Is the station wagon the dodo of the new car market? Think about it: shop for a new car, and automakers are happy to offer you crossovers, vans, SUVs, hatchbacks, four-door coupes – anything but a wagon. Those car companies that do offer wagons go out of their way not to call them station wagons, rechristening them as “sport wagons” or “touring” trims. What gives?
After spending decades as the go-to family car in the U.S., station wagons started losing ground in the 1990s. Minivans became all the rage, and after that, families discovered the increased space of the SUV. But with people starting to pay attention to the increased fuel bills of SUVs, the time could be ripe for a station wagon renaissance. If you’re considering a wagon, here’s what you need to know.
What is a wagon?
Technically speaking, a wagon is a specific type of body style that covers multiple new car classes. Wagons typically have four doors and a roof that extends over the cargo area. What differentiates wagons from hatchbacks is that wagons have four pillars (a pillar is the metal column that extends from a car’s body to its roof, separating the windows). Hatchbacks typically only have three pillars.
If the definition of a wagon body style sounds familiar, it’s because most SUVs have wagon bodies: four doors, four pillars and an enclosed cargo area. But, wagons are distinct from SUVs in a few ways. For one, SUVs historically were built on truck platforms, while wagons use car platforms. Also, SUVs typically offer buyers two-, four-, or all-wheel drive (AWD). Wagons, on the other hand, usually offer two-wheel drive, though some have AWD.
The class of car that wagons have the most in common with are crossovers. Crossovers take SUV bodies and SUV styling cues but ride on a car platform. Though they tend to be taller than wagons and have a higher driving position, the odds are that if you’re shopping wagons, you’ll also cross-shop crossovers.
What Wagons Offer
Since wagons are so similar to crossovers, you might be wondering why you should consider one over the other. Though the two have a lot in common, wagons have a few advantages. The first is fuel economy. Wagons do tend to be smaller and lighter than crossovers. Also, they tend to be lower to the ground, meaning there’s less wind resistance. All of this translates to better fuel economy when compared to crossovers. Also, because of their slightly smaller size, wagons tend to be easier to drive than crossovers. They can slip into tight urban spaces more easily.
Though they offer a small overall size, wagons still have plenty of cargo space compared to most crossovers – even when the two models are made by the same company. Take the Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen. It has 32.8 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row and 66.9 cubic feet of space with the second row seats folded. The Volkswagen Tiguan, the brand’s entry crossover, has only 23.8 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row and 56.1 cubic feet of space when the back seat is folded. The SportWagen also starts at about $3,000 less than the Tiguan. If your priority is hauling cargo and sticking to a budget, the SportWagen wins.
Most wagons are all about one thing: cargo, cargo, cargo. But, if you shop right, you can find wagons that offer plenty of cargo space and a lot more.
Compact wagons are often compared to hatchbacks, though they typically offer more cargo space. You can easily get into a nicely-equipped small wagon for under $20,000. Some, like the Hyundai Elantra Touring, offer lots of standard features and a long warranty. Others, like the Chevrolet HHR, get panned for cheap-feeling interiors and poor visibility. Since there’s a lot of variation in this class, getting up close and personal with the compact wagons you’re considering is important.
Full-size wagons have a lot in common with crossovers. They generally start under $30,000 and feature more passenger and cargo space. Plus, you can often get optional features that you wouldn’t be able to get on a compact wagon. For example, the Subaru Outback has Bluetooth music streaming, allowing you to wirelessly connect your Bluetooth-enabled music player to the car’s stereo.
Luxury wagons start at about $35,000 and feature the same luxury features and driving experience you’d find in a luxury sedan, but with extra cargo space. The Acura TSX Sport Wagon easily runs with the TSX sedan, and the BMW 328i Sports Wagon has the same drivetrain as the 328i sedan. Luxury wagons are a great way to get the cargo and passenger space you need, as well as the high-end performance you want.