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Best station wagons

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

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



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
ford modeo



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



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.




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



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.