Despite our love for wagons, these versatile haulers have fallen out of favor with the American public. They've actually been out for favor for several decades, so we're hoping they've been uncool long enough to make a trendy comeback. With fuel economy regulations tightening, but no apparent end in sight for Americans' desire for the ability to haul lots of stuff, the wagon could become more relevant.
The BMW 3-series and Audi A4 have offered wagon bodystyles for years and Cadillac is finally joining the wagon party with its CTS Sport Wagon for 2010. Cadillac needs the Sport Wagon and upcoming coupe version of the CTS to be a serious player in Europe where small luxury wagons are still favored over small SUVs. We sampled a 2009 Audi A4 Avant and a 2009 BMW 328i xDrive Sports Wagon right after driving a 2010 Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon to see how the cars compare. We weren't able to drive all three cars on the same day, but we did learn a lot about their relative strengths.
2009 Audi A4 Avant
The Audi A4 Avant may not turn heads like a chiseled Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon and, at least in this test car's configuration, won't win any races against a grocery-toting BMW 3-series. But this is still a handsome, pleasant-to-drive vehicle.
From afar, the A4 might be best described as an extremely scaled down Q7. Stand a little closer, however, and there's no mistaking it for anything but a station wagon, with a large, perfectly rectangular storage area that can easily carry a weekend's worth of luggage. Not surprisingly, the car's true beauty is inside, where Audi's trademark teardrop-shaped gauges and engaging, finely assembled dash help the A4 Avant to clearly outshine the well-appointed but conventional interiors in the CTS and the 3-series.
Unlike Cadillac or BMW, Audi doesn't offer wagon buyers six-cylinder power. The familiar 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder can't quite match the output or refinement of its larger-displacement competitors, but it's nonetheless smooth and potent and offers the fuel economy benefits one would expect of a smaller engine (better than the BMW by a combined 3 mpg, and better than the Cadillac by 2 mpg).
2009 BMW 328i xDrive Sports Wagon
With the arrival of the CTS Sport Wagon and a coupe model in the near future, Cadillac is setting the stage for a product lineup much more closely mimicking that of BMW's 3 Series. For decades, BMW has spread its engineering costs over several 3 Series body styles and capitalized on the recognition and reputation of the mainstream sedan. The wagons, convertibles, and coupes may not sell in the same volumes as the 3 Series sedan, but each one certainly plays a role in BMW's business. We drove a 2009 BMW 328i xDrive Sports Wagon to see how the golden standard of the sport sedan world translates into wagon form.
The 3 Series wagon does an excellent job juggling the duties of both sporty and comfortable driving. Over most roads, the 328i handled bumps and potholes with ease. Still, a few large, sharp breaks in the pavement encountered at high speed did slam the suspension against its bump stops.
There's good reason that a BMW 3 Series is the safe bet when it comes to buying a car. It provides the comfort and luxury that drivers want every day with the capabilities to perform for the occasional heavy-footed spin. The 328i xDrive Sports Wagon is no exception, offering the same great formula with an extra dose of wagon practicality.
2010 Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon
The most interesting addition to the wreath and crest family is the Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon, a first for Cadillac, at least in the US. While this GM division has sold smaller BLS wagons in Europe and supported conversion companies that have morphed a few sedans into wagons, never before in its 106-year history has Cadillac offered Americans a factory-built wagon.
Although some wagons are dedicated to cargo and/or family transport, the CTS is all about style. With a roof 1.25-inches higher and 200 lbs. added to the curb weight but no increase in overall length, this wagon is the fashion equivalent of wearing a baseball cap with the bill swung rakishly back. Taking full advantage of the opportunity, Cadillac stylists stretched the tail lamps to a full three feet in length and configured the roof rails as nicely integrated chrome upper-body accents.
The result is a two-box sport machine that men can drive with pride and women can use to haul an oversize load of shopping-mall booty.