By on July 8, 2014

1024px-Oldsmobile_Custom_Cruiser

This summer marks two years since my impulse-buy manual Volvo wagon departed in favor of an impulse-buy Miata. I will hopefully make the same mistake again, assuming I can find a nicely maintained (for a change) manual wagon, and I don’t buy a Fiesta ST. Or perhaps, we’ll see the wagon come back into the collective consciousness of American consumers?

Writing in The Atlantic, Charles Moss laments the demise of the American station wagon, taking us through the history of the wagon, its eventual usurping at the hands of the CUV and the lasting influence of its aesthetics on the automotive landscape. Rather than spoiling the article, I’ll direct your attention to the comments section, where numerous Millenial commenters (with families) display their displeasure with the minivan, a vehicle that Moss blames as one of the chief architects of the wagon’s demise. There’s also a smattering of wagon love sprinkled throughout, including the Jetta TDI contingent.

The only missing link in the article? The unintended consequences of CAFE, and how it pushed auto makers to kill off wagons in favor of everyone’s favorite anti-environmental object, the SUV.

Side note: I had no idea Oldsmobile sold a B-Body wagon. It turns out that the Custom Cruiser was never sold in Canada.

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110 Comments on “The Atlantic Pays Tribute To America’s Automobile: The Station Wagon...”


  • avatar
    heavy handle

    Arguably, the minivan killed the family wagon.

    Take a typical 1970s family truckster. Fix it’s deficiencies: low ceiling height, poor packaging due to RWD/Hotchkiss layout, poor access to the third row, poor gas mileage. What do you end-up with? A Dodge Caravan.

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      I have heard that before, and indeed it is somewhat true. But, a minivan could not replace a full size RWD wagon when it came to pulling a trailer. And, station wagons like the Taurus wagon and the Roadmaster continued to be sold in smaller numbers through the minivan’s heydays of the 1980s-1990s; it was with the rise of the SUV after Y2K that the American station wagon came to an end.

      • 0 avatar
        heavy handle

        The full-size wagon was dead 10 years before Y2K. You could still get a Caprice or Roadmaster in the 1990s, but few people did.

        I agree that smaller wagons became today’s CUVs. Not much difference between a first-gen Impreza and a first-gen Forester: almost all mechanical parts are interchangeable.

      • 0 avatar
        Car Ramrod

        @jhefner, some early minivans including the Aerostar (and maybe the dustbuster vans, I’m not sure) did have decent towing capacity, but the RWD layout made them pretty tight inside.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          The Astro had a pretty significant tow rating, at least for the time. The tow ratings sold a quite a few Astros and Aerostars. I know a guy who went from a Caravan to an Aerostar because it could tow his boat and the AWD on the one he bought meant it did better in the snow than the Caravan. Of course the Aerostar was replaced with a SUV and many Astro buyers also moved to a SUV so they could still tow their toys.

          • 0 avatar
            NoGoYo

            The Aerostar and Astros were kind of like SUVs, in the sense of being built on a pickup truck chassis with a fully enclosed body…

            I’d honestly rather have a 4.0 AWD Eddie Bauer Aerostar than an Explorer, the Aerostar is more unique.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        My family replaced a wagon with a minivan when they came out. And honestly, with as much space as they offered, the need for towing a trailer really went down, so that’s not much of a negative.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        @jhefner,
        My Sienna, and every other van I cross shopped when looking for it, is rated to tow 3500lbs.

        That’s significant – but not an all-purpose tow vehicle for contractors or the big-RV crowd.

    • 0 avatar
      SpinnyD

      Take a typical 1970s family truckster. Fix it’s deficiencies: low ceiling height, poor packaging due to RWD/Hotchkiss layout, poor access to the third row, poor gas mileage. What do you end-up with? A Dodge Caravan.

      Or don’t fix the poor packaging and poor gas mileage and what do you end up with? A Dodge Durango or any other SUV. They are all just 4WD wagons.

      • 0 avatar
        matador

        Whenever I see the new Durango, I see the same thing- a station wagon that’s been lifted.

        A 4×4 wagon already exists, though:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Audi_A6#mediaviewer/File:C5-Audi-A6-wagon.jpg

        http://www.cars101.com/outback11rubyred1.JPG

      • 0 avatar
        MadHungarian

        What poor gas mileage and poor packaging? You can get 20 MPG in mixed driving in an early 90’s B-body wagon. You can get 25 in an A-body. That may not sound like much compared to a new Escape Hybrid, but the big SUV’s of the time were in the teens. As for packaging, wagons offer lower liftover heights than SUV’s, and most wagons handled long cargo better than many SUV’s (y’know, the famous 4×8 sheet of plywood test).

