Don't buy that crossover! Buy a cladded wagon instead!

Lifted wagons beat crossovers by several measures — including price

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If you're looking to buy a car soon, and you're like most Americans, there's a strong chance you're considering buying a crossover SUV. That's what people want nowadays. People like the tough, tall exterior that suggests adventure and preparedness, they like the high seating position, they like the all wheel drive many have and they like the practicality. Because of this, crossovers have rapidly supplanted typical cars such as sedans, wagons, and more as the most popular vehicles in the country. But they're compromised, too. They're often heavy, thirsty, and expensive compared with more conventional cars.

The good news is, there's an alternative, a happy medium between the straight crossover and the traditional car. They're lifted wagons, and they're the best crossover SUVs around. And for those who may not know what we're talking about, we're talking about cars and wagons that have been given a suspension lift for more ground clearance and a higher ride height, and often have all wheel drive standard or optional. They also usually have chunky plastic body cladding to make them look tough and durable. Examples include the Subaru Crosstrek, Audi A4 Allroad, Buick Regal TourX, and Volkswagen Golf Alltrack, among others.

Because of the suspension and body modifications, these vehicles fit the trendy crossover mold quite well. And in the case of long-running nameplates such as the Subaru Outback and Volvo Cross Country models, they even have some heritage as outdoorsy machines. They also provide the higher driving position that crossover buyers love. And in some cases, such as with the Golf Alltrack, we've learned they offer better ride quality than their road-oriented siblings.

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So these tall wagons offer the key things crossover buyers want, but what makes them better than traditional crossovers is that they have the advantages of the cars they're based on. For instance, the aforementioned Golf Alltrack still drives mostly like a Golf, which is to say, it's nimble, feels peppy, and is easy to maneuver because of its relatively small size. We can't really say the same for the Tiguan, which feels generally more sluggish and uninteresting than the Alltrack. And we mention Volkswagen's compact crossover because it starts at nearly the same price as the Alltrack.

Some of the difference in giddy-up can be explained by weight. Normal crossovers can be fairly portly, while these lifted wagons are notably lighter. That Alltrack has a curb weight of just under 3,400 pounds as opposed to the Tiguan, which weighs just under 3,800 pounds. The same goes for the Audi A4 Allroad and the Audi Q5 crossover, again, both similarly priced and sized. The Allroad weighs in at just over 3,800 pounds, and a Q5 tips the scales at just over 4,000 pounds. How about something from an American company? The Buick Regal TourX weighs about 3,400 pounds, and the Envision, at its lightest, weighs over 3,700.

Odds are that these weight differences also factor into differences in fuel economy. All of those wagons mentioned above meet or exceed the fuel economy numbers of their similarly sized crossover brethren. The Alltrack does the best with the most efficient version, the manual all-wheel-drive getting 32 mpg on the highway, while the most efficient Tiguan, an automatic front-wheel-drive model, only does 27 on the highway. City ratings are the same for both. With the Allroad, it manages three more miles per gallon on the highway over the Q5, though one less in the city. With the Regal TourX, things are a bit more messy when compared with the Envision. All Regal TourX models come with one engine, a turbocharged four-cylinder, and it gets the same highway mileage, 29 mpg, as the naturally aspirated front-wheel-drive Envision, while getting one mile per gallon worse in the city and combined. But add all-wheel drive to that naturally aspirated Envision, and it drops below the Regal by 2 mpg, with the other numbers matching. The turbocharged all-wheel-drive Envision fuel economy is worse on the highway by 3 mpg, in the city by 1 mpg, and combined by 2 mpg.

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The last area in which lifted wagons conquer the crossover set is in value. Going back to the Alltrack and Tiguan, the Alltrack comes with standard all-wheel-drive, heated, power-adjustable leatherette seats, all for the base price of $26,805. For the same level of features in a Tiguan, one has to choose a mid-level SE 4Motion, which starts at $31,130. The Tiguan's one saving grace is the availability of a third-row seat and more space. But if you don't need that, the Alltrack is the obvious choice.

The choice is even more obvious between the Buick Regal TourX and Envision. The Regal TourX has all-wheel-drive standard, a more powerful engine than the Envision, boasts basically the same fuel economy, has more cargo space, and it costs significantly less than the Envision. The TourX starts at just $29,995, while the base Envision starts at $34,990. And for the Envision to have a similar turbocharged four-cylinder and all-wheel-drive powertrain, it'll cost $43,640.

And with the Audi Allroad, although it costs $3,000 more than the Q5, it adds standard features such as a sunroof, heated seats, better fuel economy, and more cargo space.

Now we're not saying that as a rule, every lifted wagon is better than a conventional crossover SUV for every single person. As we mentioned with the Tiguan, sometimes a crossover will have more space. And sometimes the crossover can be had cheaper. For instance, a Volvo V90 Cross Country is more expensive than the XC90. But when you head out to the dealer lots to look for your new car, take a second look at that tall car with the plastic fenders. There's a good chance it will offer all the style of the crossover you want, but without the crossover compromises.

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