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Wagon Buying Guide

A wagon is a multipurpose vehicle that provides the same amount of passenger room as a similarly-sized sedan, but with additional cargo space. It's also easier to drive and tends to offer better fuel economy than most sport utility vehicles (SUVs).

More on Wagons

About Wagons

The first wagons were called "station wagons," which were typically commercial vehicles employed as taxis in and around train stations. Durant Motors mass produced the first station wagon in 1923. However, Ford came to dominate the station wagon market because it owned forest land and mills that produced lumber for the wood components in early "woodie" station wagons.

Despite being technically regarded as commercial vehicles, woodie station wagons became popular with affluent drivers in the 1930s. Chrysler took notice and began to manufacture the original Chrysler Town and Country by 1941. Woodies continued to grow in popularity until they were replaced with all-steel wagons following World War II. however, THEY enjoyed something of a renaissance in the 1950s and 1960s when members of the flourishing surf culture in California and Florida adopted them.

Jeep introduced the first factory-built all-steel wagon in 1946. Three years later, Plymouth began producing an all-steel wagon, and discontinued their line of woodie wagons in 1950. Three years later, all station wagons made in the U.S. adapted the all-steel body. However, beginning in the early 1960s with wagons like the Ford Country Squire, many new wagons came with simulated wood paneling.

Station wagons continued to grow with suburban families across the U.S. throughout the 1970s. But the wagon’s popularity rose and fell many times over the years, beginning with the 1973 oil crisis. This led to the traditional American station wagons becoming too expensive for many families to operate.

Wagon Variations

Over the years, buyers have been able to choose from a wide variety of different wagon models.

Full-size wagons were popular in the 1950s and 1960s. While it was able to seat up to nine passengers and still have space for their belongings, they decreased in popularity in the 1970s because of poor fuel economy. Slightly more compact two-door wagons date back to the 1950s and can still be found on the road today in various newer incarnations.

In recent decades and in an effort to provide a more affordable alternative to minivans and SUVs, automakers have introduced the subcompact station wagon, beginning with the 1993 Toyota Corolla wagon.

We have also seen the introduction of raised wagon vehicles that could be considered crossovers between wagons and SUVs, as well as sport wagons engineered to offer similar styling and performance to a sport sedan.

Wagon Brands

While it's true wagons have seen their market share diminished by SUVs and minivans over the years, there are still a number of popular wagons on the market today.

Among the increasing number of luxury wagons on the market are the Audi A4 Wagon, the BMW 3 Series Wagon, the Mercedes-Benz R-Class, the Saab 9-3, and the Volvo XC70. These types of wagons offer many of the same comforts and extras as would be found in a comparable luxury sedan; however, they have the added benefit of extra interior space for cargo or passengers.

Popular compact wagons include the Volkswagen Jetta Wagon, the Nissan Cube, and the Toyota Venza. Toyota's top selling hybrid, the Prius, is also available as a wagon.

Currently there are also a number of sport wagons on the market including the Acura TSX Wagon and the Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen.

Who Drives Wagons?

Wagons could be regarded as something of a well-kept secret in today's SUV and minivan dominated auto market. Smaller and more economical, wagons offer the same extra space that can be used for passengers or cargo. This means wagons are still ideally suited for families.

The versatility of wagons makes them great cars for professionals who need to transport equipment or supplies with them for work. Many of today's wagons offer the comforts of a luxury sedans, which makes them great commuter vehicles that have the added benefit of extra cargo room or space for additional passengers. Certain models of sport wagons and crossover vehicles may be good for outdoor enthusiasts.

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