  • avatar
    davefromcalgary

    Funny Derek, I took one look at the picture and specifically the grill and was confused. Not in Canada eh?

    I’d (tastefully) mod the heck out of a Roadmaster wagon.

    • 0 avatar
      TwoTone Loser

      I have the car in the picture, except mine is a ’91(’92 pictured)I will be doing a gas mileage challenge in it come october. Its is well slow, but the mileage is pretty decent. A guy is selling an almost perfect ’92 caprice wagon for about 2 grand if anybody has any takers in the north GA area.

  • avatar

    I will definitely read the Atlantic article with great interest.

    However, the consequences of CAFE with respect to the wagon were fully intended–by the auto companies. See High and Mighty: the Dangerous Rise of the SUV, by Keith Bradsher, former Detroit bureau chief of the New York Times.

    from a review of the book:

    Francois Castaing, a leading SUV engineer, joins other sources, Bradsher says, in attributing “the rise of SUVs to the federal government’s insistence on preserving strict gas mileage standards for cars while not raising gasoline taxes. The combination of cheap gasoline and stringent curbs on gasoline consumption by cars forced auto makers to transform the family vehicle of choice from a car into an SUV.”

    “We could not sell big cars so we turned it into a truck,” Castaing remarks. “We made damn sure they were classified as trucks, we lobbied like hell,” comments Gerald Meyers, a former American Motors vice president. The government’s designation of SUVs as trucks allowed Detroit to market SUVs as alternatives to cars, save money on their production because they didn’t have to meet the stringent mileage and safety targets, and make much greater profit per vehicle…

    Shades of green
    Boomer environmentalists, Bradsher says, steered clear of attacking SUVs because they were precisely the affluent types, eager to project a noncorporate, outdoorsy side, who bought them. Why didn’t they tilt toward minivans? Bradsher advises that consumers “quickly stereotyped” minivans as “mom-mobiles,” something “older children would not want to be caught dead in.”

    http://www.chron.com/life/article/High-and-Mighty-by-Keith-Bradsher-2132257.php

    • 0 avatar
      319583076

      Great post and thanks for the link!

    • 0 avatar
      VoGo

      Great quotes, David, thanks,
      Two things:
      1. Gerry Meyers was the CEO of AMC. Brilliant man I had the pleasure of taking a course with at Carnegie Mellon (he also taught in Ann Arbor)

      2. Interesting that he admits that Detroit “lobbied like hell” to classify crossovers as trucks.

      So all those people who blame the Federal government for CAFE turning their brown, RWD, MT diesel station wagons into RAV4s might want to keep in mind that it was the automakers who caused this.

      • 0 avatar

        I believe the general grip against the government is that an unregulated station wagon would have been better for the planet than the resulting lobby to cause SUV’s to be labeled as trucks, so still caused by government regulations pushing against consumer demand.

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      Look back 20 years, when CAFE hadn’t moved in 15 years, gas was very nearly free, and the retail SUV consisted of the Explorer, Grand Cherokee, and Blazer selling maybe a million units between them.

      If this corporate conspiracy is to be believed then the lots should have been thick with wagons. Camcords, Tauruses, Escorts, Saturns, you name a best selling car and they sold a wagon version of it.

      Which nobody wanted, while the sedan bodystyles set new sales records every year.

      Tastes change. Wagons got old. No conspiracy to it.

      • 0 avatar
        JEFFSHADOW

        Station Wagons AND coupes (of many makes) were replaced by the SUV craze of the early 1990s. Every woman wanted a Ford Explorer then (some settled for the two-door Mazda Navajo!) and the Jeep Grand Cherokee was outselling every GM SUV in the market. It wasn’t until the GMT360s were produced that GM saw a resurgence in sales for their SUVs. Of course George Bush and Dick Cheney saw to it that gas prices would rise (to protect their wealthy friends) and so the SUV market has cooled somewhat. Our 2005 Dodge Magnum SXT made a statement (wagons are back!!) but one jerk at Chrysler had the Magnum canceled after 2008. In 1991 my Oldsmobile store had twenty two new Custom Cruisers for sale. Virtually no sales because some folks preferred the Buick Roadmaster, others knew the 5.7 V8 would be available for 1992 and the first Bush recession was in full swing at the time.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Sorry but SUVs were classified as trucks long before AMC decided to design and introduce the downsized Cherokee. The only difference was that the gov’t classified them as MPV or multipurpose vehicles. That kept them out of the scope of emissions regulators for a few years. Now when they went to the unibody set up then they may have had a little work to do to keep those classified as trucks. The real lobbing was done by Chrysler, GM, and Toyota to get the PT, HHR and XB classified as trucks. Their angle on that was not so that those vehicles didn’t have to meet as tough CAFE standards it was so that they could use their higher MPG to offset their terrible pickup MPG (at least for Chrysler and Toyota) for meeting their truck CAFE requirements.

