By on October 8, 2010

Paul Penaloza writes in with a timely query:

I’ve got a question for the crew. I have a relative who loves the VW Passat wagon and the promise of the better mileage with the TDI. She was crushed when she found out it did not have a third row like a minivan. That got me thinking, are there any car wagons out there that have a third row of seating these days?

Ah, the rear-facing third row… if that doesn’t bring back childhood memories, you’ve missed out. Remember gang, that’s “car wagons.” No Swagger Wagons or Cute Utes for the former Passat owner. If I didn’t have the $56k to stump for a new E Class wagon (and I don’t), I’d be thinking used… or reminiscing about making faces at freeway traffic. Or both.

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44 Comments on “Ask The Best And Brightest: Three-Row Wagons?...”

  • avatar

    Old 5-series, A6, or E-class wagon. That’s about all from the past 10-15 years (at least among low-slung “true cars”….with sedan versions).
    Of those, the E-class is most likely to have one. 5-series and A6 models with third row seem to be pretty rare. My mother-in-law had an E320 with the third row, which was really only for kids (and even then, only for short trips). It’s not a crash-rated seat, to the best of my knowledge. Your legs are the crumple zones if you’re rear-ended. But they’re still seats, and they take up relatively little space for what they provide.

    Oh, forgot to mention Mazda5! (shut up, it’s not a minivan! It’s a Mazda3 wagon!)

  • avatar

    I believe the Volvo V70’s used to offer this as an option.   Nearest wagon without being a minivan and 3rd row seating would be the Mazda5.

    • 0 avatar

      The Volvo and possibly the Audi seats were available from the dealer. So they should be easy to retrofit on cars without them.

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      It has been my experience with several SUVs that offered third-row seating that if the feature wasn’t planned from the factory, they lack the mounting points (usually big metal plates with threaded holes, or in current GMs a kind of latch-and-track plate) needed to add the seats later.

  • avatar

    Taurus X. Although not rear facing.

  • avatar

    No, because the minivan rendered them obsolete.  The closest you will get is a crossover like the Ford Flex.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree with this.  For family duty, the minivan is by far a better wagon than any wagon ever was.

    • 0 avatar

      If you want 3 rows, a minivan is the place to be. If you’ve got a problem with minivans, then there’s a whole variety of CUVs to look at.

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      Any 3-row crossover will do. And they weigh the same as the old big wagons of the past, too.

      We had a Country Squire LTD (in green, no less), and a new full-size crossover tips the scales nearly the same 5,000 lb curb weight, seats, and interior volume. Twice the power, but half the towing, tho.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m sorry psar, but I can’t agree. My family was the average 2 kids + dog and we had a ’93 Honda Accord wagon growing up. Absolutely perfect vehicle, there was never any need for anything larger. It happily took all of our stuff, drank like a car and drove nicely too.
      The trend these days seem to be that once couples have a child or two, the minivan is a necessity. That is ridiculous.
      P.S. Before the Accord was a Volvo 240 wagon.
      And in reference to the original question. Look for the Volvo XC70 or V70 or yore. Sadly the third row seat stopped when SUVs came around.

  • avatar

    If he’s looking used a mid-90s Taurus/Sable.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve got a 2002 Sable that has one as well, and it’s been reasonably reliable. I’ve never had anyone actually sit back there, tho. It’s just been a very nice place to stash things out of sight.

    • 0 avatar

      +1. You can still find a used 2006 Mercury Sable or Ford Taurus Wagon, which are available not only with the 2 rear facing seats, but also with the front bench seat. I think the 2006 is the last year they made the wagon variant, but Ford had been producing each for quite a while. Those are the ultimate people mover for a mid-sized car (non SUV or Van). 8 seat belts. 1 more than the typical mini-van, decent reliability record, massive depreciation, so they’re cheap to buy used. 18/25 EPA fuel economy numbers.
      I like this wagon because it offers ultimate flexibility. Most of the time you would use that space for cargo, but just in case you wanted to fit a bunch of people in 1 vehicle, you have that option.

  • avatar

    We did this same dance two years ago. Got a Mazda5. Very happy with it as far as the criteria we were looking for. Still wish it had a better engine though.
    And as a third row backward facing kid, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. You get all the bumps and wiggle of the tail end of a wagon, while sitting in a generally disorienting position. It’s not fun.

  • avatar
    SVX pearlie

    For how big the 2-rows are getting, jump seats make sense.

  • avatar

    Agreed w/the above.  The crossover/minivan rendered the 3-row wagon obsolete.  As much as I am a fan of the wagon, I wouldn’t put my kids in a “tail gunner” seat anyway…I wouldn’t care if it WAS a V70 or E Class.

    The closest approximations you’ll get nowadays on the new market have already been mentioned…the Mazda5 and the Flex. I couldn’t get my wife to look at the 5, so we ended up with the Flex.

