Americans becoming more “European” in our automotive tastes…will wagons make a comeback?

Americans’ taste in automobiles is becoming a little more European. The fact that Ford and GM are marketing truly global cars like the Fiesta, Focus and Chevrolet Cruze with only minor modifications to reflect local tastes supports this view. Diesel, while still a tiny portion of the US market, is increasing in share of market, propelled by the efforts of VW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW.  GM has even announced that they will offer a diesel-powered Cruze in the US.

Even the hatchback, a configuration traditionally rejected by Americans is becoming more accepted:  “Five-door hatchbacks, popular among European families but long regarded as boring by Americans are catching on.  They now make up almost half the retail sales of Ford’s small Fiesta and Focus” (Financial Times).  Hot hatches like the Focus ST and Golf GTI make this segment even more appealing.

All this change is exciting and I hope that it signals a long-term adjustment in Americans’ view of automobiles.  Selfishly, I hope it will culminate in a re-appreciation of a body style seemingly lost to the sands of time…the full-size station wagon.

Europeans have a very different view of wagons, for one thing, they don’t call them “wagons,” they’re called “estates,” “Touring” or “Avants.” Just the language around the body style is better. It also helps that they have had some of the most beautiful well-designed wagons to choose from for years. For example, look at this Audi 5000 from the eighties, over 25 years old and it still looks great and feels very modern:

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For many Americans the idea of a station wagon became undesirable because of its connection to the newly suburban world of the post war years.  Most of our mothers drove a domestic version like the Ford LTD Country Squire, here’s a good example complete with faux wood, driveway and lawn:

http://autoperspectives.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Ford-LTD-Wagon-150x112.jpg 150w" sizes="(max-width: 207px) 100vw, 207px" />

In the 70s & 80s, things began to change, European models became better known and the Volvo wagon became the vehicle of choice for many families:

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In the 90s SUVs were the cool alternative to the very uncool station wagon and the death knell began to sound.  The perception that station wagons were for stay-at-home moms in traditional suburbs added to the clanging and finally the cross-overs of the new millennia killed the full-size wagon body style for good.  Even the high-line European brands have stopped importing their C-class wagons to the US.  Audi no longer brings in the A6 Avant and BMW leaves the 5 Series Touring (wagon) off its US product plan. Only Mercedes-Benz, with its E-Class, still imports a full size wagon. It’s really a shame, as I said earlier, the Europeans have been making beautiful and useful wagons for years. But even they have recognized that Americans are more interested in cross-overs and don’t bother to bring in their wagons.

I recognize that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” but I can’t understand why someone would choose to drive a chunky cross-over rather than a sleek, beautiful, sophisticated wagon.  Look at the pictures below, wagons on the left, their corresponding cross-over on the right.

The Audi A6 Avant versus the Q7.  The Q7 is perhaps better than most cross-overs, but the A6 Avant is just stunning

Audi Q7 2013

audi_a6_avant_2013

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s the BMW Touring versus the X5, no contest.

BMW touring 3013BMW X5 2013

 

The Mercedes-Benz E-Class wagon, truly makes the M-Class look bovine.

MB eclass wagon 2013MB M-Class 2013

One domestic manufacturer has the courage to offer a wagon. I happen to think the Cadillac wagon is great looking, but even if you hate the brand’s design language, you can’t tell me that the wagon isn’t better looking than the SRX!

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All of these wagons are available with all-wheel drive and offer the driving dynamics and comfort of their sedan counterparts.  These four manufacturers also offer high performance variants for those of us whose manhood may be compromised by the idea of driving a wagon.

The McNaughtons have always had wagons and taken our family of four on vacations, children off to college, several post college moves, not to mention schlepping all manner of household projects and we have never lacked for utility. In fact, I don’t know what we would have done without our wagons.

I know this seems counter intuitive, but these wagons are just so much cooler than cross-overs. The station wagon deserves a renaissance in the US!

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