By on December 22, 2008

Station wagons, or “estates” as they are known across the pond, occupy that strange place in the auto market between SUVs, minivans and sedans. On the surface, wagons promise the holy grail of cargo schlepping and fuel sipping. But they’re not as sexy as a sedan, not as practical as a modern crossover and they can’t haul as much crap as a minivan. In the new world “station wagon” brings up PTSD style flashbacks of 1970s Country Squire wagons with a roof-rack and eight kids in the back on the way to summer camp, 8-track blazing, and your dad at the helm wishing he had a terrier and a 240Z instead. Thankfully, this is not your dad’s Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser. For this comparo we’ve selected the BMW 535xi Wagon, Mercedes E350 Wagon, Volvo XC70 T6 and the Volkswagen Passat 2.0T Wagon.

Exterior

Outside, all four of our Euro wagons could have easily been designed by the same person. The 535xi strikes the most masculine poses with the raked headlamps and long hood. Better yet, Chris Bangle was on vacation when the rear was designed. Overall, this German speaks of solid, unfussy design.

From the land of ABBA 2008, the Volvo has lost its trademark flat rear window (and with it some cargo room). And yet it still manages to be the mid-west farm girl of the pack: wholesome and attractive but miles and miles from sexy.

VW’s Passat retains the brand’s ubiquitous chrome schnoz while seemingly longing to be a Volvo and BMW all at the same time. Way to split the difference Wolfsburg!

And last, and in this department least comes the minger of the pack: the E350. Seriously Dr. Z, what’s up with that rear? Any self-respecting modern German with a trunk like that would have been on Nip/Tuck by now. Overall winner: BMW

Interior

While three of the wagons might look similar on the outside, the inside is where the differences really show. Mercedes seems to have picked “Buick chic” for their interior design theme. While there are high quality parts in this cabin, my tester’s were ill-fitted and accompanied by cheap feeling knobs, questionable plastic and an interior design from Detroit. Contact with the steering wheel when in motion is generally considered a requirement; sadly the E350′s tiller if full of highs and lows. I dig the burl wood and leather combo, but the rubbery buttons and oddly styled airbag are serious turn offs.

The E350 wagon’s only real advantage: seven passenger capacity. The Merc is the only hauler in this matchup that offers ye olde 70s flash back rearward facing child seats. Actually, as they’re sized for Lilliputians and their use precludes cargo, forget it. Despite being the second most expensive in this lineup, the fully loaded Merc wagon delivers none of the toys its 66 grand price tag implies: no radar cruise control, lane departure warning, blind spot info, no heads up display, night vision, not even parking sensors. In the gadget shoot-off, the half-price Passat beats the Merc hands down. For shame.

The 535’s interior is typical BMW: Goth. It’s assembled with proper Germanic precision, and the materials quality is suitably high. Other than anal retentive stylistic qualms about the arm rest, the awkward cup holders and the much maligned iDrive controller are the cabin’s only significant quirks. If you’re a gadget freak, the much-maligned mouse-driven controller is a boon; you can even adjust the percentage of air you or your passenger would like to come out of the dash air vents. iDrive 4.0 debuts in Spring 2009, promising even more with web updates and an integrated hard drive.

Inside the Swede, Volvo’s XC70 T6 has taken IKEA perfection to all new levels. The build quality is on par with the Bimmer’s, but Volvo’s ditched shiny wood trim for a subdued matte finish. Simplicity is the XC70s game: all the buttons are clear, logical, glove/blue rinse brigade-friendly and easy to use. Practicality is Volvo’s trump card; the XC offers a whopping 51 percent more cargo room than the BMW (seats upright) and more load carrying options than The Container Store.

The XC70 is also the only vehicle in this quartet rated to tow anything (3300lbs). Kiddie friendly features include an available dual screen entertainment system, booster seats and an available built-in kennel for multiple Vallhund transportation.

The Passat’s interior duplicates the BMW’s black theme, without the same attention to fit and finish quality. Buttons and switches feel solid, but don’t expect leather seats or other sybaritic touches. Gadget lovers will appreciate the umbrella holders, decent Nav system, keyless drive and a bevy of stanard and not-too-expensive optional features.

Engines

Crank-up the engines in these family haulers and the lines between them are drawn even more clearly. The Passat’s 2.0-liter turbo engine is an excellent four cylinder powerplant. But in this pack, two extra pistons buy far more refinement than VW’s highly evolved four-banger can muster. With 200 ponies under the hood and the lightest curb weight in the group, the Passat gets to 60 in a respectable 7.4 seconds.

The E350s 3.5-liter V6 looks great on paper. In reality, the power comes on late, especially when sampled back-to-back with the turbo engines in this crowd. And the Merc has more weight to carry around. Mercedes claims a 6.9 second 0 – 60 time, but I failed to break seven.

BMW and Volvo both come to this fight with a 3.0-liter inline six engine. BMW sports twin turbos; Volvo mixes it up with a single turbo with twin scrolls. These turbo wagons are far smoother and more aurally enjoyable than the Merc or the Vee Dub. Volvo’s T6 engine offers excellent linear response. Unfortunately, the Aisin automatic seems reluctant to shift when pressed hard; it ends up hunting for gears when things get hilly.

Push the go-pedal in anger— as grandfather clock-carrying antique dealers are wont to do— the BMW is the obvious winner. With a 5.8 second sprint to 60 (the XC70 does it in seven flat), you’ll find yourself forgetting you are piloting the mommy-mobile BMW. If “normal” cliff face depreciation isn’t painful enough, there’s even an optional manual transmission. Sleeper? Q-ship? You bet.

