I own a ridiculous number of old cars, and I test new ones almost every day of the year. So I don’t really ever need to buy a new car. But I think about buying new cars almost always. That’s one of the reasons I am qualified to write about them. Even if I only get around to actually buying new cars once in a blue moon, I have strong opinions in this area and consider myself party to many car sales, as an influencer not just of readers but of friends, relations, and pretty much anyone who will listen while I bore on.
So, as I was saying.
For me, perhaps the most exciting part of the 2018 sales season is the return of the station wagon. Of course, this is more of a micro trend than a full-blown renaissance. It is not even arriving through the front door—where I believe this supremely practical genus of vehicle would receive the hale and hearty greeting it deserves—but rather through the tradesman’s entrance. Indeed, there’s sort of an embarrassed, under-the-radar quality to the launch of the new wagons that have most piqued interest lately: Buick’s Regal TourX and Volvo’s V90.
These newcomers join a slender roster of wagons already on sale, reflecting an industry intent on resisting the notion that there exists a segment of the population that willingly accepts the good sense of the wagon format and is prepared to pay for it. There are plenty of other people who think they want SUVs or crossovers who might be persuaded to buy wagons, the way people here used to and still do in Europe, if anyone cared to sell them.
The industry’s anti-wagon prejudice emerged over the last few decades as carmakers established an SUV profit paradigm: adding height seemingly elevates the price people are prepared to pay for cars. But if this is so, it is the industry’s own fault. Much the same way they spent decades selling tailfins and chrome, carmakers have conditioned customers, rele-gating us to the unnecessary weight, height, and uniformly boring styling that define the SUV and crossover genera. Whatever the industry says about listening to the customer, people mostly buy what they’re told to buy.
This wagon deficit is, then, why I celebrate the Jaguar XF Sportbrake and the new generation of Mercedes E-Class wagons while decrying the absence from the U.S. market of the latest C-Class shooting brake. We com-mend BMW for continuing to bring us its fine 3 Series wagon but curse it for reducing choices by refusing to supply our fruited plains with the larger 5 Series hauler anymore. Sorry, but between a 540i wagon and an X5 SUV only one can be an ultimate driving machine, and X doesn’t mark that spot. For its part, Audi won’t sell us its A4 wagon in undiluted form at all, only with a lift kit and a body-cladding upcharge. They call it the Allroad, which is good because I am quite certain it is going to be driven exclusively on pavement.
Volvo ought to have a hit on hand with its airy new V90. But for reasons I can’t fathom, the company will only deign to sell pure wagon versions of its excellent new model online by special order. Dealers will, however, carry plen-tiful supplies of the jacked-up and plastic-clad V90 Cross Country. High marks for hip scarcity marketing, but by design the purer article can only sell so much.
For more of this wagon paranoia in action, see the Regal TourX, a credible, long-awaited, and very welcome return to the carryall fold. Exhibiting the lingering wagonophobia that plagues the sector, Buick is pumping it up Outback style and giving it a crossover name, eschewing entirely the straight-up (nonlifted) version of this lovely Opel wagon sold elsewhere. And that’s not the only reason the TourX might have been born under a bad star.
For one thing, it’s not really a Buick. It’s an Opel, which means soon it won’t even be a GM product. The German brand is being off-loaded to France’s PSA. The shaky French maker of Peugeots and Citroëns thus becomes Europe’s second-largest carmaker while the General reveals another step in its exit strategy from the arduous task of being a global automotive giant. Not fielding a true wagon in America is only par for the course.
So the good news is the wagon is back, sort of. The pendulum has been due to swing back its way for an eternity. Now if only wagonmakers would show them a little love.