Vaughan: Well let's talk about Chelsea first. Chelsea is that beautiful Anglo part of Quebec just across the bridge from Ottawa and slightly north along the Gatineau River.

I know this place well, having lived there briefly in my misspent youth in a cottage (rented) on the river's edge. I know this neighbourhood.

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Our man Will is likely a federal civil servant with a gold-plated pension that will pay him out until death at the expense of the rest of us.

Cato: And your bilious ramble into yet another generalized attack on civil servants takes us where?

Vaughan: Well, you Cato, as a lower middle-class outcast from California, won't understand how well the highly paid, fully indexed pensioned civil servants in Chelsea live the high life. I tell you, if this guy wants a Mercedes E-Class wagon he can afford it with hardly a blip in his pension account.

Cato: So there we have it. Class warfare of the reverse kind. You elitist one-percenters resent Will and I and all the rest of the 99 per cent for making something of ourselves. I am tempted to pitch a tent on your front lawn and camp out with Michael Moore.

Vaughan: Cato, he says he's turning 50. That means its buy-out time for swivel servants. He has cash-for-life. He can buy whatever. He doesn't need our ramblings on budget-priced cars.

Cato: On a government pension? Nonsense.

But let's talk about cars. Look, there is a reason car companies don't bring in all those lovable wagons from Europe and the reason is they don't sell.

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Some examples. Dodge tried a wagon version of the Charger that might have been an option for Will – the Magnum. I think three people bought one. Chevy tried a wagon version of the last-generation Malibu and the Malibu Maxx arrived stillborn.

I can argue with plenty of Acura Canada's product decisions, but not the call on the TSX wagon. Will might be the only Canadian to buy one.

Vaughan: I have no problems with the E-Wagon Benz for a man of his means. This is a luxurious, solid as-a-bank-vault-on-wheels wagon. It's a highway cruiser of the highest degree. Our man can breeze up the 105 from his bank account in Ottawa to Old Chelsea for pennies a kilometre.

Cato: You think Will can afford an E350 V-6 with four-wheel-drive for $70,400? Then why not the AMG V-8 – all 518 horsepower of it – for $102,100?

Vaughan: Cato, you still don't get it. The pensioned-off swivel-servants are living in a class above us taxpayers.

I could be wrong. Our man Will could possibly be a long-suffering private sector wretch like us, but his address makes me think otherwise. Chelsea speaks volumes. For Will, I suspect, price is no object.

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Cato: You are not only insensitive to the plight of the 99 per cent, but also stubborn and not terribly helpful. As usual, I am left to do what the 99 per cent have always done – the hard work.

Will, one option is the Honda Accord Crosstour wagon and you can get a loaded one with all-wheel-drive at a number your accountant will approve: $36,900, not including discounts. Then I want you to test drive a Nissan Murano, the base model starting at $34,498, also with AWD.

Both are very handy wagons, pleasant to drive, reliable and they fit into your budget.

Vaughan: Will can afford the Benz and I'm sticking with it.

Cato: Of course you are. Don't be shocked to see Michael Moore and me barbequing on your front lawn.

HOW THEY COMPARE



2012 Mercedes-Benz E350 4MATIC wagon

2011 Nissan Murano S AWD

2011 Honda Accord Crosstour EX-L 4x4

Wheelbase (mm)

2,874

2,825

2,797

Length (mm)

4,854

4,823

4,999

Width (mm)

1,517

1,882

1,898

Height (mm)

1,427

1,702

1,670

Engine

3.5-litre V-6

3.5 litre V-6

3.5 litre V-6

Output (horsepower/torque)

302/273 lb-ft

260/240 lb-ft

271/254 lb-ft

Drive system

All-wheel drive

All-wheel drive

All-wheel drive

Transmission

Seven-speed automatic

CVT

Five-speed automatic

Curb weight (kg)

1,925

1,831

1,845

Fuel economy (litres/100 km)

11.2 city/7.3 highway

11.7 city/8.5 highway

11.8 city/7.6 highway

Base price

$70,400

$34,498

$36,900

Source: car manufacturers

Jeremy Cato and Michael Vaughan are co-hosts of Car/Business, which appears Fridays at 8 p.m. on Business News Network and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. on CTV.

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About the Author
Senior writer, Globe Drive

In 25 years of covering the auto industry, Jeremy Cato has won more than two-dozen awards, including three times being named automotive journalist of the year. Jeremy was born in Montreal and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. More

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