Wagon Skin, Sport Sedan Heart

Preview Drive: Mercedes-Benz C320 station wagon

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The Mercedes-Benz C320 station wagon

Our winding, uphill route through France's Maritime Alps demands plenty of muscle, and with a 3.2-liter V6 engine that has 215 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque, the C320 station wagon delivers. This new-generation C-Class wagon will be offered for the first time in the United States this year. The wagon and new sport couple join with last year's C-Class sedan to give Mercedes a variety of options in entry-level luxury.

The craggy cliffs set us to thinking of rock climbing, paragliding, and other rugged, equipment-laden pursuits. The C320 could have handled almost any gear we might have stowed in back. The rear seats fold forward with a 33/67 split to accommodate various-sized equipment. With both seats folded forward, there are 48.9 cubic feet of storage capacity. The loading area can be as long as 5 1/2 feet and 35 inches wide. A handy removable shopping crate fits snugly beneath the load compartment. A 12-volt outlet provides a power source in back.

Make no mistake: This is not one of the bulky station wagons of old. With a five-speed automatic transmission, it goes from 0 to 60 in about 7.5 seconds. Mercedes designed the wagon and the sedan at the same time, and the wagon retains many of the sedan's sporty lines. It also has the same suspension system as the sedan, and the interior is virtually identical. At 0.31 its coefficient of drag is down only slightly from the sedan's remarkable 0.26.

The C320 is one of a host of European wagons that will be introduced in the U.S. this year. It goes on sale in September, with prices expected to start slightly above the sedan's base price of $36,950.