Monday, December 17, 2007

Disappearing wagons

I thought about titling my post "Why are Americans so damned stupid?" but only a few people who know me well would connect that to the topic, so I chose a bit more tame headline.

I want to know why it's so hard to find a good, affordable station wagon in the US. Note that I said affordable... the BMW 5-series wagon is available (for now!) so there's a non-SUV option from them, but the bloody thing STARTS at US$54,000 and it's probably the rarest BMW currently available in the US. There are 10 listings for 2003 or newer 5-series wagons within 300 miles of DFW, a whopping 3 of which are equipped with manual transmissions, and all 3 of those are brand new at BMW of Tulsa, OK.

Why does every mouth-breathing idiot want to drive an SUV to work, by himself, on a paved road in rush-hour traffic? I assure you the majority of SUV/CUV/SAV/SUT/whatever owners don't own a boat or anything else requiring a tow (except the SUV itself when it sucks down all its fuel, but that's another sort of tow...) I can transport as many people and about as much cargo in my Legacy Wagon as Joe Dirt in his Explorer and get there faster. Subaru has decided anyone who wants a wagon really wants an SUV, though, and has eliminated the Legacy Wagon in the US, selling only the Outback SU-wanna-V.

You can buy SUVs from nearly every manufacturer who officially sells cars in the US, and from nearly every marque from those manufacturers. Bentley doesn't have one yet, but parent VAG sells the Audi Q7 and VW Touareg. Rolls Royce is much to posh for that, but the X5 and X3 and the upcoming abomination X6 are from BMW, Rolls' corporate parent. If Ferrari, the last holdout (only because FIAT doesn't sell any of their other lines in the US these days) brings out an SUV I think I'll fly to Italy just to slap Luca di Montezemolo.

Many of these manufacturers sell interesting wagons in other markets, but here it's all trucks or sedans. Even GM and Ford have good wagons they could offer if their showrooms weren't choked with everything from Chevrolet Equinoxes to Lincoln Navigators. Hopefully by the time I am willing to part with my Legacy, Pontiac will be bringing the Holden VE Commodore Sportwagon as a companion to the Commodore sedan they'll be importing as the G8. Of course, by then I may not find a big V8 in a full-sized car a very appealing option... $3+ for Super is annoying enough.

So, if my Legacy got squished today, what would my options be?
Audi A3: the car that lost out to my Legacy when I compared them... almost a wagon
Audi A4: a bit pricey and heavy, but a nice car and still available with a manual transmission
VW Passat: soft, unattractive in this iteration, ends up pricey for VW reliability
Saab 93 Sportkombi: strong contender, even with the GM influence. The advent of AWD helps this one.
Saab 95 Sportkombi: odd-looking, BASE price over $38k.
BMW: both the 3 and the 5 are a bit pricey... the 3 just because key options are wrapped up in expensive packages so you end up around that magic $40k mark quickly. Never mind the idea of owning it after the bumper-to-bumper maintenance ends at 40k miles...
Volvo: stereotypical wagons, but the V50 is short on rear legroom and the V70 is expensive and slushbox-only.

So yeah, there are still wagons to be had (though you have to go looking for one to find it on the lot... the BMW dealer in San Antonio lost a sale to a colleague of mine who was willing to wait for a special order, because they weren't willing to order it!) I just wonder why Americans think gargantuan gas-guzzling SUVs are more desirable than a wagon that's lower, leaner and more fun to drive.


Natalie & Jessica's Dad said...

Amen. IMHO a wagon has one primary requirement...a 4x8 sheet of plywood must be able to slide into it. It doesn't matter if the tailgate closes or not.

As you know from yesterday's email (which (I have to reply to you on) I'm currently in the market for a new commutermobile, but my other car is an Odyssey. And I have no interest in replacing that any time soon, for one reason - you can get a 4x8 sheet of ply in there with the DOORS CLOSED. Find me one SUV that will do that. A Hummer? Please. Explorer? Nope. Perhaps an excursion, but that'd be ridiculous.

My uncle was a cabinetmaker in Manhattan until he retired two years ago and moved out of the city. During that time he burned his way through 3 Mercury Caprice wagons because they were the only things around that would fit in a Manhattan garage AND lug around lumber successfully. When he killed his last one and couldn't find a replacement, he retired.

DKB said...

Ah, the Grand Marquis... next to the last "real" American wagon (the Buick Roadmaster was the last.) Your uncle should sue Ford for destroying his business. ;)