    • 0 avatar
      TheyBeRollin

      “We could not sell big cars so we turned it into a truck”

      I owned a full-sized car that could be purchased as a wagon. It might as well have been a truck considering many of the mechanical components were the same as those in a smaller truck. The only differences were that it was shorter, had better handling, better fuel economy, and it didn’t have a bed. It was even an excellent tow vehicle.

      I believe the rise of the SUV was more an effect of the age of the Baby Boomers. They were experiencing a sort of midlife crisis and wanted something big to show off to their peers as their incomes started peaking. Most new cars are bought by people in their late-40s through their 60s, so their choices are the strongest drivers of the composition of the national fleet. Currently, we’re experiencing the effect of Generation X with the widespread availability of caricatures of the aspirational cars of the 70s-90s, explosive growth of brands that they dreamed of as children/young adults, and the ubiquitous soulless mid-sized sedans. Even the CUV craze can probably be traced to being 20-to-30-something in the 90s and surrounded by SUVs that they can’t afford to fuel now.

      My question is: Why are estates (wagons) still so popular in Europe?

      • 0 avatar
        matador

        I’d say practicality. A station wagon will usually return good fuel mileage, handles like a sedan (“saloon”), and can haul much more.

        You’d be amazed what I can get in the back of my A6 Avant. Way more than I could do in the A6 sedan. Plus, it doesn’t handle like a Suburban, or drink gas like one.

  • avatar
    Pebble

    Long live the full size, rear facing third seat, wood grain and roof rack, rear wheel drive, gas sucking V8 American wagon. I flush the SUV, CUV and minivan for the automotive turds they are. Somebody get me a ’76 Chrysler Town and Country STAT.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    The Custom Cruiser is the rarest of B-body vehicles! Only made for two years. Hard to find them with the Vista Roof option like that one there, in any sort of decent condition. I don’t believe the LT1 was available.

    • 0 avatar
      davefromcalgary

      No LT1? Then why bother?

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Cause sometimes dat FWD Regency Elite 98 in the same color scheme doesn’t cut it.

        • 0 avatar
          davefromcalgary

          http://s749.photobucket.com/user/dave_bernardin/library/92%20Olds%2098%20Touring

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Touring is very different! Have never seen one in real life.

          • 0 avatar
            davefromcalgary

            I see (that) one every time I visit my parents.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            [Time]Capsule Review it!

            It’s a very tidy one; clearly your dad loves it very much. Does it rattle like I [presume] all old GM vehicles do inside?

          • 0 avatar
            davefromcalgary

            The car is not rattly. Dad had to glue up the headliner cloth though. He did a nice job and you can’t tell. Supercharger has been rebuilt, and the A/C has proven problematic though the 3800 has been otherwise predictably bullet proof. Only other issues I know of are the factory CD player doesn’t work, and the auto climate control is wonky. Its not winter driven so that been a non issue. The thing is a hog around town, but no word of a lie gets 7.5L/100 kms (31 mpg) loping across the prairies. The only factory options it lacks are the heated windshield and automatic trunk closing latch.

            Some cool features are in 1992 the factory CD player, full trip computer, accessory retain, etc that didn’t come into regular use until 5-8 years later. The seats are like 14 way adjustable and La-z-boy like. The factory head unit is an atrocious design. Also the cupholders are vestigial and can barely hold a thimble of water without spillage imminent.

            My favorite features are the HUUUUUUUUGE trunk and HUUUUUUUGE sunroof glass. Panoramic glass before it meant anything in cars. I also really like the 6 gauge cluster.

            Driving experience is typical 3800/4T60. Smooth and easy. The first gen supercharged 3800 is only rated at 200 hp or so but is well suited to the car. The FE3 suspension removes some of the wallow while still leaving a comfortable ride. Obviously not sporty to drive but pleasant none the less.

