Are wagons destined for people in transition, not yet prepared to engage the new-fangled SUV thingy and remaining loyal to the spirit of a sedan with a big boot? Maybe not. Think of these people as blindly missing the concept of an SUV and you've misdiagnosed the patient.
A wagon - alright, station wagon - can be as versatile as an SUV, cheaper, can be more fuel efficient, easier to drive, better handling and cost less in maintenance items such as tyres. They may be lower and appear to carry less cargo but don't be deceived. The Holden Cruze Sportwagon here takes up to 1478-litres of cargo with the rear seats down.
For space-seeking buyers, this is important. Compare that with a Mazda CX-5 at 1560-litres, a Holden Captiva 5 at (only) 865-litres and a Subaru Forester at 1481-litres and the SUV argument starts to stale. The Cruze is longer by up to 160mm but is more economical at 7.4 L/100km than all but the 6.4 L/100km of the CX-5. Maybe it's time to rethink the wagon.
The Cruze Sportwagon CDX costs $29,040 and represents a discount to most SUV rivals of up to about $10,000. It boasts good fuel economy, is relatively roomy, looks neat and has a goodly range of kit including leather seats with heating at the front, six-speaker audio with iPod and USB connectivity, 17-inch alloy wheels and rear park sensors. It's not extravagant but I'd expect a reverse camera. Capped price servicing is only $740 for three years and resale is a strong 54 per cent.
This is a good-looking wagon. It looks compact - but is roomy - and well proportioned, unlike the bloated lines of many SUV rivals. Cabin treatment is tasteful and doesn't even hint at budget. But the leather upholstery looks and feels like vinyl. Seating room is very good in the rear. Some taller drivers may find the front seat a bit cramped. Rear seats fold almost completely flat to increase boot space from 686 to 1478 litres. The spare is a space-saver and sits under the cargo floor.
Not a lot of sparkling things here. The engine is a 104kW/176Nm 1.8-litre petrol claiming 7.4 L/100km which is realistic for a city-country mix. The steering is electric-assist - the equivalent sedan and hatch have hydraulic steering - and the wagon misses out on the Watts-link rear suspension. The Korean-built wagon also fails to get the Holden MyLink infotainment with smartphone integration that is standard on the Australian-built Cruze sedan and hatch.
The wagon gets a five-star crash rating, has six airbags and the electronic suite of safety gear. The spare is a space-saver and there's no reverse camera as fitted to the sedan and hatch models. It has rear park sensors and heated mirrors.
Holden knows what type of person will buy this car - sedate drivers who won't ever let the engine breach 4000rpm. Because from that figure through to 6200rpm where the 104kW of peak claimed power is reached, the engine is noisy, harsh, rough and of course, very thirsty. Stay below 4000rpm and you'll enjoy relative peace and frugality.
It's not that bad down this low because it suits the gear ratios and there's plenty of engine response, so it feels sporty. The Cruze handles better than it goes. It's predictable through the bends, hunkers down and exhibits low bodyroll, the steering needs minimal turns - though at off-centre is disturbingly vague - and the suspension soaks up bumps while muting road noise. Though roomy, it strangely has a compact driving area that may be disagreeable to taller drivers.
Thinking about an SUV? Look at this car first. Drives well, is economical, affordable and spacious.
Holden Cruze Sportwagon CDX
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km, 12-mth roadside
Capped servicing: $740 for 3yrs
Service interval: 9mths/15,000km
Safety: 6 airbags, ABS, ESC, EBD, TC
Crash rating: 5-star
Engine: 1.8-litre, 4-cyl petrol; 104kW/176Nm
Transmission: 6-speed auto; front drive
Thirst: 7.4L/100km; 91RON; 175g/km CO2
Dimensions: 4.7m (L), 1.8m (W), 1.5m (H)
Spare: space saver