The Top 20 High Performance Station Wagons of All Time
As types of automobile go, you can’t get much more sensible than a station wagon. Roomier than a coupe or a sedan but more agile and efficient than a crossover or SUV, the noble station wagon is quite possibly the best all-around body style in all of autodom. And we know we speak for many of our fellow American gearheads when we say we dearly, dearly hope our compatriots eventually realize the error or their ways in forsaking station wagons, first for minivans, then SUVs and, most recently, crossovers.
And to help persuade our countrymen and countrywomen that sedan-based-squarebacks deserve another chance, we’ve assembled the following list of 20 sports cars trapped in station wagon bodies. These boom-juice-drinking centaurs truly are the motoring world’s way of having your cake and eating it too, allowing you experience spine-tingling driving dynamics one day, and the soul-uplifting and life-affirming thrill of being able to haul a two-year supply of salad croutons home from Costco the next. Here, without further ado and in a 93% random order, they are.
Cadillac CTS-V Wagon
Failure to include the Cadillac CTS-V Wagon on this list (never mind include it as the first entry) would be exactly the sort of thing that, in simpler times, would have gotten us burned at the stake. Consider its qualifications: Rear-wheel drive. A choice of 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission. Available Recaro front bucket seats. A honed-on-the-Nürburgring chassis setup. A supercharged 6.2L V8 making 556 horsepower. And, the cherry on top, Cadillac’s sexy “Art & Science” styling motif. God bless America, son!
Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG S-Model Wagon
Even before it was absorbed by Mercedes-Benz, AMG was building badass Benzstation wagons (S124 Hammerwagon FTW!). But since it was brought completely under the Three-Pointed Star’s umbrella in 2005, the tuning titans at AMG have taken their involvement in the super station wagon segment to another level. And that level is the highest it’s ever been with the new E63 AMG S-Model Wagon, based on the updated S212 (The “S” prefix in a Mercedes-Benz chassis code denotes a wagon version of a sedan; sedan codes usually start with a “W.”) E-Class Wagon.
With a twin-turbo 5.5L V8 rated at 577 horsepower, AMG’s multi-plate wet clutch 7-speed automatic transmission, and a fixed torque split (33% front, 67% rear) version of 4Matic all-wheel-drive, the E63 AMG S-Model Wagon is obscenely quick. In the hands of Motor Trend, it ripped to 60 mph in 3.4 seconds and did the quarter-mile in 11.7 seconds at 120 mph. Numbers like that soften the blow of the $100k+ price tag (not to mention the fact the rear-facing third seat found in pedestrian E wagons isn’t available) quite considerably, if you ask us.
Volvo 850R Wagon
Even though Volvo was building peppy, turbocharged station wagons before the 850R Wagon (and its predecessor, the 1995 850 T-5R Wagon), and the company even campaigned a pair of 850 Wagons in the 1994 British Touring Car Championship, it wasn’t until this front-drive boom box arrived that the motoring world realized that a hot Volvo wagon wasn’t as far-fetched an idea as many people thought.
The turbocharged 2.3L inline-five made a healthy-for-the-time 240 horsepower when mated to the standard 4-speed automatic transmission, while buyers outside the U.S. could pop for a 5-speed manual transmission which also got them an extra 10 ponies and a trick differential that incorporated both a viscous coupling and a Torsen limited-slip mechanism. Other upgrades over regular 850 Wagons included upgraded suspension and brakes, 17” wheels, aggressively-bolstered front seats and a super stealthy body kit to create one abnormally-spicy Swedish meatball.
Nissan Stagea Autech 260RS
The Nissan Skyline GT-Rs of the 1990s (chassis codes R32, R33 and R34) were some of the baddest – if not the baddest – production cars built in Japan during that decade. But have you ever wondered what they would have been like in station wagon form? Well, you don’t have to, because Nissan and its quasi-independent skunkworks, Autech, built something that came pretty damn close.
The Nissan Stagea Autech 260RS was the most muscular variant of the Stagea midsize estate car (which did in fact share some components and stampings with the R34 Skylines), with the legendary RB26DETT 2.6L twin-turbo inline-six from Godzilla officially pumping out 276 horsepower (The actual number was likely north of 300hp, but a gentleman’s agreement between Japan’s automakers stipulated that 276hp was the max publishable output.) and matched to a 5-speed manual transmission (rather than the R33 and R34 GT-R’s 6-speed) and Nissan’s ATTESA-ETS all-wheel-drive and all-wheel-steering system with a mechanical LSD in back. It also featured BBS wheels, Brembo brakes and an exclusive body kit. Oh yes, we’re in love.
