As automakers retire their "wagon" body trim in favor of "SUV" trim, it poses a question to the enthusiast community: What is a wagon?

Doug DeMuro's post fell short of answering this question: he presented a selected data that led the reader to believe the outback was not a wagon. The data has an obvious selection bias as Doug picked the sales leading โ€“ yet generally 'uncool' - compact SUVs and compared them to the Subaru Outback. As a Subaru driver, I understand that these cars can be as ambiguous towards "wagon" and "SUV" as their drivers' gender identity so a more rigorous analysis is warranted.


The car design community required s specific set of criteria to be met to be a wagon. They are:

  • 1.Defined and unique A, B, C and D pillars โ€“ Second, rearward box comprised of C and D pillars separate from main passenger compartment delineated by A, B and C pillars.
  • 2.Full height Cargo Volume โ€“ Has become ambiguous with styling cues (See: Cadillac. CTS-V Sport Wagon, 2013)
  • 3.Two to three rows of seats โ€“ Third row optional, if only one row (driver/passenger) while other criteria met (aside from D pillar) then the vehicle is a shooting brake variety (See: BMW. M Coupe, 2001)
  • 4.Top hinged lift gate โ€“ No exception granted under this criteria

SUVs have encroached on all four of these criteria so it becomes difficult for the consumer to differentiate between SUV and Wagon. Depending on the consumers self-image, many vehicles could conceivably fall into both categories. This is not 'Nam. There are rules Donnie.



Specifications of late model, widely accepted wagons and SUV shall be compared to develop scientific, numerical criteria that defines Wagon and SUV. This data will be presented to the peer reviewed community of Jalopnik for general acceptance. In addition, as the Volvo 240 wagon is widely regarded as the quintessential station wagon, it will be used as the control for this test .


WAGON: A summary of the physical specification of wagons for this analysis with the length and width expressed as a function of the height. Volvo 240 and V50 included for reference.


Therefore, normalizing for height, the average L:W:H ratio for wagons is 3.3 : 1.2 : 1.0. The L:W:H ratio for the Volvo 240 is 3.3 : 1.2 : 1.0 which validates the result.

SUV: A summary of the physical specification of SUV for this analysis with the length and width expressed as a function of the height. Vehicles used match prior discussions on matter (DeMuro. The Subaru Outback Is Just a Station Wagon Marketing Scheme. Jalopnik, 2013)


Therefore, normalizing for height, the average L:W:H ratio for SUV is 2.7 : 1.1 : 1.0. The previously discusses Subaru Outback is an outlier in the data because of length, a full 10" longer than its comparison set and provides a L:W:H ratio of 2.9 : 1.1 : 1.0.


Summary of Results:

SUV width to height ratio is contently 1.1:1 (1.149:1 for rounding) or less whereas wagons are constantly 1.2:1 (1.150:1 for rounding) or greater. In addition, SUV L:H ratio is 2.99:1 or less whereas the wagon L:H ratio is 3.0:1 or greater.



We propose, for peer review by the Jalopnik community, the addition of the two below criteria to the four criteria accepted by the design community listed above.

  • 5.Wagons must have a Width to Height ratio of 1.150:1 or greater
  • 6.Wagons must have a Length to Height ratio of 3.01:1 or greater

Under these criteria, the USDM Subaru Outback does not qualify as a wagon.

Further research:

We welcome the addition of additional wagons and SUVs to the database to fully classify the entire ambiguous segment of SUV/CUV/wagon as well as further development of mathematical proof of wagons.



  • Availability of manual transmissions do not impact the wagon/SUV criteria
  • Contrary to popular belief, wagons are available in colors other than earthen browns