When asked to picture a station wagon, most people will conjure a mental image of an old car, probably with wood paneling and a blocky body. Many people think of this vehicle style as one whose time has come and gone. But take a stroll through any Subaru Outback dealer, and you’ll find that not only is the station wagon still around, but it’s seen some serious styling changes over the years. Are these modern wagons just echoes of a fading fad, or do they have something unique to offer drivers? Let’s take a look at how station wagons fit into our current auto market and whether their drop in popularity was an inevitability or a mistake.
What Is a Wagon?
A station wagon is a subcategory of the sedan. Rather than having a closed trunk in the back, the cargo area is connected to the passenger space, and folding the back seats down can convert passenger space into extra cargo volume. The name probably derives from the wagon being a great choice to carry multiple passengers to a train station along with their luggage. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, station wagons gained a reputation as the family car of choice.
Why Did Wagons Fall Out of Favor?
Wagons used to be seen as the best choice on the market for parents who needed to be able to get the whole family around for everything from daily errands to yearly vacations. But that changed with the rising popularity of minivans in the 1980s and 1990s, which offered more spacious interiors. Minivans themselves eventually fell out of favor as tastes shifted and families started to turn to SUVs instead. Ultimately, the station wagon fell out of favor not because of any actual problem inherent to the body style but because newer styles came along and grabbed the public’s attention. While they may not be as common as they were in their heyday, wagons are still alive and kicking, with many loyal fans who appreciate the unique benefits they have to offer.
What are the Benefits of Driving a Station Wagon?
Compared to a typical sedan, a station wagon is more adept at carrying lots of people and cargo. Instead of tapering down in the back, the roof maintains its height as it stretches into the rear cargo area, so you can stow bulky items that wouldn’t fit in a typical trunk. Wagons also offer flexibility since you can fold down the rear seats and expand the cargo volume if needed, just like an SUV.
Now all of these benefits over sedans might sound like the same things that draw people to SUVs. But the wagon offers a sort of middle ground, holding onto several of the advantages that sedans provide. First and foremost, they have a lower center of gravity than SUVs, which gives them improved handling and better overall ride quality. This lower ride can also make them safer family cars since you’ll be better able to see young pedestrians who aren’t tall enough to enter your view from a typical SUV. You’ll also get the sleek look of a car. Modern station wagons aren’t the boxy stereotype of models from the 1960s; they have plenty to offer in the style department.
The Subaru Outback
Though it’s no longer technically a “station wagon,” we still can’t discuss this topic without mentioning the perennial favorite that is the Subaru Outback. Originally an outdoorsy spin-off of the Subaru Legacy wagon, the Outback has kept up with the times and is now officially a midsize SUV. However, it still takes several cues from its station wagon roots, pairing a sleek shape and car-like driving feel with rugged body cladding and a raised suspension that provides extra ground clearance. The Outback also comes standard with all-wheel drive, providing the traction necessary to tackle uneven roads or inclement weather.
The 2022 Outback is well-suited to a road trip, with a comfortable interior that should keep every passenger happy for even the longest of drives. It has a state-of-the-art infotainment setup with a large touchscreen and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to keep everyone informed and entertained en route. A wide range of driver-assistance features is included standard, including forward-collision warning, automated emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, and adaptive cruise control.
The Outback’s high quality hasn’t gone unnoticed by organizations that keep an eye on the auto industry. It was named a 2022 Top Safety Pick+ by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the nonprofit’s highest honor, thanks to its crashworthiness and top-notch crash avoidance and mitigation systems. As of 2022, it has also won Kelley Blue Book’s Best Resale Value Award in its class for three years running, meaning that it retains its value well over time. Experian’s research has found that the Outback is built to last, with a whopping 97% of models sold in the last decade still out on the road today, beating out compact crossovers like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.
What Are the Best Station Wagons of 2022?
As we said, there are plenty of station wagons on the market today, and not all of them have become SUVs like the Outback. Some focus on being rugged and practical, while others are downright luxurious. But they all have one thing in common: they aren’t your grandparents’ wagons. Let’s take a look at some of the best wagons available for the 2022 model year.
Audi A4 Allroad
Audi’s A4 Allroad has more ground clearance than a typical sedan, but not so much that it doesn’t handle like a dream. While the name “Allroad” suggests a rugged nature, the 2022 model’s exterior looks better suited to a business professional than an outdoorsy explorer. Its handsome yet functional cabin has an intuitive layout and comes standard with luxury features like leather upholstery, power-adjustable seats, and three-zone climate control. The A4 Allroad has a comprehensive suite of available safety features, but only a handful come standard.
Volvo V60 Cross Country
This stylish model from Volvo has some impressive standard features, including wireless phone charging. However, there are plenty of exciting tech features relegated to optional add-ons, including a head-up display, air purifier, and 360-degree camera system. The interior has a minimalist Nordic design, with many functions running through the touchscreen rather than having dedicated physical buttons and knobs. The V60 Cross Country also has plenty of cargo capacity and a powerful turbocharged engine.
Porsche Taycan Cross Turismo
This swanky EV that drives like a sports car is about as far from the stereotypical station wagon as you can get. Still, it offers a lot of advantages that wagon drivers appreciate, like a large cargo area with plenty of headroom in the back. In fact, it goes even further when it comes to storage, with interior cubbies and a sealed front trunk under the hood. This luxurious model may be out of reach for the average driver, but it proves that station wagons can cover a wide range, all the way from affordable family cars to high-class hot rods.
What’s Next for Wagons?
With plenty of well-established wagon models selling across a wide range of price points, we won’t see the station wagon disappear any time soon. Drivers who are looking for a practical alternative to large SUVs should consider this underrated bodystyle and everything that it has to offer. With all of the advantages that modern wagons bring to the table, perhaps it’s time to retire our outdated outlook on the station wagon and embrace its mix of SUV-like spaciousness and car-like handling. While wagons are still well-suited to transporting families to and from extracurriculars and vacations, they’re also great cars for hikers, kayakers, or anyone who enjoys a good road trip. If drivers can look past their biases, they just might see a car that’s perfect for their lifestyle.