All Hail the Rise of the Wagon
In recent years, a wonderful thing has been happening. The once overlooked station wagon, or estate, has been making a resurgence. What often used to be referred to with phrases starting with “your grandmother’s old…” are no more. Wagons are no longer boring stately vehicles driven by your local senior citizens. They are cool, and the people who buy them are even cooler. Although they still are not as popular as SUV’s or sedans (in the US) their popularity is on the up-tick, and car manufacturers have taken notice. You could even say they have taken it a little too far.
To me the quintessential wagon is a Volvo. Those Swedish masters have been setting the wagon standard since the 50’s, and since then have continued to create simple ever-lasting designs to make wagons that never seem to go out of style. Their understated presence with practical utility may have been what got them mixed in with an “uncool” crowd in the first place, but looking back this sensibility leaves us with quaint fondness. This emerging sympathy for the wagons of yesteryear has started a movement that I have long awaited.
Finally, consumers are developing an appetite for modern versions of these wagons, and I feel that car manufacturers are spending more time focusing on the design and development of the wagon equivalents to their sedans. It was around 2010 when I believe this tipping point began. Prior to then wagons often looked like their sedan or saloon twins, but with a weird cyst on their arse. The rear design of the wagons appeared to be lazy afterthoughts of the initial sketch, and resulted in rather sad looking hatches. If you look up the German wagons of Mercedes, Audi, and BMW from that time, you will see what I mean. Then in 2010, Mercedes designed a Shooting Brake Concept based on their unique four-door coupe, the CLS, and it all started to make sense. Although many of the features from the Mercedes Shooting Brake Concept did not make their way to the production CLS wagon, such as the wood lined trunk bed, the CLS wagon provided an “a-ha” moment. Not only was the wagon version more sensible with more trunk space, but it actually looked better than the original car.
To add to this, Ferrari released the FF, their own 2+2 shooting brake idea, around the same time. We were in a shooting brake frenzy, and these cars made the wagon cool again. Shortly thereafter, your everyday wagons began looking a little better too, and while they may not all have been lookers in their own right they were certainly more tolerable. Today we now have some of the coolest wagons, from the insane Audi RS6 Avant, to the edgy Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo. Even Volvo (with the help of Chinese company Geely), have revitalized their wagon reputation with the breath-taking V90. Volkswagen too has recently thrown some new life into their wagon lineup with a rugged “Alltrack” version, which salutes back to the Cross Country (XC) Volvos, or the Audi Allroad.
All of this makes me very excited, but I fear it getting out of hand. I can live with a wagon crammed with tons of power, that is cool. That is like giving cocaine to a sheep dog. Gets the job done quicker. But, when companies like Mercedes start building a jacked-up 4×4 off road E-class wagon, that is when I start questioning things. I understand they only built it because they can and (thankfully) will not put in production, as Mercedes often likes to just flaunt their engineering prowess, but let’s not lose sight of the wagon’s purpose. All other car manufacturers should take notes from Volvo. Keep it simple, keep it sensible, and you have the family recipe for timeless memories, and a perfect practical wagon. Volvo will always be one of my favorite underappreciated cars. And so, I bow down to them, and thank them for keeping the pure essence of a wagon alive.