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Best station wagons

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    The new i30 hatch grows a big new back end in March.

Station wagons sit precariously at the top of the endangered list in world motoring.

In Australia, we've seen plenty of wagons sent into the pages of history. The Camry wagon copped the chop as families had migrated to the Kluger and RAV4, the Falcon wagon was sacrificed to put maximum impact into the Territory, and the Magna wagon fell to poor sales even before the update to the doomed 380 that was the last locally-made car for the Japanese brand.

The Commodore Sportwagon survives, but who knows for how long. Yet wagons still rule in Europe, where size and engine-based taxation - not to mention twisty roads and super-tight parking spots - work against the SUV hordes that have become the first-choice family transport in Australia and many other countries.

The three traditional Euro pacesetters - Audi, BMW and Benz - all have a wide range of wagons and the Volkswagen Group punches out plenty of its back-attack Golfs, Octavias and Superbs with both VW and Skoda badges.

Of course, Volvo would not be Volvo without stations wagons - although thankfully they are way more stylish than the box-on-the-back efforts of earlier decades. Proving that wagons still have a global future, Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz each tacked a bigger back onto two of their best sellers - the XF and CLS - during 2012.

At the other end of the action, Hyundai confirms that the i30 will continue as a station wagon for the forseeable future with an updated model - based on the car that just finished runner-up in our 2012 COTY contest - expected in March.

So wagons are survivors, but SUVs are the dominant force in family motoring. Lots of people like to ride high, like the tough look of a pseudo off-roader, and love the idea that they are getting more bang for their bucks in something like a Nissan X-Trail or a Mitsubishi ASX.

But it doesn't always work out that way. The bluff back end of an SUV might look cavernous and practical, but too many wagons have height and no depth to their load space. And it can be tough to lift heavy stuff into a high-riding tail, as anyone with a BMW X6 in the garage will tell you.

And what's the use of sitting high in your Suzuki Vitara to look out over the traffic when the roads are filled with hulking SUVs like the Toyota LandCruiser that block even more of the road ahead?

Lots of SUV buyers also fail to consider the extra cost of running a vehicle that is big and heavy, and rolls on pricey tyres. Just compare the fuel economy of a six-cylinder Territory with an EcoBoost Mondeo wagon, which both tick the family box in Ford showrooms.

The Carsguide crew can see the positives in SUVs, especially now that so many, such as the Nissan Dualis and Mazda CX-5, come with front-wheel drive the sharpen the price. 

But there are plenty of wagons that do a better job, with better value and safety and comfort, for families and people who just want some flexibility - for dogs or mountain bikes or a home office - in their daily drive. So if you're shopping for a family car, circle these wagons and put them on your shorlist:

HYUNDAI i30: from $22,090








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See other Hyundai i30 verdicts

 

The best of the baby wagons gets a total overhaul in March when the new i30 hatch grows a big new back end. The i30 took over from the Mitsubishi Lancer as the top choice in the compact class, helped by the availability of a diesel engine. It drives well and has impressive flexibility and space in the back end.

The arrival of the all-new car for 2013 will lift the bar in the back end, as well as providing tasty deals on runout cars. And if you need more space, and also like the idea of a car that has Shooting Brake style without a Benz bottom line, there is also the bigger Hyundai i40 wagon from $32,490.

FORD MONDEO: from $33,340
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See other Ford Modeo verdicts

 

The load space in the back of the mid-sized Mondeo is absolutely cavernous. It even trumps the old Falcon hauler which only survived in its dying days thanks to company fleet sales. The Mondeo drives very well, is well equipped, comfortable and quiet, and can be ordered with a diesel engine that lets it run and run at highway cruising pace.

Also worth a close look in the mid-sized lineup, where lots of imported sedans and hatches also come as a family-friendly wagon, are the new Mazda6,  Skoda Octavia and Subaru Liberty. The Mazda is stylish and drives well, the Octavia is great value against a Golf wagon, and the Liberty has all-wheel drive security and Subaru's proven quality.

SKODA SUPERB: from $40,990
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See other Skoda Superb verdicts

 

When your partner says "This is the best family car I've driven under $50,000" you have to listen. But you can also see incredible back-seat legroom, a big back end with excellent access, and clever thinking like the built-in torch and - yes, really - umbrella in the back door.

The Superb drives very nicely, is available with a miserly diesel engine, and is fantastic value. The only downside is the questionable reliability that comes as part of the Volkswagen Group package, something that generates reader complaints to Carsguide most weeks.

HOLDEN COMMODORE SPORTWAGON: from $39,990
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See other Holden Commodore Sportwagon verdicts

 

The last of the homegrown heroes rolls down a different road today, providing flexibiliy but not the giant hauling space of earlier-generation Holdens. The Sportwagon is for active singles and small families, not the Waltons, and that is obvious from sales scores that lean towards the loaded SS and Clais versions and often include a V8 engine.

It's a great drive and very few people would pick the wagon from the sedan, even on the twistiest road. The VF promises to be even better from April, and that also means value buying - most likely below $40,000 on the road - for the last of the VE wagons.

