By on February 8, 2018

2018 Volvo V90

Our previous entry into Buy/Drive/Burn asked which brougham personal luxury coupe you’d choose from the Big Three for the 1980 model year. Today we’ve got a different Big Three — two Germans and a Swede. (Read ground rules here.)

All of them offered luxury wagons with all-wheel drive around the turn of the century, and we hone in on 2004 today. Which one will you drive up to the Alps and then set on fire?
Audi A6 Allroad

Image: 2004 Audi AllroadBefore the CUV craze started, Audi applied some cladding to its A6 Avant, jacked up the suspension, and increased the price to create the A6 Allroad for 1999. Available with either a 2.7-liter biturbo engine or the full-fat 4.2-liter V8 (an excellent engine), the Allroad sold in relatively low numbers in North America until it was cancelled after the 2005 model year.

Volvo XC70

Image: 2004 Volvo XC70 Cross Country

Much like the Audi, Volvo added cladding and ride height to the all-wheel drive potion to create the rough and ready XC70. First available for 1998, the V70 XC (or Cross Country), name swapped to XC70 in 2003, midway through the second generation. No inline-six in 2004; we had a 2.5-liter I5. The XC70 received a third generation, surviving through 2015 before its replacement by the larger (and elegant) V90 Cross Country.

Mercedes-Benz E320 4MATIC

Image: 2004 Mercedes-Benz E320 Wagon

For the more traditional, cladding-free luxury customer, Mercedes-Benz held onto a traditional wagon format (and still does), while offering its 4Matic system to power all four wheels. Brand new in 2004 (the DaimlerChrysler era), the W211 E320 wagon sported revised but conservative styling that was similar to its predecessor. It’s powered by the standard 3.2-liter V6, because this was a time when the numbers on the back matched the engine’s displacement.

Three different wagons providing the same sort of luxury experience and maintenance opportunities. Which one goes home with you as you speed away from an arson event?

[Images: The Truth About Cars, Audi, Volvo Cars, Daimler AG]

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42 Comments on “Buy/Drive/Burn: A Luxury All-Wheel Drive Wagon Awaits...”

  • avatar

    Burn: Audi (For turning a perfectly good wagon into an Aztec)
    Drive: Volvo (Nothing witty or snarky to put here…fitting, really.)
    Buy: Mercedes (Rear facing 3rd row wins the day, making this a suitable daily driver for my bride and the kids.)

  • avatar

    Gah… a year or two later when the Benz got the 3.5 would make it a no brainer. Even still, I’d buy the Benz, drive a 2.7T 6MT Allroad, burn the slow ass Volvo. Or maybe take a risk on the Audi, drive the slow Benz to confirm I don’t want it… still burn the Volvo.

    A more interesting comparo might have been the S60R, S4, 535i wagon. But that’s for another day I suppose…

    • 0 avatar

      A friend of mine’s had a V70R for at least the last ten years and it spends a lot of time on dirt roads. It does have some horrifically expensive electronic parts that need replacing, but it’s nothing compared to another friend’s similarly-treated S4 that would disappear for a year at a time waiting to replace some *galactically* expensive electronic component.

      In contrast my fourteen year old WRX station wagon had the switch for the air conditioner fail two years ago. I don’t know anyone in that circle that brings a BMW out into those conditions.

  • avatar

    I am a wagon lover who owns the volvo in question , now my daughters car so it pains me to burn but I would drive the Audi w the v8 and roll the dice , I would buy the MB as it holds its value the best so I can get out of it when needed, the MB scares me the most being year one of that model when MB was losing it way with the “American Partner” but it is the cleanest looking one of the three.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    Exactly the same as NoID.
    Burn Audi because of my opinions of “old” Audi
    Drive Volvo because I fear the term angle gear – I’m not sure if it suffers the same issues with it as the S60/V70 R but I am not willing to put the money down to find out.
    Buy Merc as the lesser of the three evils. And I cannot deny the handsomeness of that generation of MB.

    It’s worth pointing out that the unpainted textured plastic bumper being rugged is a con game. Sure it won’t scratch as easily as a painted bumper, but if it DOES get scratched it is not repairable. When I was a claims adjuster I replaced soooo many textured bumper covers for minor impacts and scratches. You’d think since you didn’t need to paint them the overall cost might be cheaper than trying to repair, but no. At least at the time there was a premium charged for textured parts.

    Technically there is a process to repair them, but the body shop has to agree to do it and the economics does not make sense for them to have someone on staff do that versus R/I.

    • 0 avatar

      Land Ark,
      Volvo fixed the angle gear and glass tranny of the previous model with this one, my daughter now has 170,000 miles on it and has been fairly robust, the 2001 we had went 160,000 put that was with a new tranny and angle gear at 110,000 and a good amount of cash spent on it before a exploding cam seal killed it.