            Dad really wanted a pristine Olds 98 Touring a few years ago. He searched high and low and ended up flying to Akron Ohio to purchase this particular car, and drive it home. He has taken to squirting oil into the trim around the rear wheels, because this is a known rust spot with the big touring trim pieces. It is mostly original, the pinstriping, tint, and FE3 badges weren’t actual factory options, and were added by the previous owner. As well, my dad has always run MotoMaster SE tires on his big BuiOldsmoBoats. The generally provide a smooth quiet ride.

            All in all, its a well kept example. Don’t know how desirable it is in this day and age, buy my dad likes it. He is however driving it less this year in lieu of his new bike. His other car is a 97 LSS (sadly non supercharged).

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            I would drive it. Btw the automatic trunk latch liked to break on the Cadillacs at least, prob better to not have that option twenty years out.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Thanks for the write-up. Those 98s stand out today because they’re so odd looking. I actually saw one just yesterday, a white Regency Elite, two very old people in it. The plate was LUV USA 2 (I think).

            The LSS had some interesting interior appointments, and I think it’s aged better than other GM vehicles of the time.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Looks like they had the 5.0 V8. I’m guessing that’s not the Caddy 5.0?

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          The “Caddy” 5.0 of that era was the SBC so yeah it has the “Caddy” 5.0 or 5.7 which just so happens to be the same engine found in their trucks.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            The 5.7 is always considered far superior to the 5.0, yes?

          • 0 avatar
            NoGoYo

            The solution to 305? Replace with 350. Always.

            Go find a rusted out truck or something with a good motor and have fun.

          • 0 avatar
            matador

            Yes, the 5.7 is better than the 5.0 I have the 5.0 (305) in a 1987 Chevrolet truck with a really bad rear end gearing (2.76?). It’ll return okay gas mileage, but I always want more engine when I’m loaded on the hills.

            The 350 (5.7L) in my old Chevrolet that’s gone now returned about 1-2 MPG less while loaded, but the trip was more enjoyable. This truck was a 1989, so both were equipped with early Fuel Injection.

            The 305 was reliable, but not too powerful or much more efficient. I’d rather have the 350 any day.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            Yeah most people consider that the 5.7 is always better than the 5.0.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        No LT1 is a good thing, why would you want an engine that requires you to replace the entire ignition system and replace the water pump every 50-60K. Better off getting one of the TBI powered versions and if that doesn’t make enough HP swap in a LSx.

    • 0 avatar
      S2k Chris

      I grew up riding in a 1985 Custom Cruiser from 1985-1990. Baby blue with the wood grain. Car sucked donkey balls.

      Looked like:

      http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/cc/2nd-Oldsmobile-Custom-Cruiser.jpg/280px-2nd-Oldsmobile-Custom-Cruiser.jpg

    • 0 avatar
      xflowgolf

      No LT1. Correct. The Olds was only available in the last “bubble” B-body in 1991/1992 and was then discontinued. The Buick and Chevy continued on, with the LT1 becoming available in 1994.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      The Whale Cruiser is the most rare B body that is for sure, very hard to find but everyone you find will have the Vista Roof as it was standard. Yes it died before the LT became available but that doesn’t mean that you couldn’t swap one in though I have no idea why you would want one of those engines. If you are going to do a swap might as well put a LS in there.

    • 0 avatar
      JEFFSHADOW

      All 1991 and 1992 Oldsmobile Custom Cruisers had the vista roof standard. The MSRP in 1992 was around $25,000 and buyers were very selective on options.

    • 0 avatar
      mkirk

      I believe the Olds wagons were gone by the time the LT1 made it to the B body. This would have the L03 or L05 TBI 5.0 or 5.7.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    If people liked station wagons, then they would buy them.

    If people didn’t like SUVs and CUVs, then they wouldn’t buy them.

    Many car enthusiasts seem to be oblivious to something that should be quite obvious: A large number of their fellow drivers want a higher seating position. Riding high makes tough drivers feel tougher and weak drivers feel stronger and safer.

    The Japanese mini truck boom turned trucks into lifestyle vehicles, while minivans put higher seating into middle-class garages. The SUV was able to appeal to both the intimidating and the timid at the same time. How can anyone be surprised that a vehicle that could appeal to both groups would prove to be a winner?

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      An astute analysis, a great deal of their success is psychology. Only in America would people pay for tough looking cars which really aren’t all that tough.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree people like the high seating. But as 28 says, below, it’s psychology, and psychology is highly malleable with good marketing. I’m sure with a little marketing the companies could get people to buy wagons in droves.

      Of course, with the high beltlines, the incentive for getting SUVs and minivans, cars you can actually see out of, is higher.

