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Are station wagons doomed?

They are the sleekest and sportiest of all utility vehicles. So why have station wagons seen such dark days recently, asks John LeBlanc.

Have there ever been darker days for station wagon fans?

Though wagons are the sleekest and sportiest of utility vehicles, in the past year alone, we’ve had to say goodbye to the Dodge Magnum, Ford Focus, Mazda6 Sport Wagon, PT Cruiser and Chevrolet Optima.

Of course, “Station wagons become unpopular!” isn’t exactly headline news. For the past 30 years, we wagon lovers have had to grit our collective teeth as minivans and SUVs became the choice for practical automotive needs.

I’m not naïve. Most see car-based crossovers for what they are: tall station wagons masquerading as macho truck-based SUVs, with increased carrying capacity and the illusion of safety the main appeal of these rolling rec rooms.

Other suspects in the death of the wagon include our super-sized culture with its “bigger is better” mantra and all those mythical soccer/hockey/ballet moms who feel the need to give “everyone” a ride home (hey kids, take the bus!)

But really, with so many positives outweighing the negatives, why would you not choose a good ol’ station wagon over a sedan, minivan or crossover/SUV?

1) Buying a wagon is like getting free money. Without adding to the fundamental driving dynamics or style of a sedan, you get more cargo room and the added utility of that fifth-door hatch.

2) How many of you tall vehicle drivers have had a recent white-knuckle driving experience on a windy day? From a dynamic safety standpoint (the ability to avoid an accident), wagons have two key advantages over those taller and tippier alternatives: a lower centre of gravity and less resistance to side winds.

3) Wagons, with their inherently lower profile, are also friendlier to the wind straight on. A slicker shape means better fuel economy and less harmful emissions.

4) I don’t care how many electronic nannies are stuffed into any top-heavy crossover-utility-thingee; any sedan-based wagon will deliver more driving pleasure. Trust me.

But recent sales numbers don’t lie. Take one example in the wagon versus SUV debate.

Despite the BMW X3 SUV and 3-Series wagon having an MSRP within $200 of each other, similar acceleration, equipment levels, safety ratings and even cargo space, BMW Canada sold less than one 3 wagon for every 10 of its X3 last year.

Not to mention, the 3-Series wagon gets better fuel consumption ratings: 12.2/7.7 L/100 km versus 12.5/8.2 for the X3.

And beyond the obvious advantages X3 owners cited as reasons to buy — a taller seating position and ease of entry — even the automaker admits fashion is a big reason buyers choose the SUV over the wagon.

BMW Canada admits picking an X3 over a 3 wagon might simply be the overall popularity and proliferation of the SUV-type vehicle in the marketplace.

The German automaker also noted that in Europe, the Touring (or shooting-brake) body-style is and has always been far more accepted across the board. Which only adds to my argument: Looking cool while driving a minivan or SUV go together like the Leafs and the Stanley Cup.

So do we woe-begotten wagon lovers have any hope that our forlorn yet favourite automotive form will receive greater acceptance? Will we forever be shackled to utility vehicles that drive and look like lunch boxes? Will car buyers release themselves of the false burden of needing a vehicle to tow their boat twice a year, chauffeur six of our kid’s friends home from the birthday party, or carry a 4 x 8 sheet of plywood for that DIY project you’ll never finish anyway?

I don’t know. But I do have hope.

My back-to-the-future solution for automakers wrestling with a 6.7L/100 km fleet average and nano-emissions future is simple: Wagons ho!

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