It’s a sedan! It’s an SUV! It’s a…station wagon? Station wagons, or sports wagons, as they’re sometimes known as, are five-door hatchbacks often styled after sedans, but with the cargo space of an SUV. Although wagons vary in aesthetics and purpose from brand to brand, ranging from the sleek and city-friendly Mercedes Benz E350 to the rugged and utilitarian Subaru Outback, their defining characteristics – an elongated body with a low center of gravity and open cargo space – remain constant.
Historically, station wagons have been seen as quintessential ‘suburban mom’ cars, and have seen dips in popularity with the rise of the minivan in the 1980s and again as SUVs got big in North America. Station wagons made a bit of a comeback as consumers began avoiding gas-guzzling SUVs, but didn’t want to sacrifice cargo space; however, with the growing popularity and affordability of hybrid SUVs and crossovers, the station wagon looks to be permanently on the way out . In 2014, there will only be ten different models of new sports wagons in America (though older models are always available, often as used cars), and the Subaru Outback remains at the top of the list.
Generally considered to be one of the best sports wagons on the market, the Subaru Outback is all-wheel drive, can sit five comfortably, and has about 1 cubic meter of cargo space with the back seats up (over 2 if you fold the seats flat). The Outback has impressive gas mileage, getting 12.7 Km/L on the highway and 10.2 Km/L in the city, and impressive safety ratings – and is one of the few cars to earn the IIHS’s Top Safety Pick Plus rating . The Outback, and Subarus in general, are some of the most reliable and durable cars on the market: they’re designed to last decades or longer, especially with the aid of a trustworthy auto shop or mechanic. Starting at USD $23,495 for new 2014 models, the Outback is great for suburban and rural lifestyles that include occasional off-roading, but handles nicely in urban areas as well.
While there are sports wagons that perform better than the Outback in specific areas – such as fuel economy, price, or cargo area – it’s impossible to find one that doesn’t also have at least one major drawback in comparison to the Outback . These are some of the Outback’s most popular competitors.
The Volvo is arguably the best-looking sports wagon on the market, is sturdy enough for all terrains, and has slightly more cargo space than the Outback, but it only gets about 8.5 Km/L in combined driving. The XC70 starts at about USD $35,500. Learn more about servicing Volvos.
While the Jetta is less expensive than the Outback at about USD $21,600 and the clean diesel model can get an amazing 17.6 Km/L on the highway, it is also less powerful (with a maximum of 170 horsepower, compared to the Outback’s 256 hp), smaller, and not as suited to off-roading or rougher roads. Learn more about servicing VWs.
Toyota Prius V
The only hybrid station wagon, the Prius V has less cargo space than the Outback and doesn’t handle quite as nicely as it could, but it does have comfortable and spacious seating. The starting price is USD $27,560.
Mercedes-Benz E-Class Wagons
Mercedes-Benz offers both the 300-horsepower, V-6 E350 and the high-performance 577-horsepower, V-8 E63 AMG. Both can carry up to 7 people with reverse-facing third row seating (the only sports wagons to do so after Volvo stopped offering the optional third row), but have significantly less cargo space than the Outback, have worse fuel economy, and are better suited for urban and suburban driving only. The E350 and E63 are luxury vehicles, but that luxury comes with a price: the base price for either is USD $59,525. Learn more about servicing Mercedes-Benz.
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