      • 0 avatar
        bill h.

        Not to mention that as the population ages, the calisthenics required to get in/out of conventional height vehicles becomes more of a challenge. I’ve seen this with my own parents now, which may actually require us to consider a vehicle with taller floors/seats to help accommodate them. I’d rather it be a tall wagon than a CUV, but the choices are much narrower than the latter case.

      • 0 avatar
        heavy handle

        It’s not just psychology. having grown-up riding in a series of Caprice wagons, I know that the low roof is a bother whenever you are loading people or things. The first practical minivan made the Caprice wagon (and the competing Ford wagon) obsolete overnight.
        High seating means that you can put more than a couple of things in the back without blocking the rear view. It also means that your rear passengers’ legs hang down instead of out, which in turn means that the seats can be closer to the benefit of cargo space.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          And yet the low roof is no impediment to the several million sedans a year that are sold…

          I find a decent wagon to be the ideal compromise. You are not limited to the relatively tiny and awkward to access trunk space of a smaller sedan, but the car drives the same as a sedan, sometimes better. Not everyone who likes wagons is interested in a three-row plywood pleasure palace.

          One interesting thing – evidently BMW’s sales of the new 3-series wagon are going through the roof, relatively speaking. The new one is just enough bigger than the old one to interest a LOT more people, and it is a really great looking car to boot. Plus now you can get it with the diesel for a very modest amount extra. Not selling in the numbers of the X-cars of course, but my local dealer is moving 3-4X as many as the previous generation, 75% diesels. If they would sell me one with RWD, I would have one too. I’d even forgo the manual transmission. But in blue, not brown. But since they won’t I will happily keep my e91.

          • 0 avatar
            redav

            Wagons make a ton of sense for compact cars but less so for larger cars. Hence, we see wagons/hatches for Focus, Mazda3, 3 series, Impreza, etc., but no Fusion, Mazda6, 5 series, etc.

        • 0 avatar
          Richard Chen

          Same here, also a kid who grew up with the squarish GM B-body wagons. The Sienna I have as adult holds 8 and their stuff much more comfortably than the 1980’s Buick Electra Wagon ever did.

          Flashback: as a teenager, sitting in the front row center position, each butt cheek on a malpositioned 50/50 split front bench, huge transmission hump where legroom wasn’t.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        The psychological appeal of sitting higher comes from the height itself. While marketing does help, it’s easier to market something that naturally appeals to ones customers.

        As some have noted, there are also some practical benefits for at least some of us to have higher vehicles. Low seating positions and old age don’t necessarily go well together.

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      The five best selling SUVs in the US, 2014 YTD, are the CRV, Escape, Equinox, Rav4, and Rogue.

      Tougher and more intimidating?

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        Those are CUVs, not SUVs.

        • 0 avatar
          Dan

          OK. The five best selling SUVs in the US are the Tahoe and its derivatives, tack on 4Runners and Expeditions and such and all together they might account for a whopping 2.0% of US auto sales.

          Which, again, shows what tougher and more intimidating is worth in the family market.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            SUV market share peaked in 2003, at about 17%.

            Aggressive becomes less appealing as fuel costs go up. People will only pay so much for the privilege.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Given there are virtually no station wagons to buy, I find that an interesting statement. Those that are available do seem to sell reasonably well, with the exception of the Acura wagon. Which would probably sell better if it wasn’t both overpriced and under-powered. And kind of hideous.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “Given there are virtually no station wagons to buy, I find that an interesting statement.”

        You find it interesting that automakers avoid selling things that people don’t want?

        “Those that are available do seem to sell reasonably well”

        Not really, no. Look at the actual numbers, then get back to me.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      I’d hazard that the SUV and crossover (and the nearly-crossover height of many modern sedans) is a return to the way cars were packaged before long/low/sleek took over in the mid- to late-fifties.

      People like taller cars: they’re easy to get into and out of, hold stuff better, and are more friendly to drive about.

      The SUV gave us that, but in a butch package that was easier to sell (and certainly easier to sell at a premium) than European MPVs (which, FWIW, are eating the station wagon market alive across the pond) and allowed the OEMs to leverage the lower costs and massive scales of their existing truck business.

      Of course, trucks suck to drive, hence the crossover, which really is a return to the way cars were packaged in 1940-something.

      • 0 avatar
        Drzhivago138

        This. Prior to about 1954 or so, the average car was very tall, and a 4×2 pickup or panel wagon (think the Adv. Design Chevies) of that era was about as tall as, say, a ’67 Chevy K10. It’s so much harder to believe because almost all surviving 4×4 trucks up to the mid-80’s have been lifted 6 inches, but it’s true.