Audi RS2 Avant
Picture this: You and your buddies are in a pub trivia contest, and you get the question, “True or false: Porsche has never built a station wagon.” You guys, of course, answer “False.” And you are correct…because the Audi RS2 Avant exists. Based on the handsome 80/90 Avant of the late-‘80s and early-‘90s, the RS2 Avant (no sedan or coupe version was offered) packs a turbocharged 2.2L inline-five that’s boosted to the moon, Alice. The result of all that boost is 311 horsepower, which is sent in the direction of all four wheels via a 6-speed manual transmission and quattro all-wheel-drive. It’s not that fast by today’s standards (0-62 mph in 4.8 seconds and a top speed of 163 mph), but it’s still pretty damn quick. And it sent the template for all the delectable S and RS Avants that have followed.
Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Edition 507 Wagon
The current Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Wagon (which, like the humdrum non-AMG C-Class Wagon, isn’t available in the U.S.) is a pretty magnificent brute of an estate car. However, when ordered without the Edition 507 package, it might as well be a puppy-kiss-and-rainbow-powered rickshaw that oozes political correctness from ever orifice and pore. Edition 507-specific equipment includes a vented hood, sport steering wheel and interior trim, stronger brakes, a 174 mph top speed limiter (up from 155 mph) and, oh yes, an extra 56 horsepower and 14 lb.-ft of torque from the angry, atmo 6.2L V8, for peak totals of (Surprise!) 507 horsepower and 457 lb.-ft. If all this sounds like a recipe for awesomeness well, according to at least one of our fellow car journos, it is.
Subaru Legacy Touring Wagon GT-B
Few people have ever accused Subaru of being dull and unimaginative with regard to the design and engineering of its cars. Even its most sensible models, like the second generation Legacy wagon, flouted convention with their boxer engines and AWD. And the convention-flouting-est of the bunch was the JDM Legacy Touring Wagon GT-B. The “B” in the name denoted its use of Bilstein dampers at all four corners, while thicker sway bars, bigger brakes and bigger wheels wearing high performance tires also helped sharpen the handling. As for power, there was plenty of it in 5-speed-manual-equipped GT-Bs (at least 276 horsepower) thanks to the EJ20R engine, a 2.0L twin-turbo flat-four. That’s hot like wasabi!
BMW M5 Touring (E61)
Rare is the sentence that includes both “station wagon” and “Formula 1 inspired” in its structure. But those two phrases can easily inhabit the same clause when describing the last generation BMW M5 Touring (chassis code E61). Like the M5 Sedan, the Touring coupled lower, angrier fascias with fatter fenders and enhanced suspension and brakes, plus the fourth gen Super Fünfer’s party piece: The banshee-wailing S85 naturally-aspirated 5.0L V10 (generating 500 horsepower and 384 lb.-ft of torque), which was teamed with BMW M’s then-latest 7-speed single-clutch paddle-shift transmission.
Tragically, like the E34 M5 Touring before it (The model skipped the E39 generation, though at least one prototype was built.), BMW management saw no need to export this supermarket superhero to North America. Which is probably just as well, now that we think about it: With just 1,025 built between 2007 and 2010, their scarcity probably would have inspired Black Friday sale-like violence among this continent’s leadfooted wagon buffs.
Pontiac Tempest Safari Super Duty
When it was introduced in 1961, the Pontiac Tempest was an oddball, to say the least. Granted, its engine was in the “normal” place (unlike its most famous and infamous platform-mate, the Chevrolet Corvair), but it featured rear-mounted manual and automatic transaxles (a la the Corvair) connected to the engine by a flexible driveshaft that passed under the car in a “U” shape, allowing for a nearly flat floor. Oh, and the base engine was Pontiac’s 389 cubic-inch V8 with the left bank of cylinders omitted, creating a 194.5 cubic-inch slant-four (The aluminum 215 cubic-inch V8 from the Tempest’s Buick cousin, the Special, was optional.).