Handling

Throw a curve at these wagons and you can pretty much guess what happens. The Passat gets scared and runs for the edge of the road. The Volvo wallows (thanks to an SUV-like 8.3″ of ground clearance_. The Mercedes electronic nannies remind you that a station wagon is not supposed to be fun to drive. The BMW hikes up its flared fenders and carves up the road. With a near 50/50 weight distribution and a rear wheel-drive biased AWD system, the oxymoronic ultimate driving wagoneer has but one choice.

Safety

Sadly, IIHS and NHTSA crash test data is not available for all of these vehicles. So we turn to Euro NCAP, which gives a star rating along with a numeric score for adult occupants, child occupants and pedestrians hit by the car. Volvo’s five-star adult rating shows their reputation for safety is well deserved. The Passat and E350 run a close second (also five stars but a slightly lower score of 33 vs 34).

The BMW crashes in with a four-star rating and a score of 29. Child protection scores come in at four stars all around (child scores were not available for the E350). The XC70 comes equipped with Volvo’s WHIPS whiplash prevention system, rated best in the business by Euro NCAP. Combine that with built in two-stage child booster seats and an allergy free interior and the Volvo is the winner in this category.

Value

In terms of value (a.k.a. quality for the money), there’s a clear winner. The BMW is the performance and gadget king– but that will cost you with a price tag that easily goes over $70k. The Volvo is middle of the road at $37,250 base and $53,215 as tested, offering most of the same features as the 535 with the benefit of soft roader ability. The E350 crashes this party with the second biggest price tag, the fewest goodies brought to the table and styling only its mother could love. Advantage Passat.

Final Ranking

4. Mercedes E350 Wagon – If you want to get a wagon and all that matters to you is that it has a Mercedes badge on it, then the E350 Wagon is for you. Sure, it’s more exclusive than the XC70 and Passat , but it has to be based more on its lack of features and lackluster styling than its price tag and badge snob value would indicate. A well deserved last place goes to the E350 Wagon.

3. Volkswagen Passat 2.0T Wagon – The Passat is the undisputed value leader in this pack. The 2.0L turbo engine isn’t appreciably slower than the Volvo or Merc, but it is more frugal. Interior quality is very good for this price point and the feature/gadget compliment is competitive– with the notable exception of good iPod connectivity. Third place and best value pick is the Passat Wagon 2.0T.

2. Volvo XC70 T6 - Most wagon buyers are after kid, dog and crap schlepping ability. This is where the Volvo shines. With the largest cargo capacity, kid-friendly features and enough safety acronyms to provide Lincoln with model names for the next century, a very close second place and the overall practicality pick goes to the Vovlo XC70 T6.

1. BMW 535xi Wagon - OK, this is not one of those Car and Driver deals where the BMW always wins cause the reviewers don’t have to spend their own money and they tend to choose the best hoonmobile. The 535xi is a deeply satisfying vehicle, aesthetically and dynamically. You don’t have to be an enthusiast to love it. But if you’re not when you buy it, you will be later.

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82 Comments on “Review: 2009 Euro Wagon Shootout: BMW 535xi Wagon, Mercedes E350 Wagon, Volvo XC70 T6, Volkswagen Passat 2.0T Wagon...”


  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    What, no Saab 9-5?

  • avatar
    thecavanaughs

    I think Mercedes’ best wagon-like product is the R series. I don’t know if it would take top honors in this crowd, but it might have compared better than the E.

  • avatar

    Alex probably forgot they still offer the 9-5. Nearly everyone has. I’m not sure Saab is even aware that they still offer the car.

    Then again, also no Audi A6.

    On the test–this ranking makes sense to me. The VW is a bit of an apple in a bunch of oranges. The 3.6 would have been more comparable, at least in the powertrain department.

    On the reliability front, TrueDelta has very limited info on the Mercedes (might be a bit troublesome) and no information on the new V70/XC70. Especially need more owners to provide data on these.

    The 2008 BMW and VW both have low repair rates so far. Makes me wonder if these manufacturers have made some major improvements. Time will tell. With prompt updates every three months, we’ll track these cars closely as they age.

    Latest results:

    http://www.truedelta.com/latest_results.php

  • avatar
    philbailey

    Wot, no diesels?

  • avatar
    John R

    I don’t know what it is exactly, but I grow less and less interested in Mercedes products. I’d just as soon own an Infiniti G than a C-class.

  • avatar
    AKM

    But they’re not as sexy as a sedan,

    Allow me to disagree. In Europe in particular, wagons are often considered MORE sexy than sedans, and with reason. It’s particularly true of smaller vehicles like the Subaru impreza, where the sedan is a sad sight. But even in larger categories, a well-executed wagon can generate more lust than a sedan trunk. The Audi A6, and even more so the A6 are examples in case. So’s the BMW 5-series, for that matter, where the wagon replaced the horrid Bangle-butt with something approaching decency. Those Peggy Guggenheim glasses – urm, I mean headlights – keep spoling the fun, though.

    The only real advantage of a sedan overt a wagon is decreased road noise, and, in third world countries, a trunk locked separately.

  • avatar
    JJ

    In Europe in particular, wagons are often considered MORE sexy than sedans

    True, true. And personally I think so too, most of the times.

    Particularly the A6 looks great as a wagon, the sedan is kind of meh. The 3-series wagon vs sedan is also a good example IMHO, although after the recent facelift the sedan gained some ground.

    Interestingly though, although the twinturbo I6 is BMW’s main engine now in many ways (not volume), we in Europe can’t get the 5-series wagon with this engine.
    We do get the 520i with an I4, the 523i (2.5 I6) and two versions (525i/530i) of the normally aspirated (magnesium block) 3.0 I6 and finally the 4.8 V8 (550i). There used to be a 4.0 V8 (540i) as well but that recently got cancelled.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    The only real advantage of a sedan overt a wagon is decreased road noise, and, in third world countries, a trunk locked separately.

