That was the case with the C320 Mercedes station wagon. The C320 version of the Mercedes C class carries a 215-hp 3.2-liter V6. The zero-to-60 time is a little over 7 sec. The less-powerful C230s and 240s get a 189-hp supercharged four and 168-hp V6, respectively. We thought the wagon we tried had plenty of punch. A five-speed automatic transmission is standard on these near-luxury cars. It carries a manual-shift option for drivers who prefer a do-it-yourself approach to acceleration.

As you might expect from a carmaker with a reputation for safety, all C class vehicles carry ABS, antiskid/traction control, front/rear side air bags, headprotecting side-curtain air bags, and a BabySmart child-seat recognition system. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives these cars a best rating for performance in a 40-mph frontal offset crash.

No surprise that the Mercedes wagon feels solid on the road. It handled rough surfaces well and is pretty quiet to boot. Our review vehicle had 16-in. wheels and the standard chassis package, though sport-tuned versions are available to give a firmer ride. The front suspension is a three-link independent with a torsion bar, while the rear is a multilink that incorporates gas pressure dampers to help even out the roughest roads.

The interior is roomy and even back seat occupants have space for their legs. Shorter drivers will enjoy the power seat, which rises up to give a good view of the road. Seats and interior surfaces are in charcoal leather. Heated front seats are standard on the AWD versions. There were also some nice touches such as tilt-down back-up aid mirrors, and a Bose sound system. Our only real gripe with the accoutrements were powerwindow switches that would have been better if lighted and a few controls such as door-lock buttons that seemed to be in odd locations. Even so, these would probably seem less awkward for those who've grown familiar with the car.

We put the rear storage area to good use during our time with the vehicle. The rear seats are split fold-down types. It was a one-touch one-push process to collapse the seats, which even strengthchallenged people should have no trouble with. There is 63.6 ft 3 of cargo space altogether. Forget about putting 43 8 plywood in the back, but there's space for a lot of other material.

The review vehicle also carried a $1,510 sunroof package that included a rain sensor and autodimming rearview mirror. A CD changer for $410 and special $670 silver paint job brought the total cost of the car to $42,920. And the automatic-equipped version is rated to get 19 and 27 mpg in city and country driving on premium gas.

All in all, the C320 is a nice set of wheels for those shopping for a near luxury wagon. Potential buyers should note, though, that the car is said to be due for a complete redesign in the 2006 model year. —Lee Teschler