Yes, you read that right. I don’t like wagons. I think they’re dumb. I’ll be turning in my Jalop card, don’t worry. But first, let me explain to you why I think they are bad.
In short... it’s because they’re a compromise. A bit longer. They’re a compromise, and not a very good one. A little more- they’re a compromise and there exists a body style that does everything a wagon does, but better.
I’ll handle each bit of my argument on its own. First, they are a compromise. This is probably the easiest part to argue. Obviously a wagon is a compromise between practicality and car-like sensibilities. Prominent wagon manufacturers (Volvo, BMW, Volkswagen across its marques, and everybody’s darling, Subaru) would have you believe that a wagon give you the shithauling capabilities of a panel van, the drivability of a sedan, and a touch of class that comes along with what many argue is a stylish body style. however, in most objective categories, wagons are actually inferior. Take, for instance, one of the most popular, or at least most advocated-for (among the enthusiast crowd, at least) wagons, the Volvo V90.
The objective criteria I’ll use to compare these are the ones I find most relevant in comparing vehicles across classes. I will be comparing similarly equipped vehicles in terms of 0-60 times, reported fuel economy, power to weight ratios (because comparing raw horsepower/torque numbers is passé), MSRP, usable cargo space, and rear legroom. I will be comparing wagons, where applicable, to their sedan and (gags) crossover variants. So, hey, here’s a chart I whipped up in Excel for the Swedes! For these cars, I took the top trim, T6 Inscription, because what kind of plebian buys a base model Volvo?
So yes. The raw numbers. All were pulled from Car & Driver reviews and Features and Specs pages, because I favor being a little lazy with my research. Double check me if you want to. Geez. In comparison of the V90 wagon with its sedan, stilted, and chonky bespoke full-tilt Beef Machine crossover brethren, a few truths come out. First, speed. Flat out, the wagon is as fast as sedan, and ties it for both speed and fuel economy. Not bad, not bad. However, the V90 (at the same trim level as the others, mind you) is the second most expensive, only bested by the Bane of Suburbia XC90. (Sidebar, a former part-time friend who moonlighted as an adversary drove the V8 version of the XC90 while an undergrad with me. He had the gall to claim not to be a “sheltered daddy-money motherfucker”. He was wrong.) In the power to weight class, the V90 comes out a bit more lithe than the others, each horse with a little less than a pound of burden borne in the pursuit of speed. Next up, cargo space. I could not find good data across the lineup describing the usability of the cargo space in all, so I opted for raw numbers- once again, the XC90 wipes the floor with its cohort, owing to its third row (note that even with the third row seats up, the XC90 beats the S90 in cargo capability). The crossover V90 Cross Country has identical numbers to the V90 Track and Field, because duh. Finally, we see that the V90 and its ugly twin... hey wait, they have the worst rear legroom of the bunch? What? How? Because, dear reader, wagons are actually bad.
Now, let’s look at a different brand. A more... Teutonic one. Ah yes, my perennial favorite, Volkswagen. I used to know a guy who had three Mk5 GTIs in his backyard, all running and driving with salvage titles, all needing front bumper covers. He also had a Mk3 Jetta GLX in his garage that he used to road race. That’s who I bought my Golf from. Anyways, here, let’s compare the front-driving Golfoids. Recently it was argued by another Oppo that Jettas and Golfs are the same car. I’m pretty sure they’re not, but fuck it, they are for the sake of this article.
We will again compare the wagon (Golf SportWagen) with its sedan brethren, the Jetta. We also have another five door to consider, the standard Golf. I don’t want to compare either with the GTI, since, and bare with me and don’t question me here, GTIs also suck (I’ll talk about this another time). The GTI is nearly a sports car, so it’s not really relevant, because in the name of Speed and Handling, sacrifices are made which make comparisons to “normal” commuters void.
For funsies, this time we’ll look at the base (AKA best) model, with 1.4 liter turbos and an automatic. Because VWs are the people’s car, or something.
So. The compromise of the Golf Wagen. Once again, speed: non-GTI Golfs and Jettas best the SportWagen by 0.2 seonds, all while equipped with the 1.4 turbo. The Tiguan is not a player in this measurement, because the “worst” engine it can be bought with stateside is the 2.0t. I also note that some will say the Tiguan is not the crossover version; to these people I say “tough shit. It looks like a Golf, so it is to me.” In fuel economy, the Jetta reigns supreme. Price? Jetta again. Power to weight? Again, Jetta! Among the non-crossover group, the SportWagen finally wins out on cargo space, with the Jetta in dead last. With rear bench down, in fact, it beats the Tiguan with both benches down. However, in comparison of legroom... the Jetta wins over everyone!
So far, I’ve demonstrated that wagons are not superior, as many enthusiasts will claim. It’s really a crapshoot if a wagon will win in a certain arena. So, I think it is a fair conclusion to say that they are a compromise.
“But what does the job better, as you originally claimed?” you ask.
You’re not gonna like this. I’m gonna echo the cry of many autojournalists and say... a goddamned minivan.
Ho ho ho! Find me a performance wagon that’s affordable!
“Easy, a used CTS-V wagon.”
Sure. You can totally buy one of those seven years old for like $37k with like 90k miles on it and no warranty left.
You could drop the same money on an R 63. Don’t laugh. For mid-30k, you get:
- 6.2L making 503 naturally aspirated brake horsepower, none of that “forced induction”
- AWD- good for the winter, unlike your feeble RWD
- A real interior
- Better cargo space
- Better rear legroom
- A respectable badge
Plus, it’d be funny. In conclusion, I have wasted a few minutes of your life and maybe two hours of my own. Debate me, you coward.