Back to School in Style: Top 7 Wagons

by Josh Sadlier
With all the hullabaloo about SUVs and crossovers these days, you’d think that automakers don’t sell wagons anymore—and, well, you’d be mostly right. Once a fixture on America’s roads, the traditional station wagon is an endangered species these days, increasingly elbowed out by SUVs and crossovers. But one thing hasn’t changed: whatever its image problems, the wagon remains one of the most practical vehicle types on the market, a family-friendly confluence of ample cargo space, car-like fuel economy, and secure handling. In honor of this dwindling but distinguished breed, we present the top seven wagons you can buy this year.

Hyundai Elantra Touring

Hyundai Elantra Touring
Hyundai won’t even use the word “wagon" to describe it, but make no mistake: the Elantra Touring, on sale since 2009, is a wagon all the way. It’s also European all the way, a refugee from across the pond that actually has little in common with the excellent new Elantra sedan. What it does have is 65 cubic feet of maximum cargo space, a recognizably European driving character, and a healthy EPA rating of 26 miles per gallon in mixed driving. If you don’t mind shifting your own gears, all this can be yours for about $16,000 to start.

Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen

VW Jetta SportWagen
In case you haven’t heard the news, the US-market Volkswagen Jetta sedan was subjected to some cost-cutting for 2011, losing much of its sophistication in the process. Happily, the Jetta SportWagen retains the higher-quality interior and suspension design of the previous Jetta platform, making it the nicest and best-driving Jetta that Americans can buy. Under the hood there’s either a capable 2.5-liter engine (26-27 mpg overall) or a torque-rich, hyper-efficient 2.0-liter turbodiesel (33-34 mpg overall). Behind the front seats is a 66.9-cubic-foot cargo hold. The pricing’s attractive, too, starting at roughly $20,000 for the gas engine and $25,000 for the diesel. 

Acura TSX Sport Wagon

Acura TSX Sportwagon
Let’s get the disappointing part out of the way first. You can only get the TSX Sport Wagon with a 201 horsepower 2.4-liter engine and a five-speed automatic transmission, so it’s not going to be the quickest wagon on the block. But it is going to give you 58 cubic feet of storage space and 25 mpg in mixed driving, plus a refined cabin and excellent resale value. The TSX Sport Wagon may pale in comparison to pricier rivals from Audi, BMW, and Cadillac—it’s really just a fancy Euro-market Honda Accord wagon, after all—but at its base price of around $30,000, this Acura is an intriguing in-between option. 

Audi A4 Avant Quattro

Audi A4 Avant
Like the Acura, the Audi A4 Avant (that’s ‘wagon’ in Audi-speak) is only available with a four-cylinder engine and an automatic, but this little 2.0-liter is turbocharged to the tune of 211 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, so the A4 Avant can get out of its own way while delivering 24 mpg overall. Thanks to standard Quattro all-wheel drive, the A4 Avant also boasts excellent all-weather handling. Did we mention that this car is gorgeous inside and out? So what if it’s not the most practical wagon ever—51 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks folded is still way more than you’ll find in any sedan. With a base price in the mid-$30s, the A4 Avant isn’t outrageously expensive either.

BMW 328i Sports Wagon

BMW 3 Series Wagon
The current BMW 3 Series debuted in 2006 and is due for replacement soon, with a next-generation wagon yet to be confirmed. Could this 328i Sports Wagon be the last 3 Series wagon ever made? We hope not, as it’s certainly one of the most enjoyable wagons ever made, packaging perfect rear-wheel-drive driving dynamics (all-wheel drive is optional) with sub-$40,000 pricing, a handy 61-cubic-foot cargo bay, and a creamy 230-horsepower inline-six engine. Middling fuel economy—22 mpg overall with RWD, 20 mpg with AWD—is about the only chink in this Sports Wagon’s armor.

Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon

Cadillac CTS Wagon
Based on Cadillac’s rear-wheel-drive CTS sport sedan, the CTS Sport Wagon offers, by our count, the most engine options—three—of any wagon on the market. Each is uniquely suited to different driving demands, ranging from a base 3.0-liter V-6 to the Corvette-derived 556 horsepower supercharged V-8 that’s hooked to the magnificently absurd $60,000-plus CTS-V. Only a lucky and perhaps slightly unhinged few will go home with one of those. But the other models, including all-wheel drive variants, are within reach for most luxury buyers, and they’ll reward owners with a sophisticated drive, uniquely bold styling, and a practical 53.4 cubes of storage space.

Mercedes-Benz E350 4Matic Wagon

Mercedes-Benz E350 Wagon
The top spot in the stateside wagon pyramid is currently occupied by the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, which is offered only in E350 4Matic trim. That means it’s got a confident 3.5-liter V-6—and, less admirably, a standard all-wheel-drive system that drags overall fuel economy down to a crossover-like 19 mpg. Still, the E350 wagon provides more stable handling than any comparable crossover, thanks to its relatively low center of gravity, and it features a throwback rear-facing third-row seat that expands seating capacity to seven. Throw in 57.4 cubes of cargo room and the expected upscale cabin flourishes, and that mid-$50k starting price might even start to seem reasonable.

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