Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

January 24, 2022
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Get on the wagon

The latest generation of family movers offers the luxury of a sedan plus plenty of storage

Blame it on Mr. Brady. “It” being the love/loathe relationship (mostly loathe) so many North American motorists apparently have with wagons. Formerly, known as “station” wagons, they're now “sport” wagons because, one assumes, “sport” is a trendier moniker than “station” according to the marketing gurus who decide this sort of thing.

Mr. Brady, of course, was the patriarch of the TV series The Brady Bunch which ran from 1969 to 1974. He was a suburban super-sire who transported his brood (which totalled eight including Mister B) in a 1971 Plymouth Satellite Regent station wagon. That particular Plymouth seemed to approximate the length of the Exxon Valdez and had just about as much design flair.

Even so, back when pastel polyester leisure suits represented cutting-edge fashion, the station wagon was just about the only way one could comfortably haul a family larger than five.

Alas, the problem with station wagons by the time the ’70s had boogied along was that they were — and how do we put this kindly? — somewhat grotesque. If a Ferrari is coolness personified, from the prancing horse logo and the voluptuous curvy lines to the fearsome powerplant lurking beneath its bonnet, then the station wagons coming out of Detroit were certainly the “anti-Ferrari”: obese monoliths with all the pizzazz of the Borg mothership. Worst of all, by the early ’70s, any wood panelling found along the sides wasn’t actually wood panelling at all, but essentially glued-on wood-coloured Mactac. Somehow it made perfect sense to some designers of this era to affix wallpaper to cars. A design faux pas only eclipsed by (shudder!) the vinyl roof.

Making magic

As you can imagine, there was a psychological stigma inherent to driving wagons of this period. If a convertible roadster conveyed going out on the town in style, then a station wagon was surely the white flag of suburban surrender.

Still, the station wagon of yester-decade was a utilitarian vehicle. It was made for hauling, and it did so without equal. Until November, 1983 that is, when the first Magic Wagons began rolling out of Chrysler’s Windsor, Ontario manufacturing plant.

Say what you will about the minivan, but when it comes to the sheer haulage factor — be it in terms of people or stuff or a combination of people and stuff — a station wagon is suddenly relegated as a second-place finisher.

By the following decade, another nail in the wagon’s coffin came via the booming popularity of the sport utility vehicle. Oddly enough, many SUVs resemble jacked-up station wagons, albeit with more masculine styling cues and (typically) four-wheel drive transmission. By 1996, due to flaccid sales, the last domestic full-size wagons — the Chevrolet Caprice and the Buick Roadmaster (nicknamed “Free Willy” given that these ungainly hulks resembled whales on wheels) – were discontinued.

Luxury with a trunk

But your humble correspondent is here to tell you that the modern wagon is the most unfairly maligned set of wheels in all of autodom.

First, today’s sport wagons truly give the motorist the best of both worlds when it comes to car-like performance along with space for stuff. While SUVs and crossover vehicles may offer more sheer cargo room, thanks to a higher centre of gravity, they simply cannot offer as enjoyable a ride.

And if a Plymouth station wagon of four decades ago represented the very worst of the breed, check out the wagon offerings from the likes of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz — all of these haulers are as luxury-laden as the sedan versions. And, thankfully, are bereft of wood-coloured MACtac affixed to the sides.

Actually, across the pond in Europe, the wagon has never suffered from any sort of stigma (perhaps because The Brady Bunch never originally aired in these parts). In fact, a wagon is considered a young person’s car — the cavernous storage area being ideal for sports equipment. In Europe, it is the sedan that is considered the type of car for “men with hats.”

However, in spite of “wagon stigma,” automakers continue to roll out wagon versions of their sedans to varying degrees of success. The new and improved generation of wagons offer all the luxury and high-tech gizmos the sedan and coupe versions encompass along with the added benefit of generous storage. (Ever try to stuff, say, a goalie bag into some of the car trunks of today?)

As well, in this day and age of $1+/litre gas, many motorists are looking for vehicles that are less thirsty at the gas pump. In terms of fuel economy, a wagon – despite its girth – will typically deliver better numbers than SUVs.

Here is our list of notable new wagons for 2011:

Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon

What a gem! Surely, a shining point for General Motors this past decade has been its Cadillac division. Gone is the staid styling and the yacht-like handling characteristics that grandpa might’ve adored with the Caddys of decades past. Now Cadillac is defined by edgy design cues, taut handling and even fearsome engines.

The CTS comes with a choice of five trim levels and is jam-packed with all the luxuries a Cadillac driver has come to expect: heated/cooled seats, 10-speaker surround-sound stereo, panoramic sunroof, rearview camera and keyless ignition.

While the base model sports a more than adequate 302-horspeower V6, Cadillac has given the CTS Sport Wagon the “V-treatment.” Thus, the CTS-V version features an awesome V8 that generates a staggering 565 horsepower and 551 pounds of torque. Better yet, it features a manual transmission (which is, sadly, a rarity these days). Like its sedan and coupe siblings, the CTS-V wagon is capable of doing 0-100 kilometres in 3.9 seconds. It starts at $44,325 for the rear-wheel drive model.

Acura TSX Sport Wagon

German manufacturers such as Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW seem to have a stranglehold on luxury wagons. Well, Honda’s upmarket division, Acura, wants a piece of that action. The all-new Acura TSX Sport Wagon is essentially a rebadged European version of the Honda Accord (both share the same suspension and four-cylinder engine.) However, the TSX has an upgraded interior equipped with steering-wheel paddle shifters as well as Bluetooth and a navigation system with a large 20-centimetre monitor. Under-floor bins can hold a laptop, and removable side panels allow for golf bags. The bad news is the TSX only comes in front-wheel drive configuration (with no plans to add the superb SH-AWD all-wheel drive system.) Sadly, no manual transmission or V6 engine option is offered. The basic model is available from $29,310.

Subaru Legacy Outback

Subaru has supersized the Outback, giving it a longer, wider and taller frame. This means more passenger room and cargo space. The bad news is that it isn’t as nimble as the smaller Outbacks of yesteryear. There are six trim levels, and all-wheel drive, hill-hold assist and stability control are standard across the board. Options include heated side mirrors, Harman Kardon stereo, rear privacy glass, windshield wiper de-icer and iPod interface. Crash-test scores are superb and the rear seats can recline. The basic 2.5i Convenience model starts from $28,995.

VW Jetta SportWagen

If you want a Germanic wagon, you needn’t buy a luxury brand. The Jetta SportWagen is an affordable hauler that delivers great gas mileage and is fun to drive. Other features: form-fitting seats that are wonderfully comfortable, a panoramic sunroof, multifunction steering wheel and a quiet cabin. There’s also more cargo room in this wagon than what is found in many midsized crossovers. Stability/traction control is standard, with rear side airbags an option. A new clean-diesel engine is available, boosting fuel efficiency to 7.8 litres per 100 kilometres city and 5.7 litres per 100 kilomtres highway. The basic model starts from $20,825.

So go on, give a modern day wagon a test-drive. They have so much to offer. And nobody will ever confuse you with a Mr. Brady wannabe.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.


Showing 1 comments

  1. On November 12, 2010, Norman Datt said:
    Acura TSX Sport Wagon This vehicle is a cross between a Cadillac and driving in a chariot in Heaven.It takes the corners like a turning jet plane,it's just a marvelous piece of engineering and so quiet, it actually purrs like a kitten.

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