    You know what’s funny–or tragic–about that statement? One of the reasons I hear about why Americans avoid wagons is because of the potential for theft.

  • avatar
    Dave Baker

    AKM, bingo on the BMW’s styling. The wagon does look better than the sedan for exactly the reasons you describe, but they all still look to me like mules on a test track wearing camo wraps. Somewhere beneath all that bloat and those creases there’s a good looking car trying to break out.

  • avatar
    Dave Baker

    And if you did this comparo in Britain, you could call it the shooting brake shootout. I crack me up.

  • avatar
    AKM

    You know what’s funny–or tragic–about that statement? One of the reasons I hear about why Americans avoid wagons is because of the potential for theft.

    Which makes the SUV-mania even funnier. Maybe some smallish soccer moms imagine that NOBODY is tall enough to see inside?

  • avatar
    bill h.

    “What, no Saab 9-5?”

    If you read the archives, Alex’s disdain for the 9-5 (and the marque in general) is well documented.

    Probably best that this article concentrated on the more “modern” alternatives, without Dykensian piling-on:-)

    Personally, among the Volvos I’d have wanted a comparo using the V70, with less of the tipsy suspension that the XC70 gets.

  • avatar
    Kman

    I love this category of cars. Coupla points:

    I concur that these cars are often sexier than their sedan counterparts. I remember the first time I saw an A6 Avant on the highway, from the rear-three-quarters, a couple of lanes over, I did a double take and one of those moving over sveral lanes and accelerating to catch up and follow it. The kinda thing you’d do if you came upon a McLaren F1. That is one nice rear-end on the A6 (it was also the first application of LEDs I’d seen, compounding the sexiness factor).

    As for my favourite in this category, the 535xi. The car used to be a difficult purchase decision to make back when in it was the 530xi (225hp/255hp); at that time it priced comfortably above its X5 stablemate, with its lucious V8. It’d be difficult to not get the X5 in that situation. Now that it has finally gotten real power and torque, it is an easy proposition. Not as sexy as the A6, but it would be my choice. [Audi\'s upcoming supercharged 3.0 V6 might shuffle the cards here though].

    I live in Canada, and I hope to make my next car a sports wagon from the other category down: 3-series or A4 Avant. Or if I luck out and find a mint, no-longer-produced Volvo V70R. Sweet.

  • avatar
    Alex Dykes

    We were unable to secure an A6 Avant in time for this comparo otherwise it would have been included.

    The 9-5 wagon is just too old to include in this lineup, perhaps when a new 9-5 is released.

    The choice of the XC70 is simple: AWD and engine. The Merc and BMW have AWD and a 6 cylinder engine so that was the target. Since the V70 in N. America is limited to FWD and the 3.2L I6, the T6 was the better match for this test.

    The Passat sadly is no longer available in N. America in 3.6L 4Motion trim or that would have been the test subject.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    The 9-5 wagon is just too old to include in this lineup, perhaps when a new 9-5 is released

    Yes, but it would have been funny to take a kick at the old girl. And besides, we’d be waiting four or five years minimum–assuming Saab survives–so why not throw’er in just for good measure.

  • avatar
    Kman

    This reminds me:

    NOTE TO N. AMERICAN AUTOMOTIVE PRODUCT PLANNERS:

    Considering wagons have, for now, limited sales over here, do not bring us a wagon that does not have AWD.

    The wagon’s chance to establish a good beachhead in this market is as an SUV alternative. Make ‘em AWD.

    I’m looking at you VW (Passat and new Jetta Wagen), Volvo, Saab, Mazda (helped us loose our 6 wagon), amongst others….

  • avatar
    JoeEgo

    And, of course, no possibility of a Commodore Sportwagon.

    A 6 cylider Passat may have been a better choice, except it does not appear to be an option currently available. The other vehicles do not appear to be base models and even fully upgraded the Passat barely approaches the base Volvo.

  • avatar
    Alex Dykes

    Joe,

    The XC70 was “fully loaded” as was the E350, the 535xi had most available options except the manual transmission. The Passat has few options, but what was available it did have. The Passat 3.6 was not tested because it is no longer available in the 2009 model year.

  • avatar
    rochskier

    Personally, I think these are all quite good looking cars. The VW’s lines could be less tentative though.

    To me these cars are much more appealing than any SUV or CUV, or what I like to call “the new station wagons”, on the road at present.

  • avatar
    shabatski

    I actually would have liked to have seen the Subaru Outback XT compared against these… I believe it would have taken the value proposition from the VW…

    BTW- It is the one getting my money in January.

  • avatar
    JJ

    the 535xi had most available options except the manual transmission.

    A strange sentence for a European to read that…

  • avatar
    carguy

    Nice work Alex – you’re spot on about the E class not delivering on the marketing hype.

    The only disagreement I can offer is that the perculiar head lights on the 5 series are so ugly that I could never could own one. To me the Volvo actually looks better.

  • avatar
    Alex Dykes

    JJ, the manual transmission is a hard to find option on this side of the pond. If you want your 535xi with the row-it-yourself box, you need to order or take Euro delivery.

    CarGuy, the Dame Edna lights on the 5 series are a love/hate deal. Personally, the long hood and overall look of the 5 edge out Volvo’s classic restrained styling. If the XC didn’t look like a raccoon on the front with those circles around the fog lights, it might have been the beauty pageant winner.

    The BMW is the winner if performance, gadgets and comfort are your deal. If you need to actually haul crap, keep the kiddies entertained, are interested in safety and prefer your life to be less complicated or flashy, the XC70 is hard to beat.

  • avatar
    roadracer

    Under value, its mother, not it’s mother. Please.

    Nice comparison test.

