The 2010s will forever be known as the decade of the crossover. But what is a crossover, exactly? It's a car that's trying its hardest to look like an SUV. Crossovers are the poseurs of the automotive world.
My friend's car got totaled last week, and she called to ask me for used-car advice. "What's a station wagon?" she asked out of curiosity. "I'm so glad you asked," I responded. We started browsing used-car listings for station wagons and discovered a lost era of automotive practicality and ingenuity.
Station wagons are a rare breed nowadays. Of the hundreds of new car models available today, there are approximately eight that could be categorized as true station wagons. But station wagons used to be cool, and with good reason. Their boxy rear ends mean that they're immensely practical. They're usually based on sedans, which means they get better fuel economy than tall, non-aerodynamic SUVs. Most important, they're not pretentious like SUVs with their off-road, rough-and-tumble appearance. Who really takes their Honda CR-V off road?
So here is a celebration of some of the best station wagons over the years. Let's hope they make a comeback soon.
6. Chevrolet Nomad First generation, 1955-1957 The first generation of the Nomad evokes images of the Beach Boys and surfboards. Related to the equally iconic Chevrolet Bel Air, the 1955-57 Nomad was a stylish two-door wagon introduced during the reign of legendary General Motors designer Harley Earl. Today this generation of Nomad is extremely collectible due to the brief run of the desirable two-door model, and restored versions rack up big bucks at classic car auctions all over the country. Chevy has hinted at the return of the Nomad with a 2004 concept car, but no such model has come to fruition yet.
5. Ford Country Squire 1950-1991 The Country Squire was a long-running Ford nameplate, with seven generations spanning four decades of full-sized wagon greatness. The first generation started the "woodie" tradition with the paneling on the sides, a highly desired option that lasted all the way until the Country Squire was phased out in 1991. These behemoths had tons of space inside and could fit the whole family and their stuff in comfort. Hollywood car guru George Barris (the creator of the Batmobile) used the Country Squire as the basis for the infamous "Family Truckster" in 1983's National Lampoon's Vacation, cementing the Ford's reputation as the ultimate family mobile.
4. Volvo 200 Series 1975-1993 When you think "station wagon," chances are "Volvo" is the first thing that comes to mind. The Swedes have always been famous for their boxy, safe and practical wagons. Everyone knows someone who had a Volvo wagon. They're passed down through families as that perfect "first car" that's as tough (and as slow) as a tank and just the right amount of un-cool. Volvo has changed since then. They make SUVs and crossovers now, with nary a station wagon in sight. Thankfully, at the New York Auto Show last month, Volvo announced they would be bringing their V60 wagon over to the U.S. next year. The legend lives again!
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3. Toyota Tercel 4WD Second generation, 1982-1986 You may recognize this '80s Toyota as Jessie Pinkman's car from Breaking Bad. This angularly styled Japanese creation looks dorky, but it was a tough little wagon with a modicum of off-road capability thanks to its four-wheel drive. Honda, Mitsubishi, and Nissan had their own tall 4WD wagons in the '80s too, but the Tercels are the only ones you'll still see around with any frequency. In fact, Jessie Pinkman's car is for sale in Albuquerque if you want to pick up a famous example of your own.
2. Mercedes E-Class wagon W124 generation, 1985-1996 In the '90s, Mercedes was at the pinnacle of its prestigious reputation for quality. The W124 generation of the midsized E-Class was well known for its impeccable build quality and no-nonsense, rectilinear styling. Twenty years later, these cars are still in use all over the world. The wagon version was especially practical with its rear-facing third-row seats and huge cargo area. More recent generations of the E-Class have declined in reliability and build quality...I guess they just don't make 'em like they used to.
1. Subaru Outback 1994-present Despite all of its granola, organic, rustic-dirt-road stereotypes, you can thank the Outback for saving Subaru. In the mid-'90s, station wagons were officially lame and the SUV was starting its rise to the top. To try to sell its Legacy wagon, Subaru pulled a fast one on the automotive market, raised the wagon a few inches higher off the ground, slapped on some tough-looking body cladding and called it the Outback. The trick worked and the Outback quickly became Subaru's best-selling model. Almost 20 years later, Subaru doesn't even offer the Legacy wagon in the U.S. anymore, and the Outback still sells like hotcakes. It might look tough, but it's really a good old station wagon underneath it all.