Crossovers are the automotive equivalent of Pixar: they’re creative, conservatively inoffensive, and they make the whole family happy. But car nuts hate them, citing weaknesses like soulless design and an uninspired drive (although there’s a few fun ones). Auto companies, on the other hand, love them and their sales numbers. The general public, they apparently can’t get enough. All the interest means there are segments being neglected, and the storied (and greatly endangered) wagon is one that’s felt the pinch.
Current wagon offerings are few and far between, but when they show up, they come strong to the party. Extra cabin space makes for more storage possibilities, while the low profile still connects the driver with the road. Today’s models are a far cry from Mom’s old veneered Buick Roadmaster, with ample get-up-and-go and enough stylized attitude to preserve your self-respect. Call it semantics, but these aren’t station wagons — they’re sport wagons, purebred.
Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen TDI
The Budget Wagon: The makers of “the people’s car” have the wagon shopper on a budget covered. Opt for the diesel and you’ll get 150 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque. It may not sound like a lot, but all the torque makes for a responsive and engaging drive, especially when you forgo the $1,100 DCT in favor of the six-speed manual. You’ll also get 43 mpg on the highway, which eclipses just about any crossover you can buy. A fun, good-looking and practical family hauler for far under $30k? Who says you can’t have it all?
The Off-Road Wagon: With each generation, the beloved Subaru Outback comes closer and closer to crossover status. This time, it technically passed the threshold (Subaru classifies this year’s model as a crossover), but we’re not content with that distinction. This wagon-at-heart handles its own off the beaten path, and with the Limited trim you’ll find the cabin uncharacteristically upmarket for the Japanese brand. For some, the 2.5-liter four-cylinder Boxer engine’s 175 horsepower is enough, but if you want to get to the trails quickly, the 3.6-liter six-cylinder’s 256 horsepower will do the trick.
BMW 328xi Sport Wagon
The Wagon that Handles: BMW hasn’t sold a wagon version of i’s bread and butter 3 Series since the E46 generation (that’s over 10 years ago), but this year, it’s back. For those looking for the excellent cornering prowess of the 3 Series and a cavernous trunk (without the awkward styling of the Gran Turismo), this is the model. Unfortunately there’s no option for the berserk twin-turbo inline-six, but BMW does give the 3 Series Sport Wagon a gasoline- or diesel-powered 2.0-liter turbo’d four-pot that does the job. The 328xi churns out 240 horsepower and hits 60 in 6 seconds flat; if you go for the oil-burner instead, you’ll be about one second slower to 60, but getting 43 mpg on the highway.
The Aspirational Wagon: Okay, so it’s not a sport wagon, it’s a shooting brake. Whatever. We’re just glad Ferrari decided to do something left-of-center for their newest grand tourer. The hatchback design is eye-catching, but the most compelling part of the car is the dual-transmission AWD system. The Ferrari FF primarily sends its power rearward, but when the car detects slippage, the second transmission sends power to the front wheels. The wagon-like proportions make for 16 cubic feet of cargo room (28 cubic feet with the rear seats down) and reasonable rear legroom, and you can even spec a bespoke child seat. Learn More: Here
The allweather Wagon: Audi’s long-running and much-lauded A4 Avant isn’t available in the States anymore, but there’s a more-than-adequate consolation: the new allroad. Audiphiles likely remember the original A6-based allroad that had an adjustable ride height and a beefed-up chassis making it capable, you know, on all roads. The new version (based on the A4) is smaller and isn’t quite the off-roader the original was, but it’s certainly more refined inside and out. A dynamite Quattro AWD system with a rearward bias makes for a fun drive when conditions are clear, but also keep things together when the weather is less than favorable.
Volvo V60 Sportswagon
The Safe Wagon: No list of wagons is complete without Volvo. The Swedish automaker has been the king of wagons since the 240 of decades past, but it wasn’t until the recent addition of the V60 that the Volvo lineup had a proper family wagon in its arsenal. On the outside, the athletic and ultra-contemporary lines of the V60 appease the inner architect, and the interior design is clean and uncluttered. As the T6 R-Design’s 325 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque make it a good time of a drive, Volvo’s top-of-the-line safety tech maintains peace of mind.
Mercedes-Benz E350 4Matic
The Luxury Wagon: Inside and out, the Mercedes E350 wagon might be the classiest wagon you can buy today. It doesn’t look like it’s perpetually loaded with strollers and coloring books, and unlike other wagons and crossovers, it has a third row of seats facing rearward like the station wagons of yore. Passenger capacity is seven, and the 3.5-liter V6 is good for 302 horsepower to haul everyone around. If you have an extra $40k laying around you can opt for the 5.5-liter, 577 horsepower V8 AMG version, and the kids will never be late to Gymboree again.