However, the early Tempests weren’t nearly as outrageous as a small batch of facelifted 1963 models. Pontiac fitted just 14 of its compact models with the mighty 421 cubic-inch Super Duty V8 (rated at a hilariously conservative 405 horsepower) and a “Powershift” transaxle (essentially two Corvair-spec Powerglide 2-speed automatics mounted in series) for the NHRA’s Factory Experimental (FX) class before GM placed a company-wide ban on motorsports (This same ban also doomed the original Corvette Grand Sport program.). Amazingly, a whopping six of those 14 were Tempest Safaris (Safari being Pontiac-speak for wagon), the reasoning being that a) the weight of the extra bodywork over the rear end would provide extra traction, and b) a drag racing station wagon would get a butt-ton of attention.
Audi RS6 Avant (C6)
If a 5.2L V10 is good, a 5.2L V10 with twin-turbos must be better, right? That was probably quattro GmbH’s line of reasoning when it devised the second generation RS6 (based on the C6-platform A6).The non-turbo S6 Sedan and Avant provided the basis for this force-fed monster, with 571 horsepower and 479 lb.-ft of torque being flung toward each tire through a 6-speed automatic transmission and an automatic torque biasing center diff. Bulging fenders, optional 20” wheels and carbon-composite brakes, adaptive sport suspension and a suite of sport-tuned driver aids make this dynamite dreadnaught (which was, unsurprisingly, never offered here) a hoot-and-a-half for the whole family.
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX MR Wagon
The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution has been a winner on rally stages and in the hearts of enthusiasts pretty much since day one, so it’s a bit hard to believe that a wagon version didn’t show up until the Evo IX’s arrival in 2005. And even then it was never offered outside Japan, which is way, way beyond “too bad.” Check it: In top-drawer MR (as in Mitsubishi Racing) trim, the Evo wagon shipped with a 2.0L turbocharged inline-four making 286 horsepower, a 6-speed manual transmission, Brembo brakes, Bilstein dampers, 18” forged aluminum wheels, and an AWD system featuring a helical limited-slip front differential and a computerized active center differential. Why’d you have to troll us so hard, Mitsubishi?
Opel Insignia Sports Tourer OPC
The current Buick Regal is a pretty fun-to-drive entry-luxury car (particularly in high output GS form). However, it’s no match for the top-shelf version of the Opel Insignia on which it’s based. The Opel Insignia OPC (which is sold as the Vauxhall Insignia VXR in Britain) rocks a turbocharged 2.8L V6 making 321 horsepower and 321 lb.-ft of torque and matched to a manual or automatic transmission (both 6-speeds) and a Haldex AWD system. Call us crazy, but we happen to think “Buick Regal GSX Estate Wagon” has a pretty nice ring to it…
Volvo V70 R
The warm reception that the Volvo 850R Wagon received prompted management to continue the R wagon lineage when the 850 Wagon was updated and renamed the V70 in 1997. But the V70 R didn’t truly come into its own until the arrival of the second generation model for model year 2004. Exterior changes consisted of a delightfully subtle body kit and optional 18” alloy wheels; all the big tweaks lurked under the surface. The turbocharged 2.5L inline-five was rated at 296 horsepower, which got sent toward all four wheels through either a 6-speed manual or 5-speed (later 6-speed) automatic transmission (the former being controlled by a nifty “spaceball” shift lever) and a Haldex intelligent AWD system. Throw in Brembo brakes and a trick Öhlins multi-mode adaptive suspension system with electronically-controlled shocks that could adjust up to 500 times per second and you have a hot wagon that might not be the fastest in the world, but is one of the best in the biz when you’re looking to fly under the radar (in both the figurative and literal sense).
Subaru Impreza WRX STI Wagon
Back when the late Colin McRae was capturing the rallying world’s attention at the wheel of factory-backed blue-and-yellow Subaru Imprezas, the company was capturing the hearts high-zoot wagon fans back home in Japan. Not only was Subaru peddling turbocharged Legacy Wagons, but also turbocharged versions of the smaller Impreza Wagon. And the hottest of all was the Impreza WRX STI Wagon. Boasting upgraded suspension and brakes, revised aero bits and a barking mad (and just plain barking) EJ20 2.0L single-turbo flat-four that, in later years, was probably making a hair over 300 horsepower. Alas, no STI station wagons ever officially made it out of Japan, and while the current STI is available globally as a five-door hatch, that stubby-rumped screamer’s proportions lack the grace with which its predecessors were endowed, in our opinion.
