For years, the humble station wagon was viewed by many car shoppers as less cool than your father’s dance moves. Supplanted by minivans and then later by all-wheel-drive crossovers and SUVs, wagons were suddenly deader than disco.
Well, not entirely. Freed of their need to create a long-roof that is all things to all people, station wagon designers started injecting muscular engines and acres of luxury into these versatile vehicles. Equipped many of the features and much of the power as their SUV/crossover cousins, but imbued with a much lower centre of gravity, the modern station wagon has become something of a secret handshake, a silent nod to those in the know.
In fact, station wagon variants of some cars attract the type of customer that’s highly sought after by carmakers. Mercedes, for example, says the E-Class wagon owner has an average household income greater than just about every other vehicle in its lineup save for the megabuck G-Wagen.
Our panel of over 20 automotive experts from all over the country have voted on what we think are finest five in the whole segment, advancing them to the final round of voting for the best station wagon, a selection which we will feel very comfortable recommending to our readers. The winner will be revealed in February 2021.
Based on the same platform, these two Swedish meatballs blend a minimalistic style with a brand name that has long been synonymous with station wagons. Appending the “Cross Country” moniker to the name adds ground clearance and body cladding to the standard V60 wagon but not enough to call it a crossover or SUV (that’s what the XC designation is reserved for). Engines are exclusively four-cylinder in arrangement but range from 254 horsepower in $43,900 T5 trim to a hearty 415 horsepower in the plug-in hybrid T8 eAWD Polestar models costing nearly double that amount.
That minimalistic-but-handsome exterior style extends to its interior, with very nearly every button on the centre console binned in favour of a vertically oriented 12.3-inch infotainment screen flanked by tall ventilation registers. In terms of driving aids, an available Pilot Assist steering support can facilitate the drudgery of stop-and-go traffic plus lend a hand while driving on the highway. The snappy R-Design trim features what Volvo calls Supportive Contour seats plus a suspension that brings the wagon ever so slightly closer to terra firma.
Stuttgart employs a dose of typically German frankness, dropping all pretense and simply calling their long-roof vehicles a “wagon.” In the age of marketing double-speak where automakers want to call wagons anything except what they actually are, this is refreshing. The entry-level (but not base) C 300 wagon earns its all-wheel-drive 4MATIC stripes and packs a 255-horsepower turbocharged engine. Amping up the drama is an AMG C 43 variant with a twin-turbo V6 delivering nearly 400 ponies.
Its interior shares a lot with much more expensive vehicles bearing the three-pointed star, with a bank of air vents peeping out from below the tablet-style infotainment screen. Over a dozen interior upholstery selections are on tap, plus an even half-dozen trim veneers. There are a few infuriating details, such as the C 300’s optional heated steering wheel and really-oughta-be-standard satellite radio. However, the superb Burmester surround sound audio system is $1,000 well spent.
If hitting highway speeds from rest in about three seconds flat while taking the kids to soccer practice is high on your list of priorities, Porsche has the station wagon for you. Preferring to call it the “Sport Turismo,” seven different trims – all of which featuring different horsepower ratings – are on tap and ready to vanquish any notion of a slow and plodding station wagon. Porsche places the Panamera 4 on the first rung of its Sport Turismo ladder, with 325 hp out of its V6 biturbo engine. Resting at the polar opposite of the spectrum is the Turbo S E-Hybrid, good for a psychotic 690 total combined horsepower and a price tag well north of $200,000.
A freshly tuned chassis paired with newly selected 20- and 21-inch tire choices perceptibly strengthen the Sport Turismo’s handling characteristics while a variety of driving assistance systems make the ride a relaxing one when the driver chooses to tone down the intensity. Interior colour and trim combinations are nearly endless, with Porsche more than happy to pad the sticker price with all manner of custom touches. There’s also enough of the company’s 911 sports car in this interior DNA to sate drivers who have tucked away their race car for the winter.
Those seeking a terrain-following ground missile – one capable of warp-speed road trips while laden with enough luggage for a family of four – would do well to sample the latest E-Class wagon from Mercedes. Offered in three flavours – hot, hotter, and dynamite – this versatile whip comes standard with all-wheel drive and a healthy dose of style. The $76,400 E 450 model sets an opening bid of 362 hp from its twin-turbo V6 before introducing the AMG E 53 and its 429 hp. Sitting atop the heap is a $124,200 AMG E 63 wagon belting out over 600 horses from its handcrafted 4.0L V8 biturbo.
Driving aids abound, from the expected kit like adaptive cruise control to features like active steering and lane-change assists. Should the unthinkable happen, M-B’s Pre-Safe Sound feature emits “pink noise” via the audio system when it senses an impending collision, triggering your ears’ natural defence against the loud noises of an accident. Like other Mercedes models, the E’s interior shows up for duty with sumptuous materials and high-res screens measuring 12.3 inches each.
Much to the delight of wagon aficionados (hey, we exist) across the nation, the crew in Ingolstadt has chosen to bless this side of the pond with its 592-horsepower uber-wagon. With the exception of a few body panels, the $120,400 RS 6 Avant exterior is comprised of RS-specific parts. This includes its deliciously flared wheel arches and aggro power dome on its hood. As for the 300-hp A6 Allroad, this not-quite-a-crossover adds ground clearance and body cladding, both of which play decently well with the A6’s natural good looks.
Audi has built a reputation for crafting some of the finest interior spaces money can buy and the A6 family is no different. Speaking the same design language as its big brother, the A8, well-integrated touchscreens control most of the car’s features while the Virtual Cockpit gauge cluster can present information to the driver in umpteen different ways. Opting for the Allroad’s “Individual Contour Seats” permits the inclusion of upholstery choices that bring visual interest to the interior.