Like many families did, the Bidrawn clan always had some sort of station wagon parked in the driveway. In our case it was a Ford Country Squire with wood-toned paneling, Speed Racer stickers and some sort of choked V8 beneath the hood. The interior was blue vinyl and when it got hot, many a sweaty behind stuck to it. The AC only worked in the winter and the electric windows were powerful enough to sever the hard plastic trunk of a GI Joe. The rear trunk featured a fold-down seat perfect for children wanting to read their comics in private. Of course, when the rear window came down all the exhaust came in the back and we were usually in a carbon monoxide stupor by the time we reached wherever. You'd get seasick from the ride quality, and according to my mother the Squire handled with all the dexterity of a drunken whale. Mercifully, those days are over, and Junkers like the Squire have been replaced with a new breed of European wagons that behave like sports cars in nearly every respect.
Sport wagons have been slow to catch on in the United States and that's a shame. The stigma of having a "station wagon" has been difficult to shed, even after 30 years. In Europe, however, it's a whole different story and sport wagons are the preferred choice of people with active lifestyles. Although VW's Jetta sedan is a huge seller Stateside, Europeans view the Jetta (Bora) as an old person's car. The Jetta wagon variant is the preferred model there, where it outsells the sedan 5 to 1.
Rather than tell you how great sport wagons are, we figured we'd show you. We assembled a great cross section of wagons and essentially used them as they were designed. We carved canyons and carried groceries, took the kids to summer camp and did burnouts in mall parking lots. Enjoy.-Les Bidrawn
Greedspeed A4 2.0TIt's really hard to decide, but this was probably my favorite car in the field. That's not meant to be demeaning to any other car in the lineup-not by any means. I just like a clean Audi, and this one was very well done-which is to say it has seen a "less is more" approach to aftermarket tweaking. Of course, the base car is exceptional and it's easy to see why Audi has lately been selling so many A4s.
Owned by Anthony Gelinas at GreedSpeed, the car does include a brief selection of aftermarket parts. Neuspeed provided an exhaust, ECU software, and a beautiful set of alloy wheels new to the company's parts catalog. The best part on the car, though, has to be the short shifter. "A short shifter?" you ask. Most short-shift mechanisms do exactly what they say they'll do, but in many cases gear selection with one installed can become a rather tricky and frustrating procedure. This one is simply amazing, elevating Audi's already superb mechanicals into-dare I say it-Porsche territory.
Even with a couple thousand miles on the odometer, on the road the Avant may as well have been straight out of the showroom. Tight, shiny, dead silent; it even retained a glorious new-car smell through being flogged up and down hot, dusty, bug-infested desert highways, smelly automotive journalists ensconced within, en route to our photo location. If you've got an Audi in need of a little aftermarket love, you'll know where to take it.-Karl Funke
2005.5 Audi A4 2.0T Avant Quattro
Engine2.0-liter inline four, dual overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, turbocharged and intercooledMods: K&N drop-in filter, Denso Iridium spark plugs, Neuspeed 60mm exhaust, Neuspeed engine management software
SuspensionMods: Bilstein PSS9 coilovers, Neuspeed 21mm anti-roll bar (r)
Wheels and TiresNeuspeed RS10, 8.5x19Michelin PilotSport2, 235/35-19
InteriorNeuspeed short shifter
PerformancePeak Power: 237 whpPeak Torque: 198 lb-ft
IPD V70There was something incredibly sexy about ipd's Volvo V70. Despite my parking miles away from fellow drivers (to avoid door dings), folks seemed to gravitate towards the V70 like it was a buff, half-naked supermodel.
With some 20 years of experience, ipd has been making Volvos go faster since the first 122 came ashore. This latest V70 project has been decked out with ipd's entire catalog and represents the most modified ipd car we've seen to date.
Whereas a stock V70 is a fairly sedate piece, this wagon is an entirely different animal. With its substantially increased boost (20 psi) the ipd wagon doesn't explode off the line but more gradually slingshots itself to warp speed. There's no mistaking the fact this is a turbocharged car.
The ipd suspension proved to be both entertaining and sometimes frustrating. Given smooth, track-like surfaces the Volvo behaved like a well-bred club racer, not quite as connected as a BMW but pretty damn close. It's almost like there's an extra Swedish filter in the steerage. I'd like to remove it somehow. However, most of our driving was spent on the washboards that comprise the better part of So Cal's freeways, which meant a pretty harsh ride (and a set of bent wheels). If the rates were reduced 40%, it would be perfect.
Like all Volvos, the cabin is well appointed in traditional Scandinavian style. It's a nice place to hang and the radio rocks big time. Seats are very supportive and feature enough bolstering for increased lateral loads. And ipd must have done some work on the shifter because it was a significant improvement over the stock unit.
Scott Hart at ipd drove this car down from Oregon to play with us. Afterwards, he jumped back in and headed north with a trunkful of race wheels and R compound tires. You gotta love wagons-Les Bidrawn
2004 Volvo V70 R
Engine2.5-liter inline five, dual overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, turbocharged and intercooledMods: ipd Stage 3 upgrade, TME Twinpipe sport exhaust, Aquamist water injection
SuspensionMods: Eibach Pro-Kit springs, ipd anti-roll bars
BrakesMods: Brembo four-piston calipers, 13-inch rotors
Wheels and TiresHeico-Sportiv Volution, 8x19Nokian NRY, 235/35-19
ExteriorVST front lip, Umnitza Angel Eyes headlamps
InteriorPerforated leather seat inserts, Momo shift knob, Omori boost gauge
PerformancePeak Power: 322 whpPeak Torque: 282 lb-ft