  • avatar
    AKM

    CarGuy, the Dame Edna lights on the 5 series are a love/hate deal.

    I thought it was a hate/hate deal, or perhaps an indifferent/hate deal. Does anyone actually love those headlights?

  • avatar
    Jacob

    I am not sure why XC70 is being compared with the rest of the pack or even considered a “performance” wagon. Sure, it has the best engine of all Volvo wagons, but that doesn’t make it a performance wagon. The original intent was to make the XC series to people who want all-road capability. To someone who wants to take the wagon off the paved road, there are two choices: XC70 and Outback (and maybe audi’s all road and some CUVs).

    V70 would have been a more appropriate car to use in this test..

  • avatar
    Alex Dykes

    Jacob,

    The V70 is not available in N. America with the T6 engine. I have tested the V70 T6 AWD, you will find that in the reviews section, but this review focused on N. American vehicles available now, and in that line-up the XC was the best option. I never called the XC70 a performance wagon, it simply matched up the best to this competition so it was the natural vehicle here. The Passat 2.0T is certainly not a performance wagon, but that wasn’t the point.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    Thanks for the comparo of my favorite type of car. I have a strange affinity for wagons. A while back I picked up a lightly used (25k mile, 2-year old) 2001 BMW 525iT with a manual transmission and a sport suspension package. It was a terrific car but by today’s standards didn’t have any of the electronic do-dads you seem so fond of. The cargo hold was huge but that generation of 5-series was a bit tight on back-seat room.

    At the time, eBay seemed to be a real help to lovers of obscure vehicles like wagons with manual transmissions. There were at least 2 or 3 5-speed 5-series wagons available at any given time. After driving my car for a couple of years I sold it within 4 days (back on eBay where I found it) for a few hundred dollars less than I paid for it.

  • avatar
    detlef

    With the largest cargo capacity, kid-friendly features and enough safety acronyms to provide Lincoln with model names for the next century, a very close second place and the overall practicality pick goes to the Vovlo XC70 T6.

    Since you mention acronyms, Lincoln really should produce a model named the “Vovlo” so they can poach sales from Volvo after Ford pawns their best division to the Chinese.

    —-

    I understand this was a Euro wagon comparo, but why not include the Outback 3.0R (the refined choice) or Outback XT (the sporty choice) as a point of reference?

  • avatar
    postjosh

    excellent review, alex. i’m a 2002 v70xc owner so here’s my take on the volvo:

    best seats, bar none.

    they don’t hold their resale like bmw and mb which is good for me because you can get great deals on them used.

    the build quality is great. people say there not as good as old volvos but compared to other modern cars they’re astounding. i find the best way to check this is look at the miles listed on used models on ebay. 200,000 is common and 300,000 isn’t that rare. now look up vw and laugh.

    the bmw absolutely is a better driver’s car. the volvo is basically a fwd onto which they added a awd package. it is too high but you get used to it. it deals with the potholes of the nyc area with confidence. did i mention the seats?

  • avatar
    Michael Ayoub

    I’ve lusted after that 5-series wagon for so long…

  • avatar
    ProfessorSlow

    “$5b rear screen DVD system”? What, did we bail them out for it?

  • avatar
    windnsea00

    Too bad BMW doesn’t bring the 535iT, not everyone needs AWD. Anyway, still would pick the BMW out of this test.

  • avatar
    detlef

    But they’re not as sexy as a sedan, not as practical as a modern crossover and they can’t haul as much crap as a minivan.

    Not as practical as a crossover? This is a new frame of reference for TTAC, if I’m not mistaken. I thought a crossover was a vehicle that manged to do none of the following well: on-road driving dynamics, off-road driving dynamics, cargo-schlepping, towing, and fuel economy. It would seem that the BMW, Volvo, and VW all do at least three of those five reasonably well.

    Could the same really be said for an Outlook, a CX-9 or a Taurus X?

  • avatar
    Alex Dykes

    Det, The average crossover will tow, this is something that only the XC70 which is quasi-crossover will do. Also crossovers typically have more interior room. Personally, I would not buy a crossover or a minivan or an SUV as long as these wagons are around.

    Wind, I would have to disagree. I’m a big fan of AWD and it really helps tame the manners of BMW’s high output 3.0L I6 by pushing power thru the fronts as well. If you are anywhere that gets rain or snow, AWD makes all the difference and it would mean you can stoplight race the 2WD competition without fear. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no disadvantage to the 535xi’s AWD setup.

  • avatar
    rjones

    Excellent review Alex. However, I think you’re going to take some heat from wagon aficionados for this part of your opening paragraph:

    … not as practical as a modern crossover…

  • avatar
    NoSubstitute

    With our youngest now in possession of his own set of wheels, we sold our 2001 525iT last month after eight years of trusty service. As a 5 series, it was a brilliant driver. As a family hauler, well…

    Like every male car reviewer since time immemorial, Mr. Dykes dismisses last row jump seats as too small to be useful. Wrong, wrong, wrong. In the classic two moms with two kids each configuration that modern yuppie-dom mandates, a five seater is one seat shy of usable for those trips to the water park or the mall or the whatever that mothers with older-than-babies find themselves taking on a regular basis. No more strollers, no cargo room required. And at the prices being charged for the non-VeeDubs in this crowd, the slightly older kids demographic is exactly what these wagons are all about.

    Yes, those last row seats are tiny, use up the entire trunk, and are a safety hazard, but children can easily be origamied into position for the less than an hour trips that we’re talking about, stuff can be stuffed between stuff, and as to safety, well I survived a childhood of rolling around the way-back of a Rambler wagon unencumbered by either seat belts or even seats. The third row of a wagon has to be better than nothing (which is frequently the alternative.)

