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Station wagons ride again

My friend David grew up, as did I, in a household where there was always a station wagon among the family vehicles. I was traumatized by them and have long sworn off buying anything so utilitarian.

But I am single. David is not.

So when it came time to haul around his wife, daughter and maybe an occasional set of golf clubs, he ended up buying a Saab 9-5 wagon. His neighbors must have thought he was crazy; sport utility vehicles are the family hauler of choice in cul-de-sac country.

Sport utilities once were a staple among the horsey set, who adopted the vehicle as their own when most car buyers were snapping up full-size station wagons as fast as automakers could produce them. The wagons' names, such as Kingswood Estate and Colony Park, alluded to life amongst the upper crust, but their utilitarian nature proclaimed their true mission.

But by the 1980s, middle-class America started snapping up minivans, which were even more utilitarian than the wagons they supplanted. Once cul-de-sacs were teeming with them, minivans lost their allure, giving rise to the SUV. It was like a minivan or station wagon, but it had an image, one that suggested you actually spent time at the polo club, or venturing through the woods. In fact, the farthest off-road most people travel in their SUV is accidentally tromping over the topiary at the end of the driveway.

Alas, the alternative, the SUV, has become the norm. So, what's next? How about the station wagon?

As was once the case with SUVs, few station wagons are offered today, and their rarity makes them more appealing than ever.

You can tighten a wagon's suspension, add gobs of horsepower and drive like you're Jeff Gordon. Try that in an SUV and you'll find yourself off-road and upside down in a field of kudzu. And many wagons now offer all-wheel drive, giving the vehicles an edge not only in snow, but in everyday performance.

But even if you're no leadfoot, wagons, which already return better fuel economy than an SUV, can easily be made into hybrids, returning fuel economy a truck driver can only dream about.

And besides, SUVs lack style. They always have. That's their style. You can't give an SUV curvaceous looks — all you can do is heap on the chrome or add a brush guard for the marauding rhinos that populate suburbia.

Someday, someone, somewhere in a cul-de-sac named after a tree that was cut down to build the neighborhood, a car buyer will yearn for something else. That's why, right now, some luxury brands are offering station wagons. Their numbers are small, but I hope they'll be growing.

Wagons recall a simpler, more innocent time. And when I can buy a wagon like Cadillac's 556-horsepower CTS-V, maybe it's time to consider one.

Station wagons ride again 01/11/11 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 1:54pm]
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