Hey! What Happened to the Station Wagons?
I’ve got a friend who’s moving to the U.S. from the Netherlands, and he’s looking for a car for his family. “Why do Americans hate station wagons?” he asked me, frustrated with his search. Being a long-time wagon fan, I politely disagreed, explained a bit about our obsession with minivans and SUVs, then started to point him to the station wagons that are still on the market…
…and half of them were GONE. It’s true that the number of station-wagon offerings has been in decline for a while, but it seemed to have stabilized, with several European manufacturers keeping long-tail models on hand to satisfy the enthusiasts who’d rather carry cargo the old-fashioned way, or who just like the look of a squareback car. But lo! While I wasn’t looking, executive decisions have decimated the crowd of wagons available to me and other wagon fans! This is a quiet tragedy of epic proportions!
Continue reading for the rest of this sad story.
It’s true. When my buddy asked for wagon suggestions, a bunch jumped to mind, but it turns out that he’d considered every one of them and found them to be out of production. Searching for “wagon” on the automotive search sites pulls up just 17 new models that are considered station wagons. That’s an awfully small number, but it gets worse. More than half of those are cars that aren’t really station wagons as we know them. The 2015 Kia Soul EV? 2016 Mini Cooper Countryman? 2015 Toyota Prius V? 2013 Lincoln MKT? Cool vehicles in their ways (yes, even the Prius: I like the extended-butt version), but not station wagons. No, it turns out that the only station wagons hanging around our market are the 2015 Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen, 2015 Subaru Outback, 2015 Volvo V60 and 2014 Volvo XC70, 2016 BMW 3-Series, 2015 Mercedes C-Class Wagon, 2015 Audi A6 Allroad and I’ll throw the 2014 Ford Flex in there because it’s pretty close to a station wagon in spirit.
Oh, and the XC70 is a really old platform. It may not be long for this world.
Seriously? That’s it? It absolutely is. The Volkswagen Passat wagon has disappeared from the brand’s website. The Audi A4 and A6 Avants have disappeared, replaced by the 2015 Audi Q5 and 2016 Audi Q7 crossovers. Acura’s reclusive 2014 Acura TSX wagon went away quietly last year, too. There are wagon-back versions of the 2016 Ford Focus and 2016 Chevy Cruze available in Europe, but we don’t get ‘em over here.
This is a dismal state of affairs for wagon fans. What happened? Mostly, crossover vehicles. For the past decade or so, station wagons have been a reasonably stable niche, hanging out and selling in low numbers to weirdos who didn’t want an SUV. Unfortunately, crossover vehicles, the latest hot-property market, have marched in and they’re doing the same thing that station wagons do, only with more marketing appeal. From a numbers-and-focus-groups standpoint, the station wagon vs. crossover battle is similar to the compact pickups vs. mid-size pickups argument: one vehicle belongs to a category that appears to be dying out, while the new category offers the same abilities plus a bunch of new features. The ability to easily integrate new crossovers onto existing platforms rather than engineering a station wagon version also appeals to the bean counters.
And, unfortunately, to the average focus group, crossovers are sexier. Not to car nuts and wagon weirdos, of course; we’re always likely to prefer five-door versions of enjoyable sedans to high-riding, not-quite-SUVs, but it appears that we are outnumbered. Three of the eight station wagons I did find (the Subaru, Audi and Ford) are pitched as crossovers, too. That may be the only thing that’s kept them around.
What are we going to do, station-wagon people? Is it time to concede defeat?