Where Have All the Station Wagons Gone?

When I said goodbye to my 2014 Subaru Impreza Sport 5-door last September, there was one question I wondered as I walked out of the used-car lot. where is the station wagon?

After all, there won’t be that many station wagons on the road in 2023.

“The standard data provider for new car sales doesn’t even break the wagon anymore,” said Kevin Roberts, Director of Industry Insights and Analytics at CarGurus. “Most likely, it will end up being either a crossover or a hatchback.”

Some data aggregators use “station wagon” as a trim or body variant, but finding a meaningful separation of categories can be difficult. This speaks to the larger problem of coming up with a precise definition for the term “station wagon.” The term is outdated.

Station wagons in the most traditional sense are clearly in decline. American automobile tastes have changed, but many of the features that popularized the category in the past still resonate with today’s most popular models.

Wagon, 5-door, hatchback lexicon

While putting this story together, one of the most interesting and recurring conversations centered around trying to define the term “station wagon.” It’s not entirely clear, mainly because the industry has never really revealed it. Whether labeled as a “hatchback,” “five-door,” or simply “wagon,” the actual station wagon is generally an elongated, boxy four- or five-door vehicle with a low or mid-floor Level driving stance, ultimate versatility and often all-wheel drive.

you may be thinking, Sounds like a small SUV or crossover. Well you are not wrong. These popular modern vehicle categories can trace their heritage directly to station wagons. (More on that later.)

With that in mind, was my Impreza Sport really a “station wagon”? According to Subaru of America’s product PR manager and self-proclaimed wagon enthusiast Todd Hill, that wasn’t the case.

“For a long time, the Impreza has been going back and forth between a ‘five-door’ and a ‘hatchback,'” he says. However, according to the brand, it wasn’t technically a station wagon.

In fact, even Subaru, one of the first names that come to mind when the average American consumer thinks of a wagon, has had that brand since the Legacy wagon went steady in 2007. No vehicles were classified. The Outback (which started as a legacy trim option in the 1990s) was spun off as its own model in the mid-2000s and by 2010 was classified as a ‘compact SUV’. The closest model to the current wagon is actually the Impreza. Hill said that from 2024 he will only be offered in a five-door hatchback configuration, with that particular style currently accounting for more than 75% of his model sales.

Then there are brands like Audi. Its Allroad lineup ticks all the boxes for what we think of as a station wagon, but it actually falls in-house in its own “Allroad” category, according to brand reps. wagon, hatch or 5 door. (Audi has the only classified wagon in its lineup, the RS 6 Avant.)

The most traditional station wagons left are probably Volvo and Mercedes-Benz.

The Swedish V60 and V90 were legacy runners from the wagon era of the late 1990s and early 2000s, and actually came in a few different variations. The Volvo V60 I ​​spent the most recent week with today holds all of its versatility in a more cushioned package than in years past, delivering electrified ferocity while hauling people and gear. For those who want it, we offer the plug-in hybrid Recharge edition designed by Polestar. (However, his CEO of Volvo recently said the company is assessing the long-term viability of wagons across its lineup.)

Germans have only one option. E class all terrain wagon. Seen through today’s lenses, it ultimately feels like a lower crossover. AMG-specific versions are also available. The Volvo and Benz offerings are fairly similar, but represent a potential last bastion of station wagons, as enthusiasts of a particular era remember them.

A black-and-white photo of a family packing a 1960 Ford Falcon station wagon before a trip

A 1960 Ford Falcon station wagon could carry a family of six, a dog, and even plaid luggage.


The glory days of the station wagon

The first ancestry of the station wagon can be traced back to the 1920s as an extension of a particular type of railroad business. They became popular in earnest in his 30s, and became infinitely more popular as the Woodies took hold until the end of the first half of the 20th century.

But the van’s heyday was from the 1950s to the 1970s, when families were looking for more space to carry their kids and gear while on vacation. With more Americans buying for leisure purposes that needed more space, the wagon’s size and versatility were a natural fit to meet that demand. But with the advent of minivans to meet the public’s need for fuel-efficient vehicles, the wagon began to decline as a go-to option.

“If you look at the wagon from the perspective of a vehicle with rear-facing bench seats from the 1980s, there’s very little of that left,” says Roberts.

He points out that “hutches” (what he describes as “the current evolution of the wagon”) are still popular in Europe for many of the same reasons they were popular in the United States. Mileage (latest model), reasonable price range (most), room for two, weekend necessities.

For a brief period in the mid-2000s and early 2010s, auto companies introduced some pretty attractive wagon variants, especially from American manufacturers such as the Dodge Magnum SRT8 and the Cadillac CTS-V wagon. These were sold to take advantage of the rekindled interest in American muscle and were to compete with the European 5-door, but they didn’t sell well and most were produced in limited quantities. (Did someone say future collectibles?)

The life and slow death of sedans

Rise of crossovers and SUVs

What is clear is that station wagons, hatchbacks and five-doors laid the foundation for the modern success of SUVs and crossovers. Americans wanted bigger cars to meet the growing demand for space and hauling capacity, so the natural trend of stretching and lifting new car designs was to match his modern SUV and crossover. It led to the development and popularity of overcoats.

Small SUVs like the Ford Escape and Lexus RX were some of the first examples of this evolution with a higher driving stance in the late 20th and early 21st century, but it’s worth building on earlier wagons. It was the same open floor plan that proved AMC is widely known as one of the earliest Eagle-powered crossover entrants in the early 1980s, but the category is dominated by certain Subaru models and early-generation Toyota RAV4s (the latter for years, It has become one of his best-selling SUVs).

Today, crossovers outperform all other categories by more than 2 to 1, with Americans expecting higher seating positions, general off-road capabilities, and more space and flexibility than ever before in their driving companions. attracted to. The foundation for all these features that buyers expect today was laid in last year’s Mercury Colony Park and Toyota Cressidas.

Red 2024 Subaru Impreza RS. It's currently only available as a five-door hatchback, not a sedan.

Subaru calls the 2024 Impreza RS a five-door hatchback. We say it’s still a station wagon.


where does the wagon go from here

Realistically speaking, the wagon will likely drift into a small corner of the American car market and stay there.

Today, non-luxury car buyers have two options. The Impreza (still a wagon, according to our working definition) and the Mini Clubman (a small station wagon). Some hatchbacks that do not meet certain wagon criteria, such as Toyota’s Corolla variant, are intentionally not counted. Neither of these cars are particularly exciting, but they can produce enough volume to keep the wagon segment alive for some time.

The luxury end of the market is perhaps where style has its best potential in modern times. A small group of enthusiastic buyers flock to unique cars such as the Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo, the Taycan Sport/Cross Turismo and the aforementioned Audi RS 6 Avant. $100,000.

As crossovers continue to set the pace, wagons will take hold, but primarily as a niche category. There simply isn’t enough space to exist alongside the larger crossovers and SUVs that serve American demand. perhaps heading towards a future where wagons, hatchbacks and five-doors sit in corners of local dealerships and move few (perhaps on special order) along with their compatriot sedans and just about everything still being produced. there will be stick shift.

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