Naughty Five-Doors: The Wonderful World of Wagons in the 2000s
If you were to take a moment to ponder the death of the wagon in America and had to put a timeline on when it all started, quite a few people would wager it arrived in the 1990s. That timeline makes a lot of sense, since that’s when the SUV craze really started to take off. But there isn’t a specific date when it all came crashing down, and that’s frustrating as a historian.
We can nail down the end of the Roman Empire to the year that Odoacer overthrew Romulus Augustus (476, if you were concerned), but there was never an “okay, no more wagons starting now” moment in our country.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the highlights of the longroof market in the Naughts.
As popularity in wagons waned, automakers launched an absolute plethora of long-roof options for American consumption. While I could point to 1983’s National Lampoon’s Vacation and the Family Truckster as an institution of Americana, the best examples of the wagon era were offered between 2000 and 2010. It’s as if manufacturers were saying, “Are you really sure you don’t want to buy these?” as they turned out the lights on production for most.
Audi A4 Avant
The A4 Avant wasn’t Audi’s first foray into the small wagon market, but it was certainly very successful. Starting with the B5 chassis in the late 1990s and continuing on into B8 production in the early 2010s, the A4 offered many engine and transmission configurations. Technically, it’s still available, though only in Allroad 2.0T automatic form.
Highlights: S4 Avant, B6 1.8T quattro Ultrasport, B7 2.0T quattro S-Line Titanium Package
Audi A6 Avant
Like the A4, the A6 was a popular large wagon option. The C5 chassis offered an amazing array of options, from the 2.7 twin-turbocharged engine lifted from the S4 to the V8 borrowed from the S8. Production continued into the C6 chassis, but fizzled out just past 2010. Before Audi stopped selling it here, you could get a supercharged 300 horsepower 3.0T Avant.
Highlights: S6 Avant, Allroad 2.7T 6-speed, A6 3.0T Avant.
BMW 3 Series Touring/Sport Wagon
As with the Audis, the genesis of the 3 Series Touring started well before they hit U.S. shores, but the small wagon only arrived here in the 2000s. Coupled with varying inline-six motors (though never the most powerful in the lineup, notably), with optional rear- or all-wheel drive, and available with a manual transmission, both E46 and later E91 chassis are still hot commodities in the used car market as BMW has moved to an automatic only, turbocharged, inline-four recipe. Still, the 3 Series Touring one of the few still available on the market today.
Highlights: Anything with a manual and/or Sport option.
BMW 5 Series Touring
BMW began selling the 5 Series Touring in the 1990s with the E34 chassis, but the large BMW wagon didn’t come into its own until the 2000s with the E39 platform, which BMW offered as the 528i Sport when paired with an inline-six with manual transmission, or 540i when a V8 propelled the long-roofer though an automatic trans. Popularity of the model continued with the E61 chassis. Though only available with all-wheel drive, both 530xi and later 300-horsepower turbocharged 535xi models offered a manual option before BMW discontinued them as part of the 5 Series’ move to the F chassis.
Highlights: See BMW 3 Series above.
While not the prettiest or the fastest wagon to make the list, that the Magnum came to fruition at all was impressive. In an age where American manufacturers had just about fully sworn off the wagon (and, at the very least, certainly the large wagon), the 300-based Magnum brought a bold and brash style, and some serious firepower in the form of a 425-horsepower 6.1-liter Hemi V8.
Highlights: Finding one of the elusive SRT-8 models.
Jaguar X-Type Sportwagon
The result of Ford’s ownership of the British company meant plenty of platforms to borrow for new models, resulting in (unfortunately) the S-Type and (more fortunately) the X-Type. It was this Ford Mondeo-based model that took Jaguar in a new direction with all-wheel drive and an estate option. Also unusual to Jaguar was the five-speed manual and 3.0 V6, making this a very odd cat.
Highlights: It looks nothing like a S-Type.
Lexus IS300 SportCross
While most Japanese manufacturers like Nissan, Honda and Toyota pulled out of the wagons segment in the ’80s and ’90s, Lexus took an abrupt right turn with its then-new IS. Attempting to attack the BMW E46 and Audi B6 five-doors, Lexus rolled out the offbeat SportCross. They sold very few here, maybe due to Lexus equipping all SportCrosses with automatic transmissions. At least it was rear-wheel drive and had an inline-6.
Highlights: Nothing to see here, move along.
Mazda6 Sport Wagon
Didn’t I just say Japanese manufacturers abandoned wagons? Well, as with Jaguar, Mazda was owned by Ford in the 2000s, too. Platform sharing again meant that the Mazda6 got all-wheel drive and a manual in turbocharged Mazdaspeed6 form. For a few years, enthusiasts held out hope that the Sport Wagon variant would drop the Ford V6 and get the turbo-4, but, alas, in 2008, the wagon party came to an end. It was briefly a neat-looking if slow-selling option.
Highlights: Hey … neat.
