September 9, 2006

MARTIN ALBRIGHT wonders if it’s time for station wagons to make a comeback:

If Mom and Dad had it, we don’t want it. The principle has been an article of faith since homo sapiens first stalked the savannah. Bouffant hairstyles? Brylcreem? Gedoutta here. Eighteen-hour girdles? Puh-lease. When it comes to vehicles, there’s nothing stodgier than Mom’s old station wagon. If thirty or forty-somethings think about the genre at all, it’s with mocking derision. From National Lampoon’s “Family Truckster” to That 70’s Show’s Vista Cruiser, the station wagon is the ultimate icon of suburban conformity and, well, blah. It really IS your father’s Oldsmobile. . . .

I’ve always believed wagons were God’s chosen vehicles. After all, what can a four-door sedan do that a station wagon can’t? Other than the sedan’s [highly subjective] advantage in the appearance department, nothing. Pistonheads will protest that station wagons don’t accelerate, corner or brake as well as their non-wagon counterparts. And no wonder; manufacturers usually delete the sedan’s high-performance parts from the station wagon’s OEM equipment list. When a station wagon gets the right greasy bits (think WRX, Magnum SRT-8) their performance is pretty damn close to the trunk-equipped version– and they retain the utility that makes a wagon, well, a wagon.

I agree. I drove a Passat wagon for years — had to have something that would hold the sound equipment — and it was a great car, roomy, comfortable, and fairly quick. I replaced it with the Highlander hybrid, and it’s an even better car, but it’s basically a station wagon with plausible deniability. Had I been able to get one, and had the InstaWife and InstaDaughter not threatened revolt over replacing the old car with something virtually identical, I would have probably gotten the Passat TDI wagon — not zoomy, with its diesel engine, but nearly as quick as the gas model and getting 38+ mpg.

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