Mercedes has for years owned the performance wagon segment in the U.S. Mind you, it’s a vanishingly small piece of the market. Between the demise of the achingly quixotic Cadillac CTS-V wagon in 2014—556-hp supercharged V-8 under the hood, and 514 of them built with a six-speed manual transmission—and this year’s launch of the Audi RS 6 Avant, the Mercedes-AMG E 63 S wagon and Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo Turbo S have been the only players in the segment.
Over in Europe, though, go-fast wagon enthusiasts are spoiled for choice. The midsize Mercedes-AMG C 63 and Audi RS 4 Avant sell alongside their larger siblings. BMW fans can order the 455-hp Alpina B3, based on the 3 Series wagon. Mini offers a 306-hp John Cooper Works version of the Clubman wagon, and Volkswagen a 296-hp Golf R wagon. Hell, even Škoda is in on the act, its front-drive 245-hp Octavia vRS wagon fitted with 19-inch alloy wheels, an electric limited-slip diff, and available with a six-speed manual transmission.
Of them all, the 2019 Mercedes-AMG C 43 4Matic wagon is perhaps the Goldilocks option: quick and full of AMG character, but not too big and not too expensive.
Europe’s C 43 4Matic wagon is mechanically identical to the recently refreshed C 43 sedan that is part of the Mercedes lineup in the U.S. That means an AMG-massaged twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6 under the hood that develops 385 hp at 6,100 rpm and 384 lb-ft of torque from 2,500 rpm to 5,000 rpm. The engine drives all four wheels through the nine-speed AMG Speedshift TCT 9G transmission, with 69 percent of the torque directed to the rear axle. AMG Ride Control sport suspension is standard, as are 18-inch alloy wheels with 225/45 tires up front, and 245/40 items at the rear. Cosmetic upgrades include more aggressively styled AMG fascias front and rear, side skirts, and four bazooka-sized exhaust pipes peeking out from under the rear bumper.
Price? In the U.S. the AMG E 63 S wagon is listed at $111,750, a four percent premium over the E 63 S sedan. Applying the same 4 percent premium to the AMG C 43 sedan’s price of $55,950 would suggest a theoretical U.S. market price of about $58,200 for the wagon, or about $1,200 more than Mercedes-Benz USA currently charges for the AMG GLC 43 sport ute.
If you like driving, it’s worth the premium. The all-wheel-drive C 43 4Matic wagon delivers pretty much all the practicality of the GLC 43 SUV (which, let’s face it, no one will actually take any further off-road than the local supermarket parking lot) with none of the dynamic compromises. Weighing 376 pounds less than its SUV cousin, the C43 wagon gets to 60 mph with less effort—it’s at least a tenth of a second quicker—and, helped by its lower center of gravity, feels more agile and planted through the twisties. It rides better, even on the optional 19-inch wheels fitted to our tester, and the lower seating position means lateral body motions are less exaggerated. There’s more oily precision in the steering, and the 4Matic all-wheel-drive system gives you exactly the same traction on snowy roads as the GLC 43.
The GLC 43 makes sense if you really need an extra 3.2 inches of ground clearance or have to haul around 3.2 cubic feet more stuff. If you don’t, the AMG C 43 4Matic wagon is way more satisfying to drive, a quick and comfortable cruiser that will devour the interstates yet put a smile on your face on a winding two-lane as you surf the growling twin-turbo V-6’s fat torque curve. And it looks cooler, too; low slung and sleeker, with none of the faux-utilitarian design clichés automakers seem obliged to stick on even the most road-oriented SUVs.
Maybe, once we’re bored with SUVs that are heavier and thirstier than they need to be, and less useful than they pretend to be, America will fall in love with the wagon again. Let’s hope so, because that would open the door to the U.S. market for the engagingly fast, supremely competent, and relatively attainable Mercedes-AMG C 43 4Matic wagon, the sports car for the modern family.