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Opinion: Welcome to the wagon's sexy revival

Much has been made about the rise of SUVs, and how wagon sales are falling. But if you look on the bright side, the proliferation of crossovers has freed up wagons to become something altogether sexier.

4 months ago
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Scott Collie
News Editor

It’s a great time to be a wagon lover.

Volkswagen is readying a slinky Arteon Shooting Brake, Genesis is working on a G70 Shooting Brake, and Audi continues doing unspeakable things to its humble family haulers.

The resurgence of Volvo has brought about the delightfully Scandinavian V60 and V90, and it would be rude to ignore the trés chic Peugeot 508 load lugger.

There’s one thread linking these wagons, and it’s style. Once boxy bastions of practicality above all else, the rise of SUVs has forced carmakers to rethink how conventional estate cars fit into their line-ups.

Last year, 45.5 per cent of the new cars sold in Australia were SUVs, while just 29.7 per cent were passenger cars.

The split isn’t quite as pronounced in Europe – but 38 per cent of new cars sold on the continent in 2019 were crossovers, and that percentage is growing.

The upshot? Wagons no longer make sense as a volume proposition. Passenger cars are on the nose, especially if they aren’t a Corolla-sized hatchback.

Demand is flagging for sedans in Australia (the main exception being the hybrid Toyota Camry), and wagon sales are minuscule compared to those of their three-box cousins.

Now most of the big carmakers have a full range of SUVs for buyers who want to lug growing families and all their kit, it could be argued there’s no real need for wagons. I’d wager if you were to remove them from most line-ups, most owners would roll into an equivalent-sized crossover at the end of their lease.

But there are still people out there who are passionate about their wagons, willing to swim against the tide. The pool has shrunk to the point where the good old fashioned wagon is part of an enthusiastic niche.

The good news is, niche products can be designed differently to vehicles aimed at pleasing the mass market.

Rather than taking risks that might endanger a car’s chance of finding 1,000,000 homes per year across three continents, low-volume vehicles can be conceived to make a little pool of people happy – mainstream tastes be damned.

The shift has allowed designers to turn the humble family wagon into a style statement. That’s right, we’re almost at the point where one of the most boring shapes in motoring is part of a counter-cultural movement. 2020 is odd.

I don’t know how many Arteon Shooting Brake sales Volkswagen has baked into its global forecast, but the number likely pales in comparison to what’s expected of the Touareg and Tiguan.

Without the pressure of pleasing the herd, the Volkswagen design team has been able to take some risks and create a unique, alluring shape that’s also likely to be more practical than the hatchback.

The Volvo XC60 carries a much larger sales load than the V60 wagon, which has allowed the wagon to be a bit sexy.

Sure, the new V60 isn’t quite as practical as the boxy Swedish wagons of yore – but that’s because it isn’t the default for sensible parents, it’s a middle finger to the establishment that happens to have a boot big enough for an Ikea wardrobe.

And the fact Genesis, the youngest brand we’ve spoken about here, has chosen to develop a long-roofed version of the G70 shows there’s cachet in the body style.

In Australia, the barrier separating buyers from wagons is usually related to the “business case”. As in, we can’t sell enough of them to justify bringing the car Down Under.

That argument changes if the wagon’s role swings from volume-selling family car to stylish brand-builder.

Call it the sports car theory. You might not sell a heap of them, but numbers aren’t the point.

The optimist in me hopes that’ll help get the Genesis G70 Shooting Brake to Australia. It’d be brave from Hyundai, but it would win plenty of enthusiast acclaim.

While we’re on this topic, I want to tip my cap to the eight people who buy an Arteon Shooting Brake when they pass me in traffic.

And the thought of getting behind the wheel of the Audi RS6 when it arrives in Australia has given me a problem that’s probably not suitable to publish here.

In the meantime, BMW offers the excellent 3 Series Touring in Australia. Skoda has a range of wagons, most recent of which is the Superb Scout.

We’re running one as a long termer, and a launch review is coming next week. Spoiler alert, it’s lovely.

Even Porsche is offering a wagon, in the form of the Panamera Sport Turismo. Ferrari has been doing it for while, although it probably has another name for the GTC4 Lusso’s body style.

There are plenty more – and given the opportunity, you should snap one up. Wagons are so hot right now, and they’re only getting hotter.


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