Next to supercars like the Ferrari 458 Speciale, the Lamborghini Huracán or the Porsche GT3 RS, a great station wagon is an automotive journalist’s dream. If it’s at all racy-looking, fast and comes in a diesel with a stick shift, all the better. But in America, we just don’t give the wagon its due. Our perception is polluted by the image of the horrid Family Truckster from National Lampoon’s Vacation and our own long road trips in the back of a ’77 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser. And that’s too bad, because wagons are awesome — there’s a long greenhouse that’s visually more cohesive, cargo space like a hearse and a coveted low center of gravity that makes CUVs and SUVs seem too damned top-heavy.
Thankfully, wagons are still being made, and some truly great ones at that. It helps us wagon-lovers keep the hope alive. But before exploring the present and the future, it’s good to consider the past. Some of the greats, unfortunately, are no longer made, but remain fresh in our minds as the forefathers to the wagons that still occupy worthy showroom space — and, out on the road, the fast lane.
Audi Allroad Quattro (1999-2005)
Best Old-School AWD Wagon: As great as the current Allroad is, in our automotive hearts it’s the 2.7-liter, twin-turbo 250 horsepower V6 beast with a six-speed manual that we know and love. It was a stilted, tougher version of the A6 Avant with an adjustable ride height that would drop at highway speeds, and though the gas mileage was an abysmal 14/19 mpg, it was still a mighty German wagon that could handle the rough and tumble as well as the tarmac.
Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen TDI (2015-)
Best All-Around Wagon: Formerly known as the Jetta Sportwagen, the Golf more accurately describes the VW platform on which this wagon is based. The total redesign actually improves an already spectacular wagon with better cargo space than its predecessor (and some CUVs), great driving dynamics, diesel torque and fuel efficiency, and killer looks.
Volvo V60 Polestar (2015-)
Best New Swedish Wagon Heir: Volvo’s worthy successor to the 240 and the V70 comes in the form of a racing-tuned grocery-getter that’s turbocharged, all-wheel-drive and ready — if needed — for track duty. The fact that a second, albeit still limited, batch is making its way to the States is all the more reason to love this slick estate. Plus, more good news comes in the form of Volvo’s purchase of tuner Polestar, giving the Swedish/Chinese automaker its own in-house performance arm.
Mazda6 Wagon (2014-)
Best Family Wagon We Can’t Have: Read the name again. The Mazda6 isn’t sold in America, because Americans apparently hate wagons. So, Mazda won’t spend the funds to put it up for sale here, and that’s a travesty — especially since it looks even better than the already stunning Mazda6 sedan and is available with both inline four-cylinder SkyActiv gas power or diesel power. It’s got driving prowess that embarrasses other family cars, and looks that make you proud to be a wagon driver.
Volvo 240 (1974-1993)
Best Vintage Wagon: So it looks like a refrigerator on wheels. But. At least it was a Swedish refrigerator that could pretty much outlive anything. Thanks to its industrial build, tractor engine and unbeatable utilitarianism, the 240 Wagon is still highly desirable. And, in spite of its glacial 0-60 acceleration and brick wall aerodynamics, it’s fostered a cult following. The design was clean, visibility was untrammeled and safety was ahead of its time. We still love the headlights that are largely the size of cafeteria trays.
Mercedes-Benz AMG E63 S 4Matic Wagon (2014-)
Best Supercar Wagon: It’s the wagon that can run with Ferraris, thanks to its 5.7-liter biturbo engine with a whopping 577 horsepower and all-weather all-wheel-drive. Not only does Mercedes have the balls to bring a wagon stateside (and one that sells in such low numbers), but they give it more power than anyone has a right to — along with the ability to haul family members and deliver both utter delight and utter terror simultaneously.
Subaru Legacy 2.5GT Wagon (2005-2007)
Best Japanese Wagon: The Outback used to have a street-able form known simply as the Legacy, and it once came in turbo GT dress (as a 2005 model) with a functional hood scoop, 250 horsepower, 250 lb-ft of torque, a manual transmission and a locking center differential. Not only did it get WRX DNA, it had killer looks — way sleeker than the bloated Outback. It was an honorable Subie wagon that didn’t cater to suburban mall-hoppers.
Audi RS6 Avant (2004-)
Best Barnstormer Wagon: The insanely capable RS6 Avant has been around since 2004 — just not in America. The fastest iteration of the A6 Avant is still for sale in Europe, now with a 560 horsepower twin-turbo V8 (the same engine found in the Bentley Continental GT). Not only can it haul copious belongings, it can storm the autobahn with a 0-60 mph time in the mid 3’s and can get as high as 24 mpg (highway) thanks to cylinder deactivation.
Dodge Magnum SRT-8 (2006-2008)
Best American Muscle Wagon: The sadly short-lived Magnum SRT-8 was a monster. Its 6.1-liter HEMI V8 engine good for 425 horsepower and a 0-60 time of 5.1 seconds. It also had the looks of a muscle wagon with a more pronounced and aggressive front fascia and big 20-inch wheels.
Jaguar XFR-S Sportbrake (2015-)
Best Bespoke Wagon: Jaguar set our hearts aflame with this forbidden fruit of a wagon. Unavailable in the States, the XFR-S wagon added a nifty cargo section to the super sedan and gave it the same 5.0-liter, 550 horsepower supercharged V8 engine to launch it to 60 mph in barely over four seconds, and then head all the way to 186 mph. It can haul all your gear — and it sports a leaping cat badge, making it that much more desirable. We dearly want what we can’t have.