Welcome (Back) Wagons

David E. Davis, Jr.
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02 David E Davis Jr

The traditional station wagon is making a comeback, and I welcome its return with warm enthusiasm. My pal David Draper, who does all manner of automotive restorations and re-creations at his Time Machines Unlimited shop, just down the road from Charlevoix, Michigan, traded his SUV for a Mercedes E-class wagon with 4Matic some months ago and has more recently traded his pickup for a BMW X5. He claims never to have been happier. I can see why.

Not all manufacturers refer to their new station wagons as station wagons. Someone has spread the rumor that the public wants cars that will drive like, look like, and function like station wagons, but they don't want them to be called station wagons. This may explain why Daimler-Chrysler chose to describe its new Chrysler Pacifica as a "segment buster" when it was introduced at the 2002 Detroit auto show. (Proud paterfamilias throws open kitchen door, strides in shouting, "Honey, I'm home! Bring the kids outside to see our new segment buster!")

The Pacifica, like the Crossfire performance coupe, was supposed to pump new life into what is again being described as "beleaguered Chrysler," but neither of those two new products has taken wing. Both suffer from amateurish marketing—the same wizardry that has blown millions of dollars on Celine Dion with no return in sight and produced several commercials that can only be described as being in questionable taste. Now the Pacifica is joined by the Dodge Magnum, which is every bit as arresting in appearance as the Pacifica but may suffer just as badly at the palsied hand of "beleaguered Chrysler's" marketing and advertising establishment.

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The SRX is really Cadillac's first wagon.

Other manufacturers have shown more product sense and a better grasp of the market as they made the swing to station wagons. Minivans and SUVs have served as substitutes for wagons for a couple of decades, and their great usefulness and comfort must be considered whether you're designing a new wagon or shopping for one.

The pioneer in the reemergence of station wagons must be Subaru with the Legacy wagon, which begat the Outback, and the Impreza, which begat the Forester. These were not quite fully fledged SUVs, but they were wonderfully useful wagons. In the same time frame and the same conceptual frame of mind, we had the Ford Explorer and the Mercury Mountaineer, which sold like crazy and were much more apt to be used by their contented owners as all-wheel-drive family wagons than as rip-roaring off-road adventure vehicles. Next came the Volvo Cross Country, followed by the Audi Allroad. Both Volvo and Audi continued to make very nice station wagons while the rest of the industry poured its money into SUVs, and when SUVs began to outsell conventional passenger cars, it was an easy step from conventional Audi and Volvo wagons to cross-over Audi Allroad and Volvo Cross Country all-wheel-drive wagons. Volvo also makes the very well-received XC90, much closer to a true SUV but farther from the conventional wagon.

I vividly recall falling head over heels in love when I drove an early production version of the Cross Country. The best editorial project vehicle I ever drove was a 1977 Volvo station wagon—Boss Wagon III—cross-pollenized with Volvo's then-new 242GT and rendered more aggressive with a smattering of racing/rallying suspension pieces from Volvo's parts bins. We kept it for a year—which included one of the worst winters on record—and it was a peach from start to finish. My first exposure to the Cross Country wagon brought all of those Boss Wagon III memories flooding back.

Now another new station wagon has come along to stir those embers. I drove a Cadillac SRX from Ann Arbor to New York, from New York to Boston, from Boston to New Hamp-shire, and from New Hampshire back to Ann Arbor—almost 2000 miles. It was amazingly good. It was powered by the 4.6-liter version of the Cadillac Northstar V-8, it had all-wheel drive, and it enjoyed the benefit of Delphi-developed MagneRide. I had driven these new dampers on several development mules, but I had not experienced them in the real world on a real production car. They're brilliant, and they will be the next big thing in damping technology.

The SRX has an optional third-row seat, which you should avoid. You love your children too much to put any of them back there. The five-passenger SRX is clearly the way to go, and saying no to the third seat gives you useful under-floor storage compartments. The car I drove had XM radio, which meant it had to forgo the very large optional sunroof, which would have interfered with the mounting of the XM antenna.

I now have a long-term Jaguar XJ8 test car in my little fleet, and each time I look at it, I imagine it with a long, sleek station wagon body. I hope our friends at Jaguar have similar reveries. If it works for Cadillac, BMW, and Mer-cedes-Benz, it ought to work for Jaguar. It would sure enough work for me.

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