    The lack of a last row jump seat was our number one complaint about the 5 wagon. And the number one reason why those of our friends who chose not to go the Euro “sports tourer” route sentenced themselves to years of joyless driving behind the wheel of a minivan or SUV. (For the record, I have the same complaint about reviewers trashing the micro-seats in the 911. They’re the difference between having a sports car and not for those with youngish children).

  • avatar
    pb35

    Nice review, thanks Alex. I was at my Volvo dealer this morning getting my oil changed on the XC90 and sat in the XC70. It seems like a really nice place to spend time while commuting.

    I’ll look into the XC60 or 70 when my 90 lease expires in 2010. The XC90 has been flawless so far over 18 months.

  • avatar
    Areitu

    66k for the Benz? Ouch. You’re spot on about the “Buick Chic” interior. The cheap knobs are especially distressing. I guess that’s why most people lease and never buy these things.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    “Det, The average crossover will tow, this is something that only the XC70 which is quasi-crossover will do. Also crossovers typically have more interior room.”

    Horse pucky. I think you will find that ALL of these cars have quite substantial tow ratings on the far side of the pond. They just get conveniently left out of the owners manual on this side. Wouldn’t want to lose that extra $5-10K of profit that the crossovers (wagon on stilts) bring from gullible Americans….

    I want cargo space without compromising the driving experience, hence my having a succession of European wagons in the garage. Currently a Volvo 960, previously Mercedes 300TE, Saab 9-5, and sundry other Volvos and Peugeots.

    I am firmly of the “crossovers do nothing well” mindset. And even though I live in snowy Maine, I have no use AT ALL for AWD. Expensive nonsense.

    I will also add that if you were going to have the Passat in this, you should have had a 9-5 as well. Yes, it is older than the hills. But it is still a nice car, and with the deeeeep discounts and rebates you can buy one new for <$30K, and used they are the bargain of the century.

  • avatar
    Alex Dykes

    We abide by manufacturer recommendations and specifications. BMW, Mercedes and Volkswagen are very clear that towing with their vehicles is not recommended. Consequently if your tranny has an unrelated issue while towing and you go to your local BMW dealer with a well used hitch on your 535, what do you think the service guys will say?

  • avatar
    jkross22

    @Areitu:

    The Benz wagons are leased because they sticker at 66k. When we were looking at them last year, the dealer wanted 35k for a 3 yr old one. We thought that was still 10k too much. A quick search on Ebay shows that to be the case as well.

    I liked the idea of the 530xi wagon, as there have been some cooling issues with the 535. Anyone have experience with this?

  • avatar
    Justin Berkowitz

    jkross22 :

    I liked the idea of the 530xi wagon, as there have been some cooling issues with the 535. Anyone have experience with this?

    Not sure if this is what you were talking about, but I know there were overheating issues with the turbo engine in the 335i and the automatic transmission.

    Apparently BMW initially didn’t install an oil temperature cooler in those cars — but when they realized people were still driving the crap out of them even with the automatic, they installed the cooler.

  • avatar
    detlef

    Det [sic], The average crossover will tow, this is something that only the XC70 which is quasi-crossover will do. Also crossovers typically have more interior room. Personally, I would not buy a crossover or a minivan or an SUV as long as these wagons are around.

    I’m raising the BS flag with krhodes1 on this. (And given what he’s written in the past, I suspect Paul Niedermeyer would agree.)

    In the UK BMW dealers sell exotic accessories for the 5-Series Touring like the “Exterior mirror for trailer towing” and a “Trailer tow hitch” rated up to 2275kg. That’s 5015 lbs if you’re converting at home. Unless US-bound 5-Series wagons are made of angel hair pasta or recycled 1970s Fiats, my guess is that they’ll tow just fine. The UK XC70 is rated at 2100kg (~4630 lbs), about 130 lbs more than a Saturn Outlook with the 3.6L V6.

    As for the crossovers’ advantages in interior room, this is true. Unfortunately, all that interior room comes at the expense of higher centers of gravity. By way of example, the Outlook carries an additional 1000 lbs of weight over the XC70, stands 10″ taller, yet somehow also has an inch less ground clearance, all of this with the resulting lame compromise of poor on-road and off-road driving capabilities.

  • avatar
    willamettejd

    BMW Reigns supreme again! Although pricing is jaw-dropping on every new bimmer these days, if you can get past iDrive there are few better cars on the road. From the 1-3-5 series it’s a blockbuster lot. The new 7 shows promise. The M series still kicks serious rear (Jeremy Clarkson called the new M5 the BEST car he has EVER driven…all things considered). ANd they offer things other companies don’t – manual trannies, wagons, AWD, RWD….it’s like they told Consumer Reports to go sc**w itself–> consumer reports did –> consumer reports came back and said “OK, you were right all along.” I’ve actually always been a fan of bangle-styling (except the huge 7-series butt), too….must be all you 50-somethings who long for the first 3-series box.

    All in all, the 5-series wagon is the car that every man should be driving instead of those god-awful SUVs….enough room to carry everyone and all their stuff, gets your heart pounding, will keep you alive in a serious accident, and still turns heads. If your pocketbook cnd handle the cost. But pencil out the BMW maintenance plan and things aren’t too bad….plus the high resale value. Just keep buying Bimmers with 10K miles and selling them yourself at 50K once the warranty is up. As long as you have the initial cash, it ends up being as cheap as owing most cars considering cost per mile over a lifetime of driving.

  • avatar
    factotum

    this is not your dad’s Oldsmobile Customer Cruiser.

    I don’t get it.

    sadly the E350s tiller if full of highs and lows

    E350′s; is (not if)

    the rubbery buttons and oddly styled airbag is a serious turn off.

    are serious turn offs.