        After drop-down frames became the norm, so did the long and low look, and since almost everyone alive to complain now grew up in a late-50’s car or later, that’s all they remember. I’m confident that just as many people as those who now complain about vehicles being so tall complained in 1955 about all the new cars being so low.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      What nonsense, everybody wants a Station Wagon and no one wants a SUV or CUV they only buy them because when they went to the dealer the salesman threatened to kidnap their first born if they didn’t buy a CUV or SUV. Of course it was the mfgs that came up with this strategy to boost their profits and send the salesmen to classes on how to intimidate customers into buying CUVs and SUVs. Not since the 70’s has a consumer walked into a new car dealership with the intention of buying a SUV or CUV.

      The reality is what is on the market today reflects what new car buyers have purchased in the recent past. People stopped buying Station Wagons in large enough numbers to support every manufacturer being able to market one profitably. So as sales of a particular model fell to or near that point producing a wagon became unprofitable they stopped making them.

  • avatar
    LambourneNL

    The distaste for station wagons seems to be a US-specific phenomenon. In Europe, wagons have been strong sellers for decades and often command a premium over sedans in the used car market.

    My theory is that it has to do with a larger percentage of one-car households in Europe. When you need one car to do it all, the station wagon makes a lot of sense, especially when SUVs or minivans do not get any tax breaks and their gas mileage is substantially worse.

    The “keeping up with the Joneses” effect seems stronger in the US when it comes to cars. I’ve never seen anyone drive around with the window sticker still on in Europe either, another uniquely American phenomenon.

    • 0 avatar
      S2k Chris

      Driving around with the window sticker on? What are you on about? No one does that in the US, either, unless they’re on a test drive or a car salesman that took home a car off the lot for the night.

    • 0 avatar
      turboprius

      Are the one-car households related to the fact that everything is closer in Europe, so you can just walk everywhere?

      Where I live, a single car seems impossible. There’s no public transportation, no sidewalks, and no car-sharing services. My family probably couldn’t be able to live with two cars, let alone one.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        LOL – “walk everywhere”?? In the context of Europe as a whole, there is not nearly the difference between there and the US as people seem to imagine. Think of individual European countries as analogous to US states and you will have a better idea. Yes, European cities DO have massively better public transportation, and out in the country there is *some* public transport as opposed to none in most of the US, but an awful lot of Europe is pretty rural, and the distances are pretty long. And with the EU and Schengen, the population is a LOT more mobile as there are no internal borders anymore. I drove from Berlin to Stockholm a few years back, that is the same as Maine to the Carolinas!

        But I think you are correct that there is much more incentive to have only one or two cars in Europe. For no other reason than cars ARE much more expensive there, both to buy and to operate. And when fuel is 2X-3X as expensive, that mileage gap between a wagon and a CUV starts to hurt! And the annual tax hit too.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      I think its marketing, wagons in Europe were sold as just another body-style with added practicality.

      Here in the states, wagons were tackled up with wood trim, long screwy names, and were often variants of cars that were sickening to ride in.
      Most people don’t really want to associated with this old phenomenon when they sink a fair share of cash into a new car.

    • 0 avatar
      Yoss

      I’ve never seen anyone leave the window stickers on in the U.S. either. I’m not going to claim that it’s never happened, but I will say that 99.999% of Americans would think that person is just as weird as you do.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      “The distaste for station wagons seems to be a US-specific phenomenon. In Europe, wagons have been strong sellers for decades and often command a premium over sedans in the used car market.”

      Wagons are being displaced by MPVs, “Versos” and crossovers in Europe as well. They just didn’t suffer through the pickup-with-enclosed-bed phase that North America did.

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    People love to complain and moan about the Outback being “Jacked up” but in reality, it’s ride height is probably very similar to a 1970s Wagon.

  • avatar
    mars3941

    The large rear drive station wagons of the past were family, boat, RV and trailer haulers. Their replacements now are pickup trucks and full size SUV’s most costing anywhere from 45K to 70K so based on price alone many people were taken out of that market. Mid sized and small SUV’s and mini vans are now family haulers minus the boat, trailer or RV. Most will tow only 1000lbs.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    Wasn’t the “station” wagon meant to bring you home from the train station, or deliver you to your summer home? There was a degree of exclusivity to it, since most people couldn’t afford a second, all-purpose utility vehicle, or even a first car.