Dodge Magnum SRT-8
When Chrysler introduced its rear-drive LX-platform cars for the 2005 model year, it raised more than a few eyebrows when it included a wagon version called the Dodge Magnum (and its international market cousin, the Chrysler 300 Touring). Even more eyebrows were raised the following year when the Magnum SRT-8 premiered. Armed with the same 425 horsepower 6.1L Hemi V8 and 5-speed automatic transmission as its SRT-tuned Charger and 300C siblings, this stylish, factory-chop-top hauler was capable of blasting down the quarter-mile in the low 13-second range. Unfortunately, the entire Magnum range was discontinued at the end of 2008, meaning it never got the major updates (including SRT’s current 470 horsepower 6.4L Hemi) that the two LX sedans and the Dodge Challenger did.
Mitsubishi Legnum VR-4
Offered in Japan as the wagon version of the Galant, the Mitsubishi Legnum was most commonly ordered as a dowdy, front-drive runabout aimed at people who spend hundreds of thousands of yen each month at the local Albis or Kansai Super. However, Mitsubishi also offered the Legnum in hot dog VR-4 guise, with a 2.5L twin-turbo V6 generating at least 276hp backed by AWD and a choice of a 5-speed manual or adaptive 5-speed automatic transmission. In other words, it’s as fun to drive as it is to say its name.
HSV Gen-F ClubSport R8 Tourer
Although the latest Holden Commodore – the VF – is coming to America as the Chevrolet SS, we won’t be getting the wagon version (at least not initially). This is particularly galling when you look at what the VF wagon based HSV Gen-F ClubSport R8 Tourer comes with: A 6.2L LS3 V8 rated at 436 horsepower and 407 lb.-ft of torque, a choice of 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission, racing-inspired brakes from AP, and a seven-nation army of performance, safety and convenience tech. And as if all that wasn’t enough, you can option this Aussie wonderwagon with the SV Enhanced package, which adds 20” forged alloy wheels finished in satin graphite and engine upgrades that raise the peaks to 456 horsepower and 420 lb.-ft. Here’s hoping the Chevrolet SS sedan is an unqualified success, so that the odds of an SS wagon happening increase…
Mercury Comet 427 A/FX Wagon
In 1964, Ford was cleaning house in Super Stock drag racing with the Fairlane Thunderbolt, which was powered by the mighty 427 cubic-inch “FE” V8. Simultaneously, Mercury was assaulting the NHRA’s A/Factory Experimental (A/FX) class with a gaggle of specially-modified Comets using the same 427 engine as the Thunderbolt. Most A/FX Comets were two-door sedans, but one of the first was a four-door station wagon.
Mercury gave legendary Ford drag racer “Dyno Don” Nicholson his pick of the first two super Comets built (one sedan and one wagon); Nicholson picked the wagon, citing its 5” shorter wheelbase (Unlike other first gen Comet body styles, the wagons used the same shorter wheelbase as the Ford Falcons on which they were based.) and additional weight over the rear. Other speed-boosting tricks found on 427 Comets included fiberglass front fenders, hood, doors and bumpers, a Spartan interior, and a smaller radiator from a six-cylinder Comet. What a mad machine…and we mean that in the nicest possible way.
Toyota Caldina GT-T
When coming up with a list of companies that were likely to build a fun-to-drive station wagon in the late-‘90s, Toyota probably wouldn’t make the list. And yet, for the home market, the company that has made its name building soul-crushing transportation appliances did indeed build a hot wagon. The Caldina GT-T, based on the standard front-drive Caldina, featured the turbocharged 2.0L inline-four (making 256 horsepower in the Caldina GT-T), 5-speed manual transmission and AWD system from the Group A rally homologation Celica GT-Four (which was offered here in the late 1980s and early 1990s as the Celica All-Trac Turbo), but in a fairly harmless looking, compact-by-U.S.-standards wagon package.
Audi RS4 Avant (B5)
There was no question that Audi and its in-house tuner, quattro GmbH, were going to have a devil of a time trying to top the RS2 Avant. Yet the RS4 Avant – based on the handsome first generation (B5) A4 Avant – easily managed to pull off that daunting feat. Blistered fenders, a new front bumper and 18” wheels and tires warned onlookers that this was no mere S4 Avant. But in case the more macho exterior didn’t give away the game, the engine certainly did. Sure, it was a 2.7L twin-turbo V6 like in the S4, but unlike the S4 version (which made just 261 horsepower), the RS4-spec mill was rated at 375 horsepower and 325 lb.-ft of torque. Unsurprisingly, performance was rather scintillating: Sixty-two miles-per-hour arrived in 4.9 seconds, while top speed was limited to 163 mph. Are we mad that none of the 6,030 made were sent to the U.S.? What do you think?