Wagon comparison guide
How do different wagons compare, and what differentiates a wagon from an SUV and a hatchback? Find out in our wagon comparison guide.
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A wagon or estate can also go by its longer names, station wagon or estate wagon. In recent years, car manufacturers have come up with terms like sportback and avant to describe what is essentially the same body type. The three traditional words used interchangeably for this type of vehicle – station, wagon and estate – come from a specialised wagon solely used to transport people and their luggage between country estates and train stations. Yes, station wagons/estate wagons were originally wagons used as transport between country estates and train stations.
What is a wagon?
Wagons are large passenger cars that share many common features with SUVs, sedans and hatchbacks, making them difficult to distinguish at times. The main distinguishing feature of a wagon is that the roofline continues past the vehicle's rear doors. This extended roofline provides for a generous, full-sized storage compartment that is fully integrated into the passenger area, rather than being a separate compartment like in a hatchback or sedan. Accessible via the passenger cabin or via a full-sized rear door, you can easily expand this storage area by lowering or removing one or more of the rear seats.
The features of wagon models
While wagon models offer different specifications and accessories depending on the car manufacturer, most wagons share the following common features:
- Extended roofline. This is the primary characteristic that differentiates a wagon from sedans, SUVs and hatchbacks. The roofline of a wagon extends past the rear passenger doors, with windows in the furthermost rear cabin.
- Full-height storage area. Despite the similarities between hatchbacks and wagons, a hatchback's roof tends to slope downwards at the rear creating a tapered storage area, while a wagon's roof maintains a relatively constant height, creating a full-height storage area.
- Shared passenger cargo cabin. Wagons feature a shared rear space for passenger seats and the cargo cabin, which you can access via an additional door rather than a boot lid.
- Folding or removable seats. A key feature of a wagon is that you can either collape or remove the rear seats to customise or expand the rear storage space.
The advantages and disadvantages of wagons
Wagons are just one type of vehicle and have their share of advantages and disadvantages.
The advantages of a wagon include the following:
- Storage space. Wagons may be based on a typical sedan model, but they far surpass sedans when it comes to cargo space. The dedicated cargo area and extended roofline of a wagon make for a large storage space, which you can extend by collapsing or removing the rear seats. The storage area also tends to be full height, unlike hatchbacks which usually feature a downward sloping roof.
- Flexibility. With a shared passenger and cargo cabin area, you can reconfigure the interior of a wagon to prioritise passenger room, storage space or a mixture of both.
- Passenger room. Wagons always have at least two rows of seats, with some models featuring a third full row which can be either forward-facing or rear-facing. As a passenger car, there is no need for wagons to skimp on legroom, ensuring your rear passengers are just as comfortable as those in the front seats.
The disadvantages of the wagon include the following:
- Road noise. One of the clear advantages of a sedan is that its cargo area is walled off, creating a quieter ride than other vehicle types. Since one of the defining features of a wagon is that its cargo space forms part of the main passenger cabin, road noise can be significantly more noticeable. If there is a sedan version of the wagon you're considering, take both for a test drive and compare the features to satisfy yourself that you've made the right choice.
- Headroom. Compared with SUVs, wagons are not as tall and don't have the same upright body structure, which can impact headroom to a small extent. For drivers and passengers of regular height, the difference could be negligible, but if you are specifically looking for increased headroom to accommodate taller passengers or cargo, a wagon could fall short when compared with an SUV.
How to compare wagons
Once you've decided that a wagon could be the right choice for you, it's time to compare the different makes and models available in Australia.
When comparing wagons, consider the following:
- Storage and passenger space. Having room for multiple passengers and having an extended storage space, it makes sense to choose a wagon that will provide the right mix of passenger and storage room. All wagons include collapsible or removable rear seats, so take the time to compare the seating options of different wagons in your price range to make sure that you'll be able to customise your car exactly the way you want.
- Performance versus load capacity. If you're planning on regularly carrying heavy loads, a wagon with independent rear suspension can increase your load capacity but can come at the expense of straight-line performance. Understanding your needs before you choose a car can help you prioritise performance against load capacity.
Are wagons worth it?
Is a wagon the right vehicle choice for you? The answer will come down to the specific features you're looking for in your new car and how you plan to use it. Wagons are ideally suited for people with big transport needs – whether that means passengers, cargo or both. The flexibility of a wagon means that you can choose whether to increase the number of passengers or maximise storage space on a day-to-day basis, achieved by collapsing or removing rear seats as necessary.
Perhaps the most defining feature of a wagon is its full-sized storage area, with none of the roof tapering or floor contours found in hatchbacks or sedans. If you're looking for a larger car with plenty of room for passengers, the flexibility to change the way you use the car depending on your needs, and a full-sized storage area to maximise the amount of cargo you carry, a wagon could be an excellent choice.
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