Mercedes-Benz C-Class Estate
With the W203, Mercedes-Benz finally brought the Estate version of its baby Benz to the U.S. after snubbing us with the W202. Unfortunately, it was in the midst of the changeover in styling and a move to water-based paint as well as some generally poor interior quality. It wasn’t bad-looking as a wagon, but it’s better to skip this one as we received Daimler’s best effort: the C55 AMG Estate. Mercedes-Benz opted to drop the small wagon in the U.S. after introducing the better looking W204 replacement in 2006.
Highlights: It’s not a Chrysler?
Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate
While the W210 marched into the decade as a stately wagon option for Carmella Soprano-types, they lived a hard life and make the degradation of the C-Class look like a walk in the park. Still, you could get the mega-V8 powered E55 in wagon form. The W211 replacement looked the business and came with even more craziness in the motor department, ranging from the now-supercharged M113 V8 with a kicking-and-screaming 469 horsepower, to the refreshed E63 model with the 6.2-liter V8 that broke the 500-horsepower barrier.
Highlights: Anything with an AMG badge and no rust.
Saab 9-3 SportCombi
The death of Saab was for many fans a sad moment, and a loss for the enthusiast world. While wagons hadn’t really been a traditional staple of Saab before the 2000s, it did offer us some nice options in the 9-3 Aero. Production culminated in the cartoonishly named but seriously quick 280 horsepower, turbocharged V6 2008 Turbo X SportCombi, which premiered the Haldex-derived Cross-Wheel Drive (XWD) system.
Highlights: If you can find one …
SAAB 9-5 Wagon
The 9-5 wagon was more ubiquitous than smaller Saab wagons, and again offered in Aero form. Though unusual, they were certainly distinctive. Though Saab is gone, many of these are still soldiering on. The turbocharged Aero was good for 260 horsepower by the end of the run and could be had with a manual.
Hightlights: Pre-facelift 9-5 Aeros.
Subaru Impreza/Saab 9-2X
The GD chassis gained some bulk over the outgoing GC, but fans quickly forgave this as the WRX finally arrived on our shores legally. It came as a wagon, too, though opting for the fifth door dropped the flares from its exterior. Saab also got a version thanks to some strange marketing in the lightly cloaked 9-2X. Despite that, both of these rumbling turbocharged flat-four wagons are still very much fan favorites.
Highlights: Find one that isn’t modified and/or rusting.
Subaru Legacy Wagon/Outback Wagon
The BH and later BP chassis Legacy models took Subaru to new heights of popularity and became the do-it-all family favorite in New England and Colorado in Outback Wagon form. The BP introduced more motivation in the turbocharged 2.5-liter motor borrowed from the STi, and it was available in both Outback XT and Legacy GT form. Though they have some pretty serious known long-term faults, few packages can offer the same performance and all-weather capability.
Highlights: A manual turbo model without blown headgaskets.
Volkswagen Jetta Wagon/SportWagon
As you learned in my last post, Volkswagen produced a Mk3 Variant, which it never brought to the states. That changed with the Mk4 Jetta and has gone strong (barring certain pending lawsuits) ever since. While the Mk4 generation isn’t known for the best quality, they’re economical commuters — at least until Volkswagen cleans them up.
Highlights: Mk4 TDi, Mk5 brought with it an inline-five and better quality.
Volkswagen Passat Wagon
Volkswagen went decidedly upscale with the B5 Passat, moving from a Golf-based platform to the Audi B5 chassis. With revisions in the B5.5, all-wheel drive and a plethora of engines were offered, ranging from the AHU 1.9 TDi to the wildly complicated and unnecessary 270 horsepower W8 technical exercise. The revised Golf-based B6 continued offering an upscale wagon with optional all-wheel drive (though no more manual), but the Mk5 underpinnings meant you could get a punchy 276 horsepower 3.6-liter VR6 under the hood, which made this a speedy sleeper.
Highlights: W8 4Motion six-speed, 1.8T 4Motion five-speed, 3.6 VR6 4Motion.
Reintroducing the V40 to Volvo brought a new small car to the brand. And, especially in wagon form, it was pretty handsome with a sloping glass echoing the legendary 1800ES design. But, it was never really much of a challenge to the established German norms until the redesign in 2005. It looked quite heavy (and was), but upped the ante. The top-tier T5 model featured optional all-wheel drive, an optional manual transmission, and 218 turbocharged horsepower — enough to outpace most of the equivalent Audi and BMW wagons.
Highlights: At this point, pretty much just the T5 AWD.
The second-generation P2 chassis V70 improved considerably in the looks department and enthusiasts rejoiced in the return of the V70R. With a tuned up version of the turbocharged inline-five channeled through all four wheels thanks to a Haldex differential hooked to a manual 6-speed transmission, these 300 horsepower screamers have a serious (and deserved) cult following, especially when paired with a six-speed manual.
Highlights: Any R model that has been properly maintained, especially when painted Flash Green and paired with a six-speed manual.
Honorable Mention: 2011 Cadillac CTS-V Wagon
Though production didn’t start until 2011, the slightly garish but outrageously ostentatious CTS-V wagon brought a modified LS9 Corvette ZR1 motor and six-speed manual into a Cadillac wagon. It doesn’t get much more otherworldly than this. Coupled with the W212 Mercedes-Benz E-Class AMGs, it gives us longroof lovers hope that more hi-po wagons will come our way.
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