    Inside the Swede, Volvo’s XC70 T6 has taking IKEA perfection to all new levels

    taken

    Push the go-pedal in anger– as grandfather clock-carrying antique dealers are wont to do– the BMW

    Ugh! Em dash please, not en. In WordPress, type three hyphens and it will convert to em dash. — -

  • avatar
    jkross22

    @ Justin:

    I must have heard incorrectly. I thought the overheating issues impacted both the 3 and 5 series with the new turbo 6, regardless of transmission.

    It’s odd that BMW would assume those buying the autos would drive less aggressively. I’d think just the opposite would be true.

  • avatar
    rjones

    factotum

    I suspect what Alex meant was Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oldsmobile_Cutlass_Cruiser

    In 1978, my father bought the Pontiac version: The LeMans Safari. He not so fondly referred to it as the “bucket of bolts”, or the “piece of shit” when I wasn’t around (I was seven at the time). He never bought another GM product again.

  • avatar
    detlef

    factotum

    Definitely a Monday before Christmas bit o’ work, eh? Maybe you should submit an application for TTAC proofreader-at-large.

  • avatar
    Rizo

    Sorry, I completely disagree with your 1st choice.

    Do you have children? Do you not care about their safety? Why would you pick a family car with the lowest crash rating? Because it drives better? So is this why everybody thinks of BMW drivers as arrogant and selfish? (don’t want to use that specific word)

    Since the point of a station wagon is to transfer family comfortably on long trips, crash safety and overall comfort should be weighted higher than performance, handling and looks.

  • avatar
    windnsea00

    Alex, the reason I don’t care for AWD is that living in San Diego it simply is extra weight, worse fuel mileage and more maintenance in the long run. Now if I was in a place with a real winter that would be a different story.

    Also I bet the manufacturers other than Volvo don’t recommend towing is because they don’t want to hurt their sales on the SUV’s. If you go to Europe it’s very common to see wagons packed to the hilt and towing a trailer behind. With BMW’s driving dynamics, powertrain and good sized brakes I bet towing would be a breeze compared to some other choices that Americans would choose otherwise.

  • avatar
    Alex Dykes

    I realize that they are all quite capable of towing, but my position stands. I review based on the manufacturer’s specifications and recommendations and BMW, VW and Merc are all very specific that towing is not recommended and that the rated towing capacity is zero.

    Rizo, If you are buying a wagon to haul kids, the Volvo is the way to go. If you are an urban hipster buying a wagon because they are back “in” then the BMW is the way to go. The BMW is the best driving experience in a wagon, but the Volvo is more practical. That’s why the XC is the “practicality pick” and a VERY close second in this comparo.

  • avatar
    detlef

    I realize that they are all quite capable of towing, but my position stands. I review based on the manufacturer’s specifications and recommendations and BMW, VW and Merc are all very specific that towing is not recommended and that the rated towing capacity is zero.

    Is that a TTAC standard, or only a fallback position for when the commentators call “nonsense” on a review? Doesn’t seem very truth-seeking to simply regurgitate the manufacturers’ propaganda on towing, especially from the same site that published The Great American Anti-Towing Conspiracy.

    Does TTAC follow “manufacturer’s specifications and recommendations” when evaluating high-performance vehicles?

    I’m not seeking to flame the author or the site by asking the questions above. I’m just wondering about the subjective and/or inconsistent application of the word “truth.” Either tell us the truth – that the wagons tested are every bit as capable of towing as “more practical” crossovers, or don’t tell me the truth and regurgitate the manufacturers’ up-selling slanted recommendations. But if you’re not going to tell us the truth, don’t blow smoke up our keisters by suggesting you are.

  • avatar
    sjhwilkes

    Well don’t I feel good -
    3 1/2 year ago I looked at the then 530iXT, E500 Wagon, A6 Avant, and Subaru Outback. The BMW was nicest but too slow for me to live with for 64K, the Merc’s interior was awful, Audi had both of the above, so I ended up with the Subaru for 3 years – cheap but fast so OK value.
    This time round it was easy – did euro delivery on the BMW, manual transmission, about 2/3 of the options (I can park just fine for myself thanks). I would have preferred RWD due to weight and economy more than ride, but apart from that it’s a nice car.
    The towing thing is weird, as someone else said it has a factory hook in Europe, don’t know why BMW NA say it’s impossible – some regulatory saving from not having to test a hook maybe?

  • avatar
    Edward Niedermeyer

    Is that a TTAC standard, or only a fallback position for when the commentators call “nonsense” on a review? Doesn’t seem very truth-seeking to simply regurgitate the manufacturers’ propaganda on towing, especially from the same site that published The Great American Anti-Towing Conspiracy.

    Does TTAC follow “manufacturer’s specifications and recommendations” when evaluating high-performance vehicles?

    As far as I’m aware, TTAC doesn’t have a “standard” on things like this. You’ve read the editorial you link to, you know the argument. And where TTAC writers leave off, the B&B pick up. Anyone out there do much towing in one of the tested vehicles?

  • avatar
    Kman

    Big LOL @factotum‘s post!

  • avatar
    reconman

    I agree with Rizo :

    “Do you have children? Do you not care about their safety? Why would you pick a family car with the lowest crash rating?”

    Are BMW users, their friends and family just another bunch of crash test dummies, or what ?

    Off topic: What is up with the 09 Mercedes C-class delivering only a 4-star frontal crash rating for both the driver and the passenger ?

  • avatar
    detlef

    Edward Niedermeyer:

    As far as I’m aware, TTAC doesn’t have a “standard” on things like this. You’ve read the editorial you link to, you know the argument. And where TTAC writers leave off, the B&B pick up.

    Gotcha. Thanks for clearing that up. I don’t mean to bust Mr. Dykes’ nuts, but the test criteria and policy did merit clarification.

