The Station Wagon once dominated American highways. They offered cargo capacity and passenger hauling capability in a platform that was similar to familiar sedans. Over the past three decades, the mini-van and Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) have taken over the role of the station wagon. But, something interesting is happening in the evolution of SUVs. New Crossover vehicles are a fusion of car and SUV characteristics. SUVs are being built on car designs and with an emphasis on passenger comfort rather than off-road capability. It seems like a secret conspiracy to bring back the station wagon under a new name.
I think my Toyota Highlander is secretly a station wagon. But, it isn’t alone. Many other popular vehicles are secretly station wagons, here are four noteworthy modern station wagons:
1. Dodge Journey. The Dodge Journey is 192 inches long. That’s just about 9 inches shorter than the length of the Dodge Aspen station wagon of the 1970s. While the modern Dodge Journey is a far more capable vehicle than the old Dodge Aspen, available all-wheel drive doesn’t make the Journey any less of a station wagon.
2. Toyota RAV4. All around the country, Jeep Jamborees allow Jeep owners to get together and put their vehicles to the test off-road in wilderness locations. It’s a test of driving skill and vehicle preparation. It’s all possible because traditional Jeeps are very solid off-road vehicles. If there was a Toyota RAV4 jamboree stops would probably include Starbucks, Kids’R’Us, and Walmart. The RAV4 is a size down from our Toyota Highlander. However, it is a nice little wagon.
3. Toyota Venza. I always thought that the Venza was a station wagon. In fact, I was surprised to see that Toyota calls it a “Cross-Over.” It sure looks like a station wagon. The Venza is proportioned like a station wagon. It’s 189 inches long on a 102-inch wheelbase. It’s 63.4 inches tall. When you factor in how much all cars have shrunk over the years, it’s pretty clear that the Toyota Venza is a contemporary station wagon. It certainly does the mission of a station wagon.
4. Chevy Traverse. The 1977 AMC Matador station wagon that I rode around in as a kid was 205 inches long on a 118-inch wheelbase. It stood 56.4-inches tall. The 2012 Chevy Traverse has a 118.9-inch wheelbase and is also 205 inches long. While it stands quite a bit taller at 70.4 inches tall, those proportions are remarkably similar to those of an old station wagon from the 1960s or 70s.
The auto industry has to sell cars that sizzle. The station wagon has a pretty uncool reputation for suburban boredom. But, they were practical, capable vehicles, that worked well for their owners. To me, it’s clear that many modern cross-over vehicles and SUVs are simply the latest evolution of the station wagon. With modern engines, optional all-wheel drive, and slightly higher roof lines, cross overs are simple the next logical step in station wagon development. With safety standards mandating more car like bumper heights and vehicle construction, I suspect that cross-overs become more and more car like in the future. If you have one of these modern day station wagons, there is no reason to be ashamed. They are perfectly capable of performing the mission of carrying people and cargo efficiently around America’s highways. It’s just to bad that the third row seat doesn’t face backwards.
Chevrolet Website (www.chevrolet.com)
Toyota Website (www.toyota.com)
Dodge Website (www.dodge.com)
AMC Matador, Wikipedia
Other articles by this contributor:
Driving Impression: 2010 Ford Edge Limited
Retro Car Review: the 1980 Chevrolet Citation
Toyota Test Sit: 2010 Toyota Corolla LE and 2010 Toyota RAV 4