One of the biggest advantages of choosing a wagon over a crossover or an SUV is fuel economy. Wagons tend to be lighter than SUVs and crossovers, so they generally get better gas mileage. The right wagon can also match many SUVs in terms of passenger and cargo space, all while using less fuel and having better handling. There are wagons that prioritize efficiency and wagons that focus more on power. Here’s what you need to know to find a wagon that gets good fuel economy.
Alternative Wagon Powertrains
Since many wagons weigh less than SUVs and crossovers, they also tend to have smaller engines, which often need less fuel. Some wagons also have alternative powertrains with better gas mileage. The Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI has a diesel engine, which helps it get an estimated 29/39 mpg city/highway, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In comparison, the gas-powered Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen gets 24/31 mpg with an automatic transmission. Opt for the TDI, and the EPA estimates that its fuel savings will add up to about $150 each year.
If you’re looking for a hybrid wagon, you may want to consider the Toyota Prius v and Ford C-Max Hybrid. The Prius v is larger than the regular Toyota Prius, offering 34.3 cubic feet of cargo space behind the back seats. That’s 12.7 more cubic feet than the standard Prius. While the Toyota Prius v’s cargo area is larger, it also uses the same 134-horsepower, gas-electric hybrid powertrain as the regular Prius. Since it’s larger and heavier, the Toyota Prius v's fuel economy ratings of 44/40 mpg are slightly less than the standard Prius, which is rated at 51/48 mpg. If you want better gas mileage, consider the Ford C-Max Hybrid, which averages an EPA-estimated 47/47 mpg. However, it only has 24.5 cubic feet of cargo space behind its rear seats, which is significantly less than what’s available in the Prius v’s cargo area.
Small Wagon Fuel Economy
For some wagon buyers, getting the best fuel economy usually means going for a compact wagon. Their diminutive size means small wagons can get by with fuel-efficient four-cylinder engines. The Mini Cooper Clubman is a compact wagon that gets an impressive 27/35 mpg, in large part because of its small 121-horsepower, four-cylinder engine. The Clubman also has 181- and 208-horsepower, turbocharged, four-cylinder engines, but fuel economy estimates on these models is a little less.
Large Wagon Fuel Economy
Large wagons typically have larger engines to compensate for their bigger, heavier bodies, so they naturally have worse fuel economy compared with small wagons. Also, since some full-size wagons have all-wheel drive, their fuel economy suffers even more. The Subaru Outback has standard all-wheel drive and gets 24/30 mpg. Those fuel economy ratings are competitive with small crossover SUVs like the Ford Escape and Mazda CX-5. The Honda Crosstour is also available with all-wheel drive. It gets up to 22/31 mpg with two-wheel drive, and 19/28 mpg with all-wheel drive.
Luxury Wagon Fuel Economy
Few domestic carmakers are building wagons, but due to the popularity of station wagons in Europe, many import brands offer luxury wagons. But while the models sold in Europe come with fuel-efficient engines suited to the area’s high fuel prices, the models that carmakers send to the U.S. have more of an emphasis on power and performance. As a result, their fuel economy suffers, and few models have available diesel engines.
The Acura TSX Sport Wagon leads the luxury field in fuel economy, getting 22/30 mpg. The Audi Allroad wagon also has some of the best fuel economy ratings in the class, coming in at 20/27 mpg – and that’s with Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive system.
When shopping for a luxury wagon, there are a few wagons that get subpar fuel economy figures compared with other wagons. The Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon, which is one of the only domestic luxury wagon available, gets 18/26 mpg with its standard 270-horsepower V6 engine and rear-wheel drive. The performance-oriented Cadillac CTS-V Wagon has a 556-horsepower V8 that only manages 12/18 mpg with an automatic transmission. The Mercedes-Benz E350 Wagon comes with a 302-horsepower V6, which nets 19/27 mpg with standard all-wheel drive. The Volvo XC70 gets 19/25 mpg with its 234-horsepower, six-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive.
If you want the best fuel economy ratings, small and hybrid wagons will save you the most money at the gas station. However, if you want better performance, the six- and eight-cylinder engines found in many luxury wagons means you’ll be fueling up more often.