  • avatar
    reclusive_in_nature

    I wish more Americans would buy more wagons. I could use the laughs.

  • avatar
    davey49

    Practicality would likely be more important to me than hoonage ability so Volvo or VW it would be. Most likely a plain V70 though.

  • avatar
    Alex Dykes

    Here’s the deal on towing: If the manufacturer does not recommend towing with their vehicle in this market, then warranty claims with damage that could be linked to towing will not be honored. I have a very good friend who had just this problem with a BMW 5 series towing.

    Now, can the 5 series tow? Absolutely, they do it all the time on the other side of the pond.

    Should you tow against the manufacturer’s recommendations? I would caution against this. My good friend’s transmission failed in his 5 series towing one jet ski. BMW refused to cover it because it was towed into the shop and he was honest about what happened. He mentioned that in the EU they are rated to tow, that of course didn’t help the situation and he was stiffed with the repair bill.

    At the end of the day when recommending a car to someone, I would always refer to the manufacturer’s recommendations rather than get someone in a sticky situation. The review is 100% accurate, in this lineup the XC70 is the only vehicle with a rated towing capacity in the N. American market.

  • avatar
    netrun

    Awesome review. In about 8 years when my ’95 E320 wagon will need replacing I’ll dust off this review to help me pick a vehicle.

    I’m in total agreement with the excrement M-B interiors. What happened there? They used to be so nice, so well-thought out, and so touch-friendly. Now it’s like they can’t decide if they want it to be hip, modern, old-school, or euro. So they do all of it at the same time. The R-Class is the worst recipient of this mess.

    I also love the 5-series wagons. I worry about the reliability. Same goes for the Audi wagons. Excellent styling, great interiors, proper aural feedback, and good driving dynamics. But unfortunately for their owners, they see too much of their dealers.

    The Passat really didn’t fit in this review all that well. That said, it would do a lot poorer if it was in a review against say a Subaru Impreza wagon. Then the value proposition would get turned on its head.

    Sadly, the Volvo really is the best choice for family hauling because of its kid-friendly features (which become parent friendly soon enough), great seats, and great safety ratings. I say sadly because the driving dynamics look to be piss poor. For someone who likes wagons because of driving dynamics far and away better than any SUV, it partly kills the reason for getting a wagon in the first place.

  • avatar
    rx8totheendoftime

    Factotum

    This is the Truth About Cars site…I believe you were looking for the “thetruthaboutgrammarandpunctuation.com” site, weren’t you?

  • avatar
    rx8totheendoftime

    Seriously, just turned in my 3 Series wagon at the end of the lease…great, great car, except for the run flats, if you do not need a lot of space, just some utility…drives like a 3, you forget that you are driving a wagon.

  • avatar
    SLLTTAC

    If I carried no passengers, no cargo, and drove mostly as though I were driving on a race track, I’d likely choose the BMW. In the real world, I value other qualities. So, after the lease expired on my less-than-reliable 2004 Audi allroad 4.2 V8 , I eventually got a new 2007 Subaru 3.0 H6 LLBean Outback, which may not be as entertaining to drive as the BMW, but has proven to be boringly reliable, durable, and practical and gets 28 mpg on the highway. If the next-generation Subaru Legacy wagon, due out in the summer of 2009, doesn’t offer the amenities of the 2009 Audi A6 avant, then I’m going to take a hard look at that Audi. I drove for a week a 2004 Hertz Volvo V70XC and found the handling and roadholding to be wanting and the interior cheaply done, though the front seats were comfortable. By the way, Toyota, Honda, Mazda, and Subaru all make sporty wagons, but do not sell them in North America. Too bad.

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    Nice comparison. I know this will sound odd, especially to Euro-snobs, but I wonder how a top-of-the-line Venza would have done in this crowd.

    I doubt the seats are as nice, or the handling as fun, but otherwise, I am having trouble seeing why people spend more than $30K for station wagons.

  • avatar
    BEAT

    They all ugly cars.

    These cars are for people who just had a baby at the age of 50.
    Even you have a good market target on this car it will never sell for an average Joe the plumber.

    No excitement just show and drive.

    I everytime I see them. I feel like the owner is saying “hey, I drive this car and I have money”Ohhhh Please!!!!!

    Factotum is not writing an Article for ‘Time Magazine”.

    He can write whatever he wants to write. grammatical error or not.

    Factotum don’t let these arrogant TTAC readers get you.
    They are humans too and they are not perfect. Continue what you are writing even the wrong spelling.

    At least you are not a wanna be A smart person but a real person

  • avatar
    Alex Dykes

    netrun,

    You might be surprised to hear this, but driving dynamics wise the Volvo really isn’t bad. It is by far a better driver’s car than the Passat and personally, I preferred it to the E350 as well. The steering is well balanced, the engine is quite responsive. The only handling problem is the height. I have tested a Euro spec V70 T6 and with the height reduction it becomes a very good performer, with the optional dynamic suspension it is even better. Will it ever be a BMW? No. But should the V70 T6 ever grace our shores, it would be the winner of this matchup.

    SherbornSean, Badly. The Venza’s interior makes the E350′s look like a palace. With leather and Nav the Venza comes out to $35,810 which is too much to pay for a plastic penalty box that drives like a Camry on stilts (because it is). Get the Passat, it’s a better deal any way you slice it.

  • avatar
    Alwaysinthecar

    The pic you chose to use of the E350 Estate in your final rankings section is, in fact, a white E63 AMG. Despite any “Buick” interior that car is a treat to drive, trust me.

  • avatar
    gsp

    i have a 2008 BMW X5. if the 5 touring was not almost $20k more expensive i would have bought the touring. merc and BMW have their pricing all messed up on these products in my opinion. too much cake. i think they only sell these thing to people to lease or maybe don’t even look at the sticker.