MERCEDES-BENZ E-CLASS: from $108,150
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See other Mercedes-Benz E-Class verdicts

 

My personal long-term favourite is still the wagon that sets the benchmark in the luxury class, even if you now need more than $100,000 for a basic 250 and close to $250,000 for the thumping AMG 63.

What makes it so good - even against the great driving 5-Series from BMW and the luxurious A6 from Audi - is the rock-solid feel and a back end that's truly useable and flexible for any purpose. Oh, and there are those racks on the roof. My personal choice is the diesel engine with an AMG sports pack - great seats and grippy suspension - that makes it a long-distance family hauler that's almost impossible to beat.

Twitter: @paulwardgover
 

Comments on this story

Displaying 3 of 12 comments

  • Understanding that it's "reviewer's choice" when it comes to the cars in this lineup I think with the obvious ommissions of the VW Passat Wagon and Mazda 6 Wagon there should maybe be some justification for that. VW's are either loved or hated, I've known people to have them for years and only had minor problems - and I've known people who have had to pay a fortune in parts/servicing for issues early on. It's way more expensive in Australia for VW parts and servicing than Europe/UK but I still think they make great cars. Seriously considering the Passat, but I think the Mazda 6 should be here too.

    Brandon of Sydney Posted on 06 November 2013 1:09pm
  • 'Station Wagon' or just 'Wagon'? Which is the correct term? We have a small dispute that needs settling. Thank you -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- We use both terms, and so do the readers. Your choice. - KP

    P. Slates of Ku-ring-gai Posted on 19 August 2013 10:44am
  • I was looking at SUVs to replace my Triton that I no longer need. I was disappointed with the drive of the AWD Koreans (Sorrento etc) and the Ford and others just didn't stack up economy wise. Still wanting AWD and some towing capacity I was looking at going down a size....CRV, Tiguan etc. Then I spotted and drove a new VW Alltrack Passat. Buckets of room, plenty of toys, bit of ride height to wean me off, punchy deisel, enough AWD to cope with dirt and gravel. 6.5L/100km cruising on a tight new engine. Our second DSG box, no problem. Very happy.

    T. Bear of Gippsland Posted on 25 January 2013 5:29pm
  • Have we forgotten the Mazda6 wagon completely, not a word. They are roomy, quality cars and should have been included.

    Kim Nisbet of Brisbane Posted on 24 January 2013 9:49am
  • Only good thing about SUVs is they are a warning of the very hhigh probability that the driver has no idea what they are doing and to keep away from them. The modern day Volvo.

    MW of Australia Posted on 23 January 2013 9:29pm
  • I have a 125TDi Passat and it is by far and away superior to the commodores I used to drive, except maybe space and thats not so much an issue with the Sportwagon. Comfort, economy, handling and reliability has been outstanding for 2 1/2 years. I certainly wouldn't swap it for a commodore.

    Dave of Townsville Posted on 23 January 2013 5:53pm
  • Every time I think of buying another car I check out the SUVs and am always disappointed by the lack of space in the back considering the dimensions of the vehicles, and the way they drive. I am astonished at people raving over them, it must be an image thing clouding people's judgment. I keep going back to wagons, although - soon the last of the kids will have left home and....

    CraigB of WA Posted on 06 January 2013 4:28pm
  • The Volvo V70 T6 is a top contender in this category - it has space, pace and grace. Amazing storage flexibility, powerful turbo six-cylinder and looks very stylish. Perfect around town and great for the long-distance journeys.

    Michael H Posted on 06 January 2013 8:20am
  • Bull cr*p the Volkswagen Group doesnt have reliability. They have been voted the best car company on Forbes, and are growing at a huge rate globally.

    Tim of Kerang Posted on 04 January 2013 5:34pm
  • I've test-driven a few wagons and bought one with my own $ to do long distances with 2 adults in the car & full boot. Mondeo seats (unless you get the exxy Titanium) aren't as comfortable as a Territory for an Aussie bloke. Terri fitted the bill better but I do prefer a car for driving dynamics. Mazda 6 seats were good but the new wagon diesel wasn't yet released and then I found it was to be smaller! Not good to carry gear. Skoda Octavia cruise control didn't hold speed as well as the others - I can't afford to lose my licence with cruise which adds that much speed on a downhill run - & that's where the "black spots" always seem to be grin. Also its seats weren't as supportive as I need for long drives. Passat was lovely but exxy to get the gruntier motor. And "hidden costs" were admited to be high when I asked the VW & Skoda dealers about servicing. Opel had good load lugging, comfortable seats, but to get the torquier engines the price rose. Capped price servicing was costlier. Finally the SV6 Sportswagon won out with comfy seats, cheap finance, strong torque & cheap servicing. Resale may be better on some, but not worth *that* much! It was very close between it & the Terri.

    Journeyman of Perth Posted on 04 January 2013 12:47pm
  • dont VW get a caning these days. Over priced unreliable expensive to maintain. Everyone still buys them ....WHY ?????? I would prefer a reliable well priced car that has capped servicing and long warranty ....... is the australian car buyer that agreeable to hype and marketing ????

    bobb of victoria Posted on 04 January 2013 11:33am
  • How could this article be credible without the Mazda6 Wagon? What a huge mistake.

    MrWagon of Northern Beaches Posted on 04 January 2013 11:11am
Read all 12 comments

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