January 22, 2014
2014 Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen. Click image to enlarge
Review by Brendan McAleer, photos by Brendan McAleer and courtesy of manufacturers
I love wagons. Sadly, it would appear that I’m in the minority.
It’s not that I’ve anything against crossovers – on the contrary, some of them can be really quite useful. But a wagon basically gives you all the driving dynamics of a normal sedan with a schwack of extra room at nearly no penalty. Move up to a car-on-stilts and oftentimes either trunk space or handling is compromised. Not so with a wagon.
At one time, huge, wood-panelled behemoths roamed our highways, their slick vinyl seats filled with improperly secured children sliding from side to side like the beads of an abacus. They were truly glorious machines, and hauled their precious cargos hither and thither, filling their minds with fond memories of rear-seat vomiting and the joy and delight to be found in making rude gestures at passing drivers.
Then there were the svelte European estates – all the style of a Continental aristocrat combined with a steamer-trunk’s-worth of carrying capacity. They looked great too.
But today, there’s not too many of these once plentiful beasts to be found. If your famiglia is a member of the wagon mafia, here are a few five-door cargo haulers with which to hit your own personal Oregon Trail.
New: 2014 Volkswagen Golf Wagon
VW remains one of the few brands that still offers a manual transmission nearly right through their range, and as such, they’ve got an enthusiast’s choice when it comes to the wagon factor as well. Not only do the folks at Wolfsburg offer a wagonized version of the Golf, they also provide it with diesel power, and you can get it with a six-speed stick-shift to boot!
There are a few issues as the new turbodiesels are more powerful and clean-running than their forebears, but also more complicated and less reliable. Nevertheless, both gasoline and diesel versions of the Sportwagen provide considerably more cargo capacity than the Tiguan crossover and decent handling – this last can be improved by any of the aftermarket options that fit the Golf/GTI.
One day, VW will bring their wagon to market in a proper sporting trim, a GLI-with-a-backpack, if you will. For now, at least they still sell a wagon new.
New: 2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class
There really isn’t any competition for Mercedes in the mid-sized luxury wagon segment anymore. In fact, the E-Class is pretty much the only thing available anymore if you’re after an oxcart with leather seats.
It’s a stupendous-looking machine, and is available with either a nice, sensible V6, or a brain-meltingly awesome twin-turbo V8. This last comes with a staggering 550 hp, or (if you feel that’s a bit ho-hum) can be purchased in an even harder-core version with 570 hp. Probably a good idea to put some kind of helmet on the family dog.
All E-Class wagons come with the excellent 4Matic all-wheel-drive system and, when fitted with the proper tires, are perfectly capable of crushing poor weather just as well as an SUV would, unless the snow is really deep. Too bad the Donner party didn’t lease a couple of these bad boys, as they’d have been able to safely get to their homesteading destination instead of having to come up with recipes like parsley, sage, rosemary and Tim.
2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class & 2014 BMW 328i Touring. Click image to enlarge
New: 2014 BMW 328i xDrive Touring
Another Teutonic war-wagon, though you’d better call this one a “Touring” in case you put some BMW boffins’ noses out of joint.
BMW makes their best-selling 3 Series in several formats, from coupe and convertible, to sedan and wagon, and also the larger GT model, which is a fine-looking car as long as it’s parked behind a large obstruction of some kind. But the wagon, ah, there’s the best-looking version of all, and you get the best-for-Canada powertrain in it as well.
Okay, I’ll be honest. This car is absolutely screaming out for Bimmer’s 3.0L turbo, rear-wheel-drive and a six-speed manual, but let’s not get greedy. The eight-speed automatic and 240-hp 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder do a great job, and the standard all-wheel drive make this car extremely practical. Best of all, if you can’t quite afford a new one, a 3 Series Touring was available in the previous generation car as well, and makes a solid used-car buy if you get it properly inspected.