  • avatar
    njgreene

    Now, if only the wait for a new V70R stick wasn’t pointless.

  • avatar
    Driver23

    “On the surface, wagons promise the holy grail of cargo schlepping and fuel sipping.”

    Really? XC70 is rated 15/22mpg. 15 mpg in a wagon??? I’ll take an SUV then, more clearance and wider choice of models at lower prices and some of them can actually carry 7-8 people. High clearance comes handy – just look at Northwest weather these days. Yeah, wagon is AWD but I have half a mile to drive on unplowed streets before I reach cleared arterial road. It seems like Volvo wagon is only for “looking” green (oh, look at me, I am not driving an SUV!) rather than actually get lots of cargo moving ability without SUV bulk and bad mileage.

    BMW – why there is no 528 wagon? I don’t get it – why family/cargo hauler must have sub 7 sec 0-60?

    VW – why no AWD with 2.0T? A4 is available with 2.0 and Quattro. Why no TDI?

    In fact, the only sensible Euro wagons left are A4 2.0T and V50 AWD.

  • avatar
    kamm

    “I understand this was a Euro wagon comparo, but why not include the Outback 3.0R (the refined choice) or Outback XT (the sporty choice) as a point of reference?”

    Spot on. It would kick the teeth of the Bimmer anytime.

    Ah and Clarkson is a clueless loser moron, BTW.

  • avatar
    Buckshot

    Why not include the Subaru Legacy 3,0R in this test?
    I´m sure it would have done well.

  • avatar
    JJ

    I think the X5 might be cheaper in the US compared to the 5-series because it’s made in Spartanburg, so they don’t have to ship them across the atlantic first.

    Although I know they are quite close in price in Europe too.

    As for the 528i, I think it would be a really good idea for BMW to offer a 528i/525i in the US, but I guess they’re still scared that the lower number scares off ‘bigger is better ‘mericans’ and hurt the perception of their brand.

    Here in Europe you can even get the 4-banger 520i…

  • avatar
    Alex Dykes

    Driver23,

    Not sure what you mean by an SUV having more clearance than an XC70, remember that the 08+ XC70s have a higher ground clearance than a Jeep Grand Cherokee. The mileage isn’t fantastic in the XC, but in my testing I was unable to get the mileage as low as the EPA was claiming for the XC70 T6. at 75 on the freeway I averaged about 24mpg and in city driving I was about 18-19, which isn’t fantastic, but it’s a decent way from 15.

  • avatar
    mwevrick

    Alex:
    Good review! I see your point about manufacturer towing recommendations. But manufacturers can deny warranty claims even if the vehicle IS rated to tow. For example, my Impreza is rated to tow up to 2000 lbs but there is a note in the manual saying that damage caused by towing is not covered by the warranty. It wouldn’t surprise me if Volvo had the same disclaimer. So the “official” tow rating may not be worth as much as you think.

  • avatar
    mwevrick

    One more thing: The $70k price for the BMW is fully loaded. Base is around $55k, and that includes all service/repairs except tires for 40 years or 50k miles. If you do European Delivery its almost 4k cheaper which means you get a nice vacation thrown in free.

  • avatar
    jose carlos

    Such reviews are flawed because: a) they only last a few hours/days; b) you do not pay for the car. On the long run I doubt you a have a car as good as the Mercedes. Particularly, if you put your own money on it. Solid, no rattles in the interior, dependable e a nice place to travel, no matter in what seat you are. That is my record so far, since ’92. Then, there is the motor. You may find fancier specifications elsewhere. My current iteration is a ’03 E320 wagon with 100kmiles. It is as smooth as new, the transmission is pure silk and it is just gas and tires for the running. And talking of gas the average fuel consumption is 11 l/100 km for an official figure of 10.1. Not bad. I bought a BMW 118i auto (2 liter) and although the official consumption is 6.2 l/100 km and it makes 10 in the same driving, even though the car is nearly 400 kg lighter. So much so for the efficient dynamics. I admire the BMW interiors and colors/patterns they offer and the styling of a few but their fitting is well below the MB. Trust me, this is a car you appreciate and enjoy (or in other words do not get bored) with time.

  • avatar
    Sharon

    Thanks so much for this article. Very helpful to me. I currently have a 2001 XC70 with over 100K miles on it. Things are starting to go wrong though, and often. Heater keeps dying. Today I have flashing red “Transmission Service Required!” button and the service guy said not to drive it in, but have it towed. This is my second Volvo wagon. I have two teen sons, both in sports, both with teammates and all their lacrosse or baseball gear to schlep to games.

    The new XC70 is longer than my car. Too long to fit easily in my garage, in fact. So I’m looking at buying something other than a Volvo for the first time. I’d like to know which wagon has the best leg room in the passenger seat area? My 14 year old is 6′ tall. I’m short but the kids are all giants, go figure. I need a roomy back seat without the car being so long that it is too long for the garage. And I don’t care about typos. I love your writing style; really cracked me up. Not sure what “hoonage” is but maybe that’s because I’m 50.

  • avatar
    Driver23

    The mileage isn’t fantastic in the XC, but in my testing I was unable to get the mileage as low as the EPA was claiming for the XC70 T6.

    Go check mileage ratings of ’97 850 wagon. MSN Autos keeps specs of old cars. It was 19/26 10 years ago AND 850 had more space in the rear seat. It also came with stick and in fact, had better performance.

    Ford made Volvo into differently looking Explorer. BTW, have you checked pricing on 2009 V50 AWD? It now costs more than Audi A4 Avant. Another “smart move” from Detroit management.

  • avatar
    mleitman

    I just checked http://www.vw.ca and sure enough the Passat Wagon is available with the V6 in both Comfortline and Highline models.


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