SUPER-WAGON BRAWL: RS6, E63, PANAMERA
With a combined 2000 horses and room for one more in the back, these three lusty luxury load-luggers can do it all. But which does it best? James Disdale finds out
Here’s a question you’ve probably pondered quite a few times before, but it’s one that rewards revisiting. If you can have only one car to do it all, from sticking a smile on your face to shuffling down to the shops and everything in between, what would you choose?
For many of us, the quick answer is a fast estate. Melding family-friendly versatility with a ferocious turn of speed, these hot holdalls are the ultimate all-rounders, as comfortable playing the back-road warrior as they are packing in the odd wardrobe or two. In recent years, souped-up SUVS have stolen some of their thunder, but these lightning-quick load-luggers are experiencing a resurgence. This is especially true at the top end of the price and performance pecking order, where a trio of new arrivals have been welcomed over the past few months, all vying to prove themselves as (cliché alert) ‘all the car you’ll ever need’.
First up is the new (deep breath) Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-hybrid Sport Turismo. As close to an estate as Zuffenhausen will ever get, it combines 690bhp beneath the bonnet (making it the most powerful machine the company currently sells), with 500 litres of carrying capacity behind the rear seats.
As the name suggests, it is also a plug-in hybrid. Yet this electrical assistance is as much about performance enhancement (how does a Mclaren F1-rivalling 3.2sec 0-62mph time grab you?) as it is an eco-friendly, economy-boosting addition, Porsche falling back on experience gleaned through its 918 supercar and 919 LMP1 racer as it begins to embrace an Ice-free future.
A similarly petrol-electric approach is just around the corner for Mercedes-amg but, until then, we can continue to savour the relatively
old-school charms of its E63 S Estate, which has been treated to a nip and tuck in an effort to increase its showroom pulling power. Under the skin, the car remains largely unchanged, including its mighty 603bhp 4.0-litre V8 (cylinder deactivation is the only sop to CO2 reduction here), but there have been some subtle suspension tweaks aimed at rounding off the edges of its predecessor’s sharp low-speed ride.
Talking of sharp edges, our final contender is the aggressively angular Audi RS6 Avant – arguably the car that kicked off the quick estate class and now in its fourth generation. The Ingolstadt icon is on top form, finally delivering a big dollop of down-the-road dynamism to go with its trademark sledgehammer pace – although with ‘only’ 591bhp, the Audi’s 4.0-litre V8 (essentially the same as that in the Panamera) is the least muscular of our group, while the 48V mild-hybrid system makes it the eco-friendly halfway house between the Porsche and AMG.
Crucially, the RS6 is no longer unique in having four-wheel drive. Both the Porsche and Mercedes sport total traction transmissions, the
E63 S featuring a hooligan drift mode that can disconnect the front axle for some smoky sideways showboating because, well, you need that sort of thing in a practical estate car, don’t you? All the cars here are equipped with air suspension and adaptive dampers as standard, but only the Porsche and Audi have four-wheel steering.
With its chiselled looks and muscular stance, the RS6 takes the spoils for visual appeal. There’s an air of barely contained menace about the Audi, which the slightly portly Porsche can’t match. It has plenty of presence, but there’s something a little whale-like about the bulbous Panamera, an impression that our car’s blue paint job struggles to shake off. The Merc? In this company, it looks rather too much like a sales-manager-special E220d, although its relative blend-into-thebackground stealthiness will have many forming an orderly queue.
That said, it’s the most practical of our trio, and by quite some margin. Like the other two, the AMG’S interior will seat five adults (at a squeeze in the Porsche), but its 640-litre boot is by far the biggest, helped in no small part by its more upright tail. The E63 S is also the only car with rear seats that will fold completely flat (liberating a van-like
❝ The Panamera’s performance is shattering, and it has the legs of the Audi and Mercedes – just ❞