    The problem is that the ideal people+luggage design is a minivan or SUV, and that’s pretty much what the early Suburbans et al. were. The SUV is now that second, utility car, with a smaller commuter vehicle for workdays, and the old Alfa/MGB/TR6 in the garage or covered by a tarp beside the garage, waiting to be hauled off for Murilee to photograph.

    Most of the old wagons, from the 1950s on, were car models with extended roofs and wrap-around glass, and were just a temporary step on the way to the SUV, kind of like a hormone-infused, pimply faced teenager in transit from childhood to young adulthood. Who wants to go through THAT again?

    • 0 avatar
      DevilsRotary86

      My understanding is that originally station wagons were single cars mounted on rails that would transport passengers from one train landing to the next for transfers. They were either powered by steam or draft animal. Think 19th century airport trams.

      Please note that I may be wrong of course.

      • 0 avatar
        jhefner

        I don’t think that was a common usage. Next time you watch the movie “White Christmas”; notice that it is a “woodie” owned by the lodge that picks them and their luggage up at the train station, and takes them to the lodge. That was a more common usage that give them their name. They were also called “depot hacks”, Google the phrase for some images.

        EDIT: If you remember in the Western movies, it was a buckboard wagon that meet the passengers at the train station to take them to the hotel in town. It was this that was replaced by the depot hack; which became known as the station wagon.

        http://www.railwayvillage.org/modeltdepot1922.html

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      That is a cute response, but not entirely true.

      I have said it before; but I live in both worlds — my wife has a Dodge Durango, and I have a Taurus wagon, and I drive both.

      The Durango is nice because the third row is slightly more usable. It has A/C vents all the way in the back, something that is sorely missing in the Taurus. It also has rear cupholders, and a 120V outlet. You don’t feel like second class citizens in the back; though as I kid, I never thought that in our 1967 Ford Country Sedan wagon with NO A/C.

      Their cargo space in terms of floor space with both sets of seats down are fairly close; the Durango is slightly wider. The Durango is taller inside, of course; but usually the only time it gets loaded to the ceiling is when both rear rows are occupied during vacation. The Durango is easier to get in and out of, which is why my wife loves it.

      But, when it is just one or two people, I prefer the station wagon. And that is why it is a good second car; not that MG under a tarp. It gets better mileage; it is much easier to see out of and weave in and out of traffic with, yet I can still haul people or stuff in a pinch; just not as well as the Durango. For most families, the SUV has replaced the pickup truck or large station wagon that was the “family truckster”; there is still a place for the station wagon as a primary or commuter car; since the smaller wagons like my Taurus got roughly the same mileage as the equivalent sedan.

  • avatar
    Maymar

    I’m still fascinated that if you want a car, more often than not, wagons and hatches are shunned, while sedans continue to soldier on. Meanwhile, throw in several inches of ground clearance “to see better” (over all the other crossovers), and suddenly wagons are okay?

    Like, how were the Subaru Outback sedan or the Ford Five Hundred (which made a big deal out of it’s supposedly optimal hip point) such relative failures?

    Meanwhile, I’m eying the hell out of the outgoing Golf Wagon (Jetta SportWagen south of the border), since VW seems to be getting eager to move them with the MkVII on the way, and it seems like one of the few cars I could foresee living with past the point it’s paid off.

    • 0 avatar
      Hillman

      Try living in a city where you get to worry about your window be smashed because someone wants what is in your trunk and you have my answer of why I don’t have a wagon/hatch. Also, a roof rack allows me not to worry about dirt and other gunk in my car.

      • 0 avatar
        Maymar

        Thankfully not a concern in my city, but the point is moreso why wagons are only okay if we jack them up, but the same treatment doesn’t work on sedans. I just want consistency from the market for excuses as to why things I don’t care for that much sell well.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    Stations wagons have become redundant when you can find 5-door hatchbacks a plenty, you get your liftgate and 4 entry ports, what else so you want to elevate a Focus ST into a wagon? Wood Trim?

    The only wagons with real merit were the boxy ones, but even then we have minivans for that role, well and the Flex that none of these wagon-worshipers are buying.

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    Wagons don’t do anything to improve the rear seat room in a sedan, and that’s what most people buy in an SUV, rear seat room (and front seat height). No one wants to sit in the back of, say, a Honda Civic sedan, but the equivalent SUV (a CR-V) is perfectly fine for back seat space. It’s not really about cagro space.

