The original battle wagon of Beverly Hills soccer moms, the new E-Class estate is a wonder of packaging, and it moves just as quickly as The New Moms' pace of life. But, for those of us who just open up the trunk and toss our stuff in, do high-tech cubbyholes and space-age tie-downs justify the cost?

Look closely and you can see one of the many reasons we were so smitten with the E500 Wagon. Stuffed within the roomy confines of its luxurious cabin lay the entire logistical support for our little shindig here. An 8-ft ladder, several coolers of food, 20 grand worth of photo gear and whatever else we picked up from the local market--the big Benz swallowed it all. Funny thing, though. This battlewagon was more than capable among this collection of dedicated sport sedans, packing both the sinew and brawn to make it a real contender.

Perhaps there's a reason the basic shape of the Estate has remained essentially unchanged over the last decade. Maybe it's because it's damn close to perfect, a design that manages to be sexy and utilitarian in the same strokes of the pen.

The E500 Wagon has been filled with all of the best bits of Mercedes-Benz's vaunted technology. The 5-liter V8 engine is an especially nice lump of metal, churning out an impressive 302 bhp and 339 lb-ft of twist. Our test vehicle was equipped with the 4Matic driveline, a rather pricey piece that few folks will ever actually need.

Despite its 4,230-l. curb weight, the Mercedes managed very respectable acceleration, and it was blessed with the best high-speed stability of the bunch. No doubt the Wagon's shape plays a part here, punching a tiny 0.27 Cd hole in the air, but the lion's share belongs to the Benz's inherently good suspension dynamics: independent double wishbones up front and independent five-arm multi-link out back, all modulated with Mercedes' Airmatic suspension control system.

Our rig was equipped with the standard yet stunning Stone Leather interior trimmed in walnut burlwood. The seating included well-bolstered chairs up front and two rows in back, capable of being divided in a 60/40 split or fully flat for 1,950 cu ft of storage. The cabin features lots of nifty storage trays, bins and nets, certainly enough to keep the kids busy.

Mercedes charges $59,950 for an E500 4Matic Wagon, a number that can escalate another six or seven grand when it's fully kitted out (as ours was at $66,760--destination and gas-guzzler charges included). Big bucks? You bet. It is, however, the best of its breed. Forget all that crap about soccer moms; this car is for F1 dads, perfect for shuttling junior to karting practice.

The Buzz...
"Who knew such performance was possible from a wagon? Extremely stable at speed, even over terrible pavement."

"I settled in at half throttle; a look at the speedometer gave me a shock: 100 mph! The E500 is the most polished of the group."

"Powerwise it isn't flashy but is more like the pounding of a judge's gavel. Every bit a performance GT with a long tail."

"Brilliant cabin layout. I'd buy this car just for the interior alone. Lots of cargo room and various storage spaces make it far more useful than any SUV."

"A sexy wagon? Absolutely. And brains, too. This one has it all."

"Its awd, impeccable road manners and highly useful interior make it the ideal all-season GT machine."

The Contenders

0408Ec S4 01 S
Audi S4
0408Ec Auditt 01 S
Audi TT 3.2 DSG
0408Ec 545 01 S
BMW 545i
0408Ec 645 01 S
BMW 645Ci
0408Ec Clk 01 S
Mercedes-Benz CLK500 Convertible
0408Ec E500 01 S
Mercedes-Benz E500 Wagon
0408Ec W12 01 S
Volkswagen Phaeton
0408Ec R32 01 S
Volkswagen R32
0408Ec Volvo 01 S
Volvo S40

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