The war on wagons is all but over. The minivan struck first, followed by the SUV; then came a kill shot from the crossover. The carnage is real: Mercedes, BMW, and Volvo sold just over 11,000 wagons last year — combined. Honda sells three times that in a month with the CR-V. In the past year we've seen curtain calls for five-doors from Cadillac and Acura. Is it time to pour out some Quaker State for the ol' family truckster?
Let's hope not. That occasional automotive punch line actually has a lower center of gravity and provides a more stable and agile ride than SUVs do. And in a sea of crossovers, those low and long bodies stand out — in a good way. Just in the nick of time, Volkswagen is rolling out the Golf SportWagen, the latest compelling reminder of what's great about the classic's style. It's built off the same architecture as the Audi A3 and the VW Golf GTI, whose rigid, responsive chassis is part of the allure. With the SportWagen, you get a similarly sharpened ride, plus more cargo space than in many compact crossovers, even VW's own Tiguan.
It's not likely to collect speeding tickets, but the available engines — a turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder and a torquier 150-horsepower two-liter turbo diesel — target the SUV-crushing fuel economy (36 miles per gallon for gas, 43 for diesel). Combined with its Teutonic handling and either a six-speed stick or dual-clutch automatic, the package is an antidote to suburban ennui.
On the inside, the SportWagen is refreshingly austere, with seats clad in black-on-black leatherette and Spartan buttons and dials. And while the idea of a Fender-branded stereo sounds corny, the nine-speaker system thumps — especially with dad rock. (The system should come preloaded with Wilco.)
Most impressive: The Golf SportWagen we drove was totally loaded — including a panoramic sunroof — but priced at just over 31 grand. (The base is $21,625.) That counters the trend of wagons getting pricier; an Audi Allroad or BMW 3 Series will run you about 10 grand more. Even beyond the SportWagen, there are faint glimmers of hope in wagon world. At the Geneva International Motor Show, carmakers floated new concepts. Audi showed off the Prologue Avant, a big, sleek luxury wagon with a hybrid powertrain. And Kia displayed the Sportspace wagon concept, a long, luxe, glass-roofed grand tourer. Both were knockouts — and showed that car designers are hitching their stars to wagons again. We hope they land on Earth.
The Mercedes-AMG E63 S
While the Golf SportWagen appeals to reason, the improbable Mercedes-AMG E63 S tugs at the soul (and at $104,300, the purse strings). Sure, the E63 covers the practicals: seating for five, all-wheel drive, a maw that opens wide. But it also has the menace of a 5.5-liter, 577-horsepower twin-turbo V-8, tuned to sound deep and shrouded in mystery — just, you could assume, like the guy who buys one, having left out those last specs when he ran the purchase up the flagpole. Fittingly, the E63's suspension can be set for comfort on the way to soccer practice, then tightened at the click of a dial when Dad's going rogue. Don't expect to see many on the road, though: This nuclear-family wagon is such a rarity that you're likelier to catch a glimpse of a Country Squire — wood-grained panels still intact.