What You Should Know Before Buying Wagons
If vacillating between a crossover and sedan, today’s wagon offers what is arguably the best of both. With a 2-box design on what is typically a conventional sedan platform, the buyer enjoys the efficiency and – most often – handling dynamic of a sedan along with the utility of a crossover. With all of their goodness, the wagon (or station wagon – the dated descriptive) is offered by very few carmakers in the U.S. despite being a favorite of Europeans, where it’s most often referred to as an ‘estate’. The good news is that with the decline of the traditional wagon and rise of the newish crossover we enjoy a growing number of 5-door hatchbacks doing a credible impression of earlier station wagons. If the shoe fits, drive it.
Exterior – In almost all wagon configurations, the manufacturer has simply taken a 4-door sedan and extended the roofline to the vehicle’s rear bumper, added a rear hatch in lieu of a trunk and called the end result a wagon. The days of the 2-box, upright wagon are essentially over, even at Volvo. And in its place is a collection of almost rakish wagons, ranging from the now-discontinued Cadillac CTS-V and Audi Avant to BMW’s 3-Series and Volvo’s V60. Given that the greenhouse (glass area) is no greater than that of its sedan counterpart, outward visibility remains relatively the same. The extended roof provides the opportunity for roof-mounted racks capable of taking your bikes or – if it comes to that – beds, and while hitches are typically not standard equipment, their fitment looks more appropriate to a wagon than it does on your Porsche Boxster.
Interior – The main ingredient in the wagon’s interior specification is its folding rear seat. With that, cubic storage capacity can double or triple, from approximately fifteen cubic feet in a typical trunk to twenty cubic feet behind the rear seat of a wagon to almost forty cubic feet when that wagon’s rear seat is folded. Three rows of seating have been relegated to the 3-row crossover or SUV – in almost all instances wagon shoppers will find two rows and no more. And from a spec standpoint, expect any material upgrade or tech enhancement that’s made available on the donor sedan should also be available on its wagon variant. That’s if, of course, there is a wagon variant.
Powertrains – With so few wagons on the market, you can assume very few – if any –will benefit from a dedicated, wagon-specific drivetrain. From Audi’s A4-based Allroad to Volvo’s V90, what’s under the hood of the 5-door wagon is inevitably what you’ll find under the hood of the donor A4 or S90 sedans. Turbocharged fours are now the norm, while more innovative drivetrains – hybrid electric, electric and electric with range extenders – can be found on several hatchbacks, but not (to date) on traditional wagons, unless you consider Kia’s new Niro. The Niro’s architecture is SUV-like in profile, but rides at a height more typical of a car or hatchback. If you’re a year out from a purchase, know that Buick is considering a wagon version of its next Regal. If launched, however, like Buick’s new Envision crossover, few will notice.
Safety – Given that today’s wagon began life as a sedan, you can safely assume its safety envelope would be similar. And with a family audience, a full array of designed-in safety is complemented by those electronic assists which can be easily added. The only deterrent to significant safety features is the wagon’s business model. With little competition in the segment, manufacturers are left to ‘grandfather’ those features available in their more volume-oriented sedans. Volvo’s V60 wagon, long regarded as providing its passengers with leading-edge safety, provides Blind Spot Information, City Safety auto-braking and adaptive cruise control – to name just three.
Technology –Today, if a manufacturer opts for an introduction at a major auto show the offering is more typically devoted to newly-introduced technology within the product than the outside sheetmetal or under-the-hood enhancements. Of course, technology can take many forms, including those intended to improve safety, efficiency, connectivity or entertainment. With its Tech of the Year Award in 2016, Autoblog recognized Apple CarPlay for its user-friendliness and “overall impact on bringing our connected lives into the car.” If you’re an iPhone user, the control of apps is done via a familiar interface on an infotainment screen while adding features that weren’t originally installed at the factory. Android Auto was second in the voting, delivering to the user essentially the same capabilities via Google’s phone OS.
With automotive technology’s trickle down, you can expect in-car WiFi to enjoy greater availability, and its integration into a ‘media hub’ increasingly common.
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