      • 0 avatar

        In many cases the angle/bevel/transfer case wasn’t the culprit, it was the sacrificial sleeve that joined the TC to the rear drive shaft. It was made to fail to preserve the more expensive bits up and down the line. Really, most XC owners have no idea that it’s broken (just like modern Ford products) and presume all is well.
        Many of these things could be fixed by replacing that sleeve–however, doing so means removing the transfer case and then concocting a way to slide-hammer the sleeve on as it’s pressed on from the factory. Consult your nearest youtube for assistance. The cost of the repair was often labor, not parts. Most folks when confronted with this will opt to remove the driveshaft and keep rockin’. I surf the CL for a cheap XC as I’d like to have a tinkertoy and I see many ads stating that the driveshaft is already out.
        For fun: watch this guy and his “quick and easy” way to remove the sleeve with vice grips mounted on a slide hammer. Only takes 20 or so hits–EASY!

  • avatar

    Burn the Audi. The Allroads are some of the worst Audi’s from a reliability standpoint. Drive the Volvo. I do realize that 2004 Volvo electronics can be goofy on a good day though. And buy the Benz. That’s always been a beautiful car to me.

  • avatar
    Car Ramrod

    This is a tough one, well played Corey.
    Buy the Audi- despite its many faults, love that V8, and at least it has less unpainted plastics than the Volvo.

    Drive the Volvo, and hope it doesn’t have a million squeaks and leaks plus melty interior and faded exterior plastics that all of these seem to possess now.

    Burn the Mercedes- that lazy 3.2 combined with corpulent styling of that generation does nothing for me.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Burn the Audi, it has no draw for me despite having the most potent engines. Never have liked the styling on this generation–clunky and clumsy.

    Drive the Benz because that’s a proper wagon and it looks good.

    Buy the Volvo under the possibly erroneous assumption that it will go the distance with fewer headaches. Maybe. I could make use of the ground clearance as well.

  • avatar

    I gotta defend the volvo here ( and yes it is the one I would burn) the one in our household has 170,000 miles on it second owner and i have all the paperwork from the first owner, it has help up well, everything still works, the seats are still great, no realty interior bits and no leaks, it is fairly slow buts has held up pretty well and I am just guessing has the most interior space. Buying one new is tough as they lose a ton of value quickly unlike the MB who it seems holds it value very well in wagon form, no idea about the Auid in that regard.

  • avatar

    Buy the Volvo and give it away
    Drive the Mercedes station wagon like their wealthiest customers do
    Burn the Audi

  • avatar

    Burn the Benz. It was Carmela Soprano’s ride, and frankly, I hated her. She should have taken her kids and told Tony to go stick his money.

    Buy the Volvo, and donate it to a local vo-tech high school that teaches auto repair. They’ll get plenty of practice.

    Drive the Audi – might as well, it’s the best looking of the bunch.

    Best yet, to heck with all of these cars, and find that R63 Benz Corey posted yesterday. Put a “Coexist” sticker on it, and troll the bro-dozers.

    • 0 avatar

      Carmela did not want to have to work, and enjoyed living in a large (vulgar) home with her E-Class and then Cayenne.

      • 0 avatar

        Speaking as someone who was also married to a very toxic person (she wan’t a Mafia boss, of course, but she was a criminal, and a narcissistic sociopath), there’s only one way out in that deal: leave, no matter the cost. I did it, it cost me dearly, and she could have as well. But, like you say, the big house and the money was too important to her.

        Worse yet, she made noises about being so religious. What a freaking hypocrite.

        (Rant is now completed.)

        • 0 avatar
          MRF 95 T-Bird

          Awful marriages and automobiles. That’s a subject that can certainly have a lengthy comment thread. Or a Dan Savage column.

          Thankfully I’ve never had a bad experience with the combination.

  • avatar

    Burn – Volvo. That thing was too heavy, too slow, too thirsty and broke a lot

    Own – MB. This is MB

    Drive – Allroad, especially v8

  • avatar

    This one is easy

    Drive the Audi with the 2.7T 6MT, find one that is monotone paint scheme, go full stg3.
    Buy the Benz because it’s still a classy wagon
    Burn the Volvo, that is the worst generation XC70. Terrible.

    This would have been a better comparo to replace the Volvo with the E61 535xi wagon…or at least be a V70R.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Drive the Volvo, buy the Benz, and the Audi will somehow set itself on fire.

  • avatar

    I just re-read the rules and I may be te’ched but do we stick to the three crapwagons in the article or can we add contemporaneous vehicles?

  • avatar

    Burn the Mercedes. It only a V6, is 4Matic and E-Class wagons are covered with DeMuro & hipster Jalopnik stink these days.

    Drive the Volvo. I actually really like the XC70, but the one you gave us just doesn’t have enough engine. If this was a later version with the T6, it would be my buy.

    Buy the Audi. Gah, I don’t really like NonBentley VW products, but this offers a V8 which is basically an instant win for this trio. The Audi interiors of this era were also pretty nice.

  • avatar

    I lusted after that A6 Allroad when I was in college.

    I was a weird kid.

