Now that everyone drives a crossover SUV, perhaps wagons will regain their 1970s popularity. If that happens, the new Buick Regal TourX makes a compelling case for Americans seeking a different kind of utility vehicle.
Wagons - also known variably as station wagons and estate cars - first began to appear in the 1930s as service vehicles in train depots. The focus was on commercial and business applications instead of consumer transport, but companies soon realized that the distinctive shaping offered value for families. Unlike sedans, which are split into the engine, passenger, and cargo sections, wagons only have two parts - the engine and a larger combined passenger/cargo area. Wagons are similar to hatchbacks, but typically prioritize cargo space and usefulness over style and aerodynamics. Today, wagons are seen as a smaller and more affordable alternative to SUVs and minivans, which have a similar design but are considerably larger overall. Since sales are low, there aren't too many used station wagons available - Subaru models being a notable exception since they continue to market and release wagons each year. Modern station wagons don't compete with each other on size - get too big and you end up with an SUV, which defeats the purpose of making a wagon in the first place. Instead, they compete on features, especially those associated with the tailgate and passenger seating. Wagons offer several tailgate designs worth considering. The most basic of these is the simple upper hinge, which lifts the entire door up. Wagons often include a motion sensor for 'no touch' entry, allowing you to open the rear without having to put down groceries or other cargo. The second type of liftgate is the dual gate, which has the window open up and the solid lower section fall down (to provide a step). This is seen as more of a working design since it allows access to things on the inside of the wagon without having to open the entire thing. A few models feature a foldable tailgate and a retractable roof, allowing the wagon to fit unusually tall objects. These wagons are effectively a sedan/truck hybrid, offering an unusual but surprisingly effective niche. Some station wagons are only a little larger than their sedan bases, but others have a pickup truck-length cargo area (especially on full-size wagons). Regardless of liftgate and cargo area style, most modern wagons have foldable rear seats so the vehicle can focus on passengers or cargo as needed. Mechanically, most wagons are based on a sedan wheelbase and have similar transmission, engine, and luxury options. Ultimately, wagons aren't for everyone, but they remain a popular choice for families who want more storage than a sedan without the cost of an SUV.