The venerable station wagon is no longer what it was: a dowdy people hauler that oftentimes “sported” less than favorable designs (faux wood paneling, anyone?). And though the American populace now prefers cross-overs, station wagons still survive in the domestic automotive landscape. We’d argue that they oftentimes look better than even their sedan brethren (see the non-U.S. Mazda6 5-Door). And with lower centers of gravity, sleeker profiles and better driving dynamics than their SUV counterparts (typically), there are plenty of reasons to love them. We certainly do.
It’s for all of the aforementioned reasons that wagons sell in much bigger numbers in Europe. They get it, you see. And so with the hope of bringing the States around to how truly great they are, we give you five of the best wagons (and, sadly, some of the only ones left for sale here). Let’s just hope they never completely disappear.
Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon
Best wagon for Special Forces dads: Sure, it’s not the 556 horsepower CTS-V, but dial it back to the performance trim and you save $20k to pay the fees for Timmy’s traveling baseball team and Greta’s class trip to France — and you keep the options for Recaro seats, an Alcantara steering wheel, and the 318-horsepower 3.6-liter powerhouse wrapped in a kind of badass angular swagger. It’s classic American, made modern. The automatic lift gate opens the quickest of the bunch, which is important when it’s raining and your arms are full; someone needs to hire a 20-year-old to refresh the infotainment system, though. Otherwise it’s a badge of honor in a world of minivan embarrassment.
Miles Driven: 533
Verdict: The best-looking American wagon made today.
Memorable Moment: Pushing my stroller up to this chariot instead of the plethora of minivans at the park.
Audi allroad Quattro
Best wagon for urbanites who “rough it”: It’s missing the first-generation allroad’s beefy chassis, body and V6 engine, but this version doesn’t lack any refinement, that’s for certain. The new allroad Quattro is based on the A4 platform and replaces the now-defunct A4 Avant wagon, which we will sorely miss. The 2.0-liter turbo four will take the 3,900-pound allroad to 60 in a little over six seconds, and although the worst terrain it’ll see is a bumpy jaunt over strip-mall speed bumps, at least it’s capable of more. You can revel in the requisite handsome Audi interior and the upgraded allroad exterior trim that boasts a showy grille, faux skidplate, darkened fender trim and some shiny rocker panels.
Miles Driven: 270
Verdict: No old-school allroad cache, but still worthy.
Memorable Moment: Getting the “thumbs up” from a Volvo 240 driver.
Mercedes Benz E350 4Matic
Best wagon for the sophisticated family man: This is the class act of the bunch. In gloss black, it’s the kiddie hauler you can take to a posh dinner or the opera without a second thought. It’s no power slouch, either, with a 3.5-liter V6 engine and 302 horses pushing the estate to 60 in a mere 5.8 seconds. The cabin is lush, comfortable and rife with the kind of technology we expect from ze Germans. Impressively, the seating configuration allows for five front-facing occupants and two rear-facing — making some SUVs look downright stupid and impractical. As great as this one is, the new 2013 E350 will just be that much better. Keep your venerable shooting brake coming, Merc. We’re huge fans.
Miles Driven: 617
Verdict: You might just bypass the midlife crisis with this hauler.
Memorable Moment: Mashing the throttle in the wet and crushing a pony-car-driving college boy.
Volvo V60 Sports Wagon
Best Wagon for the Swedish faithful: We’ve driven the gamut of Volvo wagons, from the iconic 240 to the capable but outgoing XC70. We pined to helm a new Volvo wagon, but we’ll have to wait. After 2013, the XC70 will be history, replaced by the newer, sportier V60 Sports Wagon. By all accounts, this just might be the best-looking Volvo in recent history (outshining even the handsome XC60 and edgy C30), and the new wagon should prove to do the Swedish automaker’s 60-year wagon history proud.
Miles Driven: 0
Verdict: It will no doubt be practical, as safe as a vault and incredibly gorgeous.
Best wagon for all-season road trippers: Subaru has always had a bit of a granola angle, their ever-evolving Outback especially so. A surprisingly upscale interior with chocolate leather, as well as a more urban aesthetic than previous generations, makes it almost improper to drive while wearing Birkenstocks. A moderately quick acceleration rate and symmetrical AWD make this the wagon of choice for the states of Colorado, Oregon, Washington and pretty much the whole Northeast. The price is right and the functionality is great. The sat-nav (and the whole interface) was frustrating and froze at one point, so make sure Siri is close by in case you need help on your way to a falcon school, then a log rolling competition, and then a mud pit…
Miles Driven: 461
Verdict: It won’t get you looks but will surely get you somewhere.
Memorable Moment: Parking next to an older version and marveling at the changes.