Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Perfect family transportation, thine name is Station Wagon.

Let’s talk about wagons – or estates, for my British readers (according to Google analytics there’s a few of you).  I’ve often brought them up in conversation with some of my car buddies and some people love them, some people do not.  Noting their polarizing affect on the world of automotive enthusiasts, I will draw a line in the sand and firmly plant my feet on the side that brings the love. 
My appreciation for wagons should not come as a surprise to most people who know me.  I’ve never been shy about voicing my opinion when asked.  But why am I drawn to it?  I mean, the station wagon represented the epitome of family practicality.  It was the sign that the owner had given up on their dreams and succumbed to the weight of their mundane and inescapable parental responsibilities. 

This of course is how most people view minivans and crossovers now.  Remember when they were cool?  Well not minivans of course, but at one time a crossover was a fresh and popular idea.  It didn’t carry the same anti-environmental stigma as a full-sized SUV and it was much better on the style and performance fronts than the aforementioned minivan.  Thanks to soccer moms everywhere though, the crossover has fallen into the same trap as the other more traditional family haulers. 

So what of the wagon?  If I’m grouping it with minivans and crossovers as soul crushing kidmobiles, why do I like them so much?  Well, it’s because they’re distinctive and nostalgic. 

A station wagon is immediately identifiable.  Sure, these days car manufacturers are producing wagon like CUV’s and hatchbacks.  An argument can be made that these are more or less wagons.  But they have characteristics that blur the lines between classes.  Some of them are just minivans without sliding doors.  What is the Toyota Venza, really?  How about the Kia Rondo or the Chrysler Pacifica?  Do you think a casual observer can tell you?     

However, when a company produces something they intentionally market as a wagon, they deliver a vehicle you can immediately identify.  Show anyone a Dodge Magnum, Volvo V70 or a Buick Roadmaster (with ‘wood’ side paneling of course) and they can tell you right away what kind of car it is.  I like something that is unapologetic about what it is.  It’s an admirable quality. 

Wagons are also nostalgic.  Most people my age and older either grew up with parents that owned a station wagon or had friends whose parents owned a station wagon.  They reminded us of road trips to Disney World or traveling to Sudbury for hockey tournaments.  Wagons represented the magic and wonder of our childhoods as we perched on velour benches gazing out roll down windows staring at blurry scenery on our way to adventure and new experiences.  Childhood is priceless and for many of us a station wagon represents just that. 

There is a third reason to love station wagons.  They offer a compromise to the driver who prefers performance but needs utility.  Many station wagons over the years have offered high power trim levels for the velocity inclined.  Chevy wagons in the 1960’s could be had with a 427.  Mercedes offers an AMG version of their E-Class wagon.  Cadillac’s CTS V wagon out-performed the coupe version on Top Gear USA’s test track.  Vovlo’s V70R, Subaru’s Legacy GT wagon, the Hemi powered Dodge Magnum, Saab Aero Sportcombi, Audi S6 Avant, BMW 540IT – and those are just off the top of my head (which is very sleepy at the moment)!  All of these offered up the ultimate apology to the family laden driving enthusiast: if you can’t drive a Dodge Challenger, at least you can blow its doors off at the stoplight. 

That’s why I’m a wagon man.  I know one day I’ll have kids of my own and that dream of owning a kick-ass coupe for a daily driver will have to take a back seat to the decades-long budget sapping grind of child rearing.  Hopefully a wagon can help mitigate some of that cost with a few hundred horses under the hood and a lot of happy family memory making.


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