    Anyway, my friend’s mom got one and it lived its life in the shop before she finally got rid of it. I’d drive it to enjoy the gorgeous interior just once before the hydraulics gave out, buy the Mercedes, which I’d still be driving to this day in supreme comfort, and burn – eh, what was the other one?

  • avatar

    So… the criterion here must’ve been to find the three vehicles most likely to leave you stranded on a logging road?

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    This is a tough one.

    Buy: mercedes as I find it the most elegant of the three.

    Drive: Audi

    Burn: My MIL and FIL are Volvo apologists and each of there 100k plus Volvo wagon and XC 90 are rattle traps that, in my opinion have not aged well. Plus, the inevitable repairs by the Volvo only indie shop are painfully expensive. Basically 1k every time they go, which is a minimum of once per year for each car.

  • avatar
    Stanley Steamer

    The correct answer is: Burn them all!!

  • avatar

    Buy the Mercedes, its classy.

    Drive the Audi with its V-8 + bland styling making it a bit of a sleeper.

    Burn the ugly and unreliable Volvo.

  • avatar

    Buy: the two that sit at proper wagon height and do not have gray/black plastic wheel opening trim – burn those.

  • avatar

    Buy: Mercedes. When that generation E came out I immediate went and tried it out. I drove an E320 and I liked it – except for the sporty feel. Yes, your eyes are not deceiving you. Compared to my W210s that E class felt like a sports car. Too sporty for me as I love the comfortable zero sporty pretension feel of the W210. I thought the E320 motor was ok. Good on power, good engine response and good refinement.

    Drive: Volvo. I have never driven one, but from what I know they are a bit on the harsh side in terms of suspension quality. I like softly-sprung rides, so if I must drive this car once in awhile so be it! Once a week won’t hurt my spine!

    Burn: Audi. I don’t know anyone who owns these, but I have not heard good things about their reliability. I also don’t like the design.

  • avatar

    Buy a BMW, drive the Benz, burn the Taurus.

  • avatar

    No contest – buy the Mercedes, drive the Audi, burn the Volvo Outback.

  • avatar

    Burn – Volvo wagon. Just not that interesting, although it had a nice interior
    Drive – Audi V8 wagon. Audi V8 wagon.
    Buy – Merc, but it’s nothing more than a grocery getter. I drove an E500 last year and for a V8, it sucked. It sounded good, but acceleration was lazy, probably due to the crap AT that existed not that long ago in everything. Very soft.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Burn-Audi The subpar reliability and hellish repairs. Taking the front header off for timing belt/chain replacement is not a great way to spend time or money.

    Drive-Volvo I do prefer the V70 non XC. The ride is a bit firm but still decent.

    Buy-Benz Its just a plain classy ride. Dreams of a not so everyday housewife.

  • avatar

    Buy one of the 250 or whatever that they’ll build, put 40,000 miles on it, and sell it on ebay in two years for the same price you bought it for!

  • avatar

    If we’re going to be criticizing Volvo, let’s get the facts straight. The 1st gen XC was on the old 850, then renamed V70XC in 1998. The second P2 came out in 2001 and ran through 2007. It was renamed XC70 in 03 and given a 2.5T engine. All previous models had the 2.4T engine.
    The last gen was enlarged in 08 and carried on until 17. It now had a 3.2 6cyl in it.
    I personally own a P2 2002 V70XC. It’s been quite reliable, however, like any car…must be well maintained to go the distance. Mine has 218,000 on it and is still going strong. One major thing must be noted about these AWD cars. Multispeed transmissions must be servic regularly…as do the angle gears. Like every 40K miles on both…or u might as well burn it…. literally.
    Anyway, I love my volvo! As parts ware, I replace them. The body and interior are doing fine, even in the AZ sun. (Again…take care of the leather) I will drive it until it dies. I use synthetic oil and it runs like new…even the turbo is fine.
    I’d buy another Volvo in a heart beat!

  • avatar

    Burn: Mercedes. Never liked how it drives, or the interior. Looks ok on the outside but that doesn’t help much. Since in -04 it would be just before the M272 that has the balance shaft gear issues this might be the least expensive to run, but i’ve always been willing to pay more to actually like the car(s) i drive, particularly after trying the low-cost option a couple times and hating every minute of driving the pos kias.. So, the mercedes can burn or whatever, don’t even really care.

    Buy: Volvo, mainly because of three things: lights, seats, even the crappier ones beat anything in a W211 and A6 apart from the recaros in the audi and the “sport” or whatever they were called are just a bit better the aforementioned recaros. This of course is a very personal thing what fits your behind might be completely the opposite. And the third is running costs, since i happen to know what to do to prevent and do if things go awry on one of these it would be cheap to own compared to the A6 and the Mercs cost don’t matter..

    Drive: Audi, this is the one i’d prefer driving, (with the right seats) but even though i work at an indie VAG specialist shop, i consider buying an old allroad with a 2,7T or 4,2 financial suicide.. Unlike the volvo, knowing what to do doesn’t save the day here and while some things might not cost thousands when doing them yourself, it feels like most repairs start with removing the engine..

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