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      The biggest problem with the back seat of a sedan is the compromised headroom thanks to now-universal fastback styling. A CUV, or a wagon if such a thing existed, moves that boat tail back over the usually empty cargo area instead of pressing down on the passengers’ heads. That extra space lets them raise the bench up a little bit too.

  • avatar

    Dodge Magnum SRT or Honda Crosstour…

    Take your pick…

  • avatar
    haroldingpatrick

    I used to think that wagons were soooo superior to CUVs/SUVs until at the age of 41 I was joined by an autoimmune condition that causes flexibility / stiffness issues that I pretty much have to live with. I found out real quick why so many older folks drive Honda CRV’s and bought one myself. A 3 series wagon would be as bad as the Maxima I got rid of. For the record, i actually liked the Ford Escape better, but have no interest in doing Ford’s QC and Ecoboost beta testing for them – same old story, a great vehicle let down by above average problems.

  • avatar
    360joules

    As someone who bought a 4Runner in 1998 during the SUV/carpocalypse, my wife wanted a tall vehicle for traffic (swapping out a Probe GT) that could tow a trailer, drive on the snow, and bounce around on Forest Service fire trails to go hiking. We sold a pickup to buy it ( first gen Toyota T100 with worthless 3 liter engine replaced by secret warranty). Our SUV fit the bill. Most of the time it is a commuter car which is totally inefficient. 246,000 miles of which 6-7000 miles used its special capabilities. A waste? Probably. But she calls it her momma-wagon.

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      That’s part of ‘Murica. You can buy a vehicle with certain capabilities that you may only use 5-10% of the time (a 6.8L V10 that can pull 20K+ lbs. no sweat), and as long as you’re willing to put up with the drawbacks (13 MPG unloaded, 7 loaded), you can have whatever you like.

      • 0 avatar
        360joules

        Totally agree. But when we are in a hurry and need to load some construction materials or an appliance…or decide that we want to pull off of the highway and drive up a rutted track to see a view or look at a mountain, it’s worth it. Most of the time it’s wasted capability.

        • 0 avatar
          360joules

          18-22 mpg. Not the best but not v10 mileage.

          • 0 avatar
            Drzhivago138

            Either side of 20 MPG in a BOF SUV? Not bad for a 90’s model. My 2002 CUV gets the same mileage, and that’s part of what I call the First Wave of Crossovers, when they still looked like boxy SUVs on the outside but were unibody FWD. Think first-gen CR-V, RAV4, Forester, and Escape/Tribute.

  • avatar
    jmo

    Derek,

    Aren’t you Canadian?

    “Canada’s prime minister from 1993–2003, the Right Honourable Jean Chretien, was driven in armoured Buick Roadmasters during his term of office.”

    Ah, the Roadmaster. It truly was.

    Never mind, that was the sedan. Growing up, I had always thought Roadmaster applied only to wagons.

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    5 door 4Runner bought just a few months ago has become IMO the most versatile car I have owned. Actually in a dead heat with a 77 Impala Wagon. A 2 door wagon sits unused because it it is impractical and a gas hog.

    The thing is that I consider the 4Runner to be an off road capable wagon. Hook up a trailer and it replaces a couple vehicles.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      What I saw a lot of on the road recently was an SUV/CUV with a convertible trailer behind it.

      (A convertible trailer is a medium size (~4X6) flatbed trailer with fullsize wheels and tires that can be configured as a flatbed, or with sides, or with an enclosed luggage carrier or with a fold-out camping shell.)

      These convertible trailers must be the newest craze because I sure have seen a number of them. Come to find out, they are sold at places like Harbor Freight, Costco, etc for about $300, as a kit.

      You assemble them yourself and configure it any way you want by buying the extras for it you want.

  • avatar
    mikeg216

    Whaddda ya mean the wagon is dead? Ford is building their best ever, the Ford Flex. Panoramic roof, cooler for water bottles, seating for 7. 5 doors, turbo, it tows and it hauls ass and you can buy it in brown. It’s the ultimate wagon.

  • avatar
    darex

    From what you’re saying, Derek, I see a 2015/16 MINI Clubman in your future:

    http://bestsuvs2015.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/2016-Mini-Clubman-front.jpg

    http://s3.motoringfile.com.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/P90144152.jpg

  • avatar
    punkybrewstershubby aka Troy D.

    My wife and I still love our 2004 Taurus SEL wagon after 145K miles. For what we paid for it in ’04 there is nothing out there that can effectively replace it, as far as a brand-new vehicle is concerned. With the 60’s style 3rd row seat it can seat 7 people and it doesn’t look like a Venza or a Crosstour, thank gawd.

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