Why A Wagon?


No, we are not talking about a Porsche station wagon. And we are not referring to the much-debated Porsche SUV. Rather, the topic is the once ubiquitous station wagon. The family hauler of choice before the cursed minivan was launched against an unsuspecting public by our friends at Chrysler.*

On a recent trip of some length my son Will and I had to maneuver our way around and past numerous minivans, the drivers of which for the most part believe that the left lane on an interstate highway is reserved for their personal use. Even if you give them “the look” as you pass them in the right lane, they persist in their corpulent occupancy of the passing lane. Unfortunately many drivers of other types of vehicles on the interstates also have no lane discipline, but it is the minivan that dominates the left lane.

The direction in which we are headed, in a less than direct route, is not that a driving enthusiast should have no association with a minivan, but rather that when one is looking for that second or third vehicle, and must have one that brings utility to the fleet, one should consider a station wagon. I know that you cannot haul as many rug rats in a wagon as you can in the landscape-blighting minivan, but ask yourself if you want to. Do you really want to be the parent who gets to take the whole soccer team for burgers? Is it not better to say, “Sorry, no more room,” when that gaggle of squirming nine year olds, with who-knows-what smeared on their grubby little hands and faces, wants to climb into your car?

The key factor in vehicle choice is not the avoidance of messy and annoying passengers, but instead it is the driving pleasure one can derive from even the most mundane of station wagons (read: old Volvo). BMW, Mercedes, Volvo, VW, and Audi all offer very interesting vehicles in the wagon format. BMW insists on giving it a “Sport Wagon” designation. Mercedes calls their C and E class wagons “Estate” vehicles. The Brits are known for that class of vehicle once known as the “Shooting Brake.” Whatever the nomenclature the idea is the same—4 to 5 passengers with a nice box at the back in which suitcases, golf clubs, cases of wine, toolboxes, or whatever can reside. Engine and transmission combinations abound. All wheel drive is available, most notably from Audi (and Subaru, but this is a publication for devotees of German cars; others must head for Consumer Reports). Automatics, Tiptronics, and 5 speeds are offered.

The handling of a wagon approaches that of a good sedan, and in some cases exceeds it. No wallowing about as in a top heavy, wind magnet, minivan. BMW’s 540i Sport Wagon is pure performance. Volvo wagons are no longer the lumbering bricks of yesteryear with their all-wheel-drive and high-pressure, turbo-charged, multi-valve engines. Heck, even an old Volvo wagon can have good handling with a little upgrading. Bigger sway bars, urethane bushings, low profile tires, and gas shocks can make the 245DL blow by SUVs and minivans on a twisting road. (This claim is based upon personal experience on the West Virginia Turnpike.)

Now that I think about it, why not a Porsche wagon? If the line into heresy has already been crossed by Stuttgart with its Cayenne, then why not a wagon? Something perhaps reminiscent of the Volvo P1800 in its notchback form: fitted with twin turbos and room for two sets of golf clubs. It just might sell.

  * It is sometimes hard to believe that the man who gave us the Ford Mustang also gave us the minivan. Thanks, Lee. Also, for the record, the Volkswagen bus is NOT a minivan.

© W. S. Cline/ Rose Lane Garage 2001

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