  • avatar
    Sammy B

    I am almost positive the 92-96 Camry wagon had an option 3rd row.  Your relative should spend about 5 minutes looking for one and then give up.  You’d be very hard pressed to find the rare 3rd row in one that hasn’t had the snot beat out of it.  heck, you’d be lucky to find any camry wagon that hasn’t been beat up at this point.

    • 0 avatar

      I just sold my trusty 1992 Camry Wagon LE with 140K miles for $1000, which did have the third row – I believe they were standard.  Little problems here and there, but it was a wonderful car, and kids loved the third row, although adults were always concerned with them getting rear-ended.  

  • avatar

    We have three kids and drive a Passat Wagon – 2003.  It handles well, brakes well, gets good mileage.  We want a three row now that the kids want to take friends, but unless someone comes out with a 3 row high mileage vehicle, we’ll continue to find alternate methods of getting to our destination.  It has worked so far.  Little know in the state of CA, but kids can ride in the front seats of cars as long as all rear seats are occupied by children and they are big enough for a booster seat.

    The new Prius, C-Max and other 7 seater vans coming are interesting options, but not if they put poor drivetrains in them.

    • 0 avatar

      The only thing I will say in regards to this is the new Odyssey(sp) claims 28mpg highway which is actually higher than the 21/27 EPA ratings of the Mazda5. It’s really sad being a car guy that I am actually envying the practicality of the minivan with a 4month old and a new surfing hobby. I don’t like car payments however the weekend fun 3rd car idea always sounds better and better.

  • avatar

    Nah, it was great fun as a kid. We’d take road trips with along with my aunt & uncle, 3 cousins, sister and parents. Nine of us in a ’68 Olds Vista Cruiser. No one wanted to sit up front, are you kidding? Lancefixer’s “tail gunner” comment was dead on; we’d shooting spit wads thru a straws at other motorists. Parents would be like “what’s so funny back there?” and “why are people passing and giving dirty looks?”

    Guess things are different today and kids have to be ultra safe. Can’t ride in the back of open pickups either. Oh my Gawd, someone could get killed or something! Besides, the rear windows of today’s wagons/crossovers don’t roll down into the door cavity, as they used to, so kids can’t have an open window. We’d even ride back there with the door open. It had the tailgate type.

  • avatar

    It’s no Passat Wagon, and certainly no E-Class, but there IS the Kia Rondo…

  • avatar
    John Horner

    There are still lots of three row wagons being sold. They do, however, sit a little taller than the wagons of old … and have a new name: Minivans :).
    Those rear facing seats were horrible on the legs and knees and where a safety nightmare as well. Good riddance (and I like station wagons!).

  • avatar

    Merc E-class is the last rear-facing 3rd row holdout.  New, anyway.  Volvo got rid of them with the latest redesign of the V70/XC70.  Don’t think BMW ever had the option.  You would think they are safer seeing as newborns are seated rear-facing!  Also, your odds of getting rear-ended are much lower vs. a frontal collision.  Wish the new Saab 9-5 SportCombi would include a third row pop-up.

  • avatar

    Dodge Journey or the Suzuki are the smallest CUVs with 3 rows that I can think of. I heard that you can order a RAV4 with 3 rows, but that dealers don’t typically stock them.

    • 0 avatar

      So far as I know the only Suzuki recently sold in North America with a third row was the XL7’s two generations.  The Grand Vitara never had three rows.
      The first years of the current generation of North American Rav4 could be had with a third row, but I think that’s no longer available.  The European Rav4 was shorter and never had a third row.

    • 0 avatar

      We have an 07 RAV4 with the tiny forward facing 3rd row.  Infact, my folks are visiting for two weeks and we have been stuffing them back there for short trips (it does feel slightly inhumane).  It just about works, but requires careful orchestration of passenger loading with a forward facing child seat on one side of the middle row and a rear facing infant seat and base on the other side (grandparents climb in first, then infant seat gets plopped into its base.  Unloading is the reverse).  This will no longer work once the little one is out of her infant seat and needs a proper child seat, as access to the 3rd row will be impossible.
      Toyota still show a third row as an option on the RAV4.  I know when we got hours, we had a struggle finding one though.  Only the US and Australia got the ‘stretched’ RAV4 and the V6 option, the rest of the world gets a version about 7″ shorter and a 2.0, 2.4 gas or 2.2 diesel.
      Does a Kia Rondo count as a wagon, I’d say so.  IIRC it has a forward facing 3rd row option.

  • avatar
    Matthew Sullivan

    When I was growing up during the 1970s my family had a succession of enormous wagons. The one we were in when we got rear-ended on the way to the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo had a rear-facing seat.
    We were at a dead stop in traffic on a freeway overpass on the Loop. A pickup truck came over the overpass and hit us at almost full speed. The rear end of our wagon curled up like a fruit roll. This being the 1970s, my little brother and I were not safely buckled into the seat; we were free to crawl around the back. That’s why were were not seriously injured. I just had whiplash. My brother, who had been sitting several feet from the rear of the car, had a piece of safety glass embedded in his cheek. Had we actually been in the back seat, we certainly would have suffered lower extremity injuries. And given that my brother was injured by flying glass from several feet away, I cringe every time I think about our getting faces full of broken glass.

