No matter how much we like rapid cars, most car enthusiasts will go through a practicality crisis at some point in their lives. Many of us will get genuinely sensible and throw in the performance towel in favour of something that's more white good than motor car, although you may be able to keep something more appealing tucked up in a garage for high days and holidays.
PH Fleet C63 AMG estate's ability to lug copious amounts of kit along at improbably high speeds. Provided you can afford to foot the fuel bills (the C63 is quite capable of descending to MPGs in the low teens) it's an intoxicating combination.
Curiously, though, the idea of providing a vehicle that can haul an entire family's stuff along at a committed and rapid pace is one that mainstream manufacturers took a long time to come around to. Pedants may argue that the performance estate theory was espoused by models such as Reliant Scimitar GTE in the late 60s or the Lancia Beta HPE in the 70s, but it wasn't until the 1990s that car makers were really turned on the performance wagon pound.
More to the point, we're not pretending that the five cars assembled here are a definitive collection of the best or most significant fast estates (although each one is significant and/or brilliant in its own way), but they are indicative of the variety of possibilities, should you decide to point your hard-earned in the direction of a fast estate.
It's quite a disparate bunch, really. The cheapest car is worth a little less than £2k, while our Merc (when it was brand-new) tipped just beyond £71.5k with its various options. Meanwhile you can choose between front-, rear- or four-wheel drive, five or eight cylinders, and turbochargers or natural aspiration. The only thing that really connects all the cars (apart from the two Audis; that link is fairly obvious) is a shared goal - to move around large amounts of luggage at equally large speeds...
So what do their owners think of them and, perhaps more importantly, what do they think of everybody else's cars...?
"It's an absurd car that should never have been made - but I'm glad they did!" says Chris about his not-so-subtle green and determinedly rear-drive V8 MG
Top speed: 155mph
"The RS2 is still the granddaddy of fast estates - it's a modern icon" says Jeremy of his beloved Audi - and with 315bhp, four-wheel-drive and the magic fairy dust of Porsche sprinkled all over it you'd have to say he's got a point.
Top speed: 162mph
"I reckon it's pretty much the best value performance estate you can buy at the moment" reckons Gareth. "A newer car might be more reliable, but when you're having fun who cares?" Who cares indeed, especially if you're driving around in a car that's the direct spiritual descendant of the one that shook up the BTCC in 1994.
Power: 240bhp (auto) 250bhp (manual)
0-60mph: 7.6secs (auto) 6.7secs (manual)
Top speed: 153mph (auto) 156mph (manual)
"It's just so composed and refined," says Smita, "and I think that even after four years it still feels fresh - to look at and to drive." It certainly doesn't feel outgunned, with 414bhp from its naturally aspirated V8...
Top speed: 155mph
"The C63 is so fast it almost seems impolite - especially since this one is fitted with the performance Pack" says, er, me. They surely can't be allowed to make engines like this for much longer, so the 6.2-litre V8 in our beloved Merc could well make it one of the last of a dying breed of German muscle car.
Top speed: 155mph
Pics: George Williams