    I suspect that today’s midsize cars are far more sturdily constructed than full size cars were 35 years ago. But a bad idea is still a bad idea. And rear-facing seats are a bad freakin’ idea.

    It’s not just that the seats faced the rear. It’s that they put you right at the very end of the vehicle, with no protection. Every time I see a “15-passenger van” with a row of seats right up against the rear doors, I cringe. I’ve read of at least one accident with those vans where a rear seat passenger was killed, while others in the vehicle walked away uninjured.

    • 0 avatar

      “…A pickup truck came over the overpass and hit us at almost full speed. The rear end of our wagon curled up like a fruit roll…”
      Considering the dynamics of that scenario, the outcome wasn’t so bad.  If that pickup got in a good lick of brakes, impact speed might have been 45 MPH or so.  Your father no doubt had his foot firmly on the brake pedal, which made the car more difficult to roll.  The pickup’s bumper likely sailed right over the bumper of the wagon, so the sheetmetal took the brunt of the impact.   Even today’s offerings would have fared poorly.  My dad installed a version of “Hijacker” air shocks and extra HD springs in our family wagon to keep the rear up for concern over this very type of collision.

  • avatar

    We had two Volvo wagons with the rear-facing third seat, a 240 and later a 740.  We pretty much just used the tailgunner slots when the first two rows were full of adults and we had to exile the little kids back there.  For the most part, the kids didn’t like it–they complained about how big the trucks looked, and they got tired of funny old people pointing at them and waving like idiots.
    As the kids got bigger we sold the 740 and bought a 2002 Odyssey. As much as it pains me to say it, we’re at 112,000 zero-issue miles in and we really respect that minivan.  We don’t love it, and I would rather drive a nice European wagon with a manual transmission, but that Odyssey gets the job done.  It will return nearly 24mpg on long highway trips full of people and their stuff with the AC running. Bonus, you can close the tailgate on ten-foot-long stuff (lumber or PVC pipe) if you run it all the way up between the front seats. I’m thankful I had the foresight to have the dealer install a factory transmission oil cooler (from the tow package) at delivery; we’ve completely avoided all the famous Odyssey transmission problems.
    We’re reaching the point where we really don’t need a minivan any more, but I’m thinking something smaller in the same configuration is a good bet.  I’m not ready to put the Ody out to pasture yet, but I’m thinking something like a Honda Fit when we do.

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      The Mazda 5 is a pretty interesting half step between the Ody and a Fit. Similar vehicles are readily available in most global markets, but the US doesn’t have many actually mini, minivans anymore.

  • avatar

    always, always, sit inside the wheelbase, between the axels…

  • avatar

    The only recent Suzuki sold in North America that I can think of that had three rows of seats were the two versions of the XL7.  The current generation Rav4 offered a third row for the first years of production, but I think you can’t get the third row any more. The European Rav4 was shorter and never offered a third row.

  • avatar

    in the previous(c5) generation a6 avant oyu could get a 3rd row also in the allroad.  But it was special order only.  I’ve never seen one equipped like that and we nevr even had a customer order one.  Its kind of like the usual internet dorks who used to ask about it.  The always talked about, said they would only buy a car with it etc, but just with the manual diesel waogn thing, none of them ever put there money where their mouth is.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    I still love the three seat wagon.  Olds Vista Cruiser, the ultimate followed by an LT1 powered Roadmaster wagon with the Gran Touring suspension!

  • avatar

    Better yet:  what is the last car based wagon with a FRONT FACING third seat?  The last Amurrican ones were the 1976 GM clamshell wagons.  However, the Peugeot 505 had a forward facing third seat as well and it was produced up until about the mid 90’s.  Anything after that?

    • 0 avatar

      The Renault 21 Savanna had a third row of front facing seats and it stayed in production a few years later than the 505. It was a terrible car with an engine that was very prone to overheating.

  • avatar

    We used to go just go into the trunk of an SUV or Hatchback when I was younger. Just did that last week in New York. Also did that on a pickup, its too bad America is too embarrassed to try it again.

  • avatar

    The last gen E-class wagon did have a third row option. MB doesn’t list it as an option on the current vehicle, and we don’t have any wagons at the dealership yet.

  • avatar

    Comedy on point: Brian Regan’s “big family stuff”

    The station wagon commentary starts at about 1:50, but the whole bit is great.

  • avatar

    Best place to find a three seat wagon unfortunately is in the past.

    My boys adore our 1991 Caprice, it’s a ‘treat’ to sit in the rear facing third seat, at least they think so. I think so too. And it gets 24 MPG on the highway all day long, better than the 11MPG my sis-in-law three seat Expedition gets.

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