Volvo, Jaguar wagons offer agile alternative to SUVs
The station wagon is back! Supposedly.
A rolling symbol of family mobility in the baby boom years, when Interstate highways and suburban sprawl grew hand in hand, the station wagon has long since faded to irrelevance. Of the 17 million motor vehicles sold in the U.S. each year, wagons account for barely more than 1 percent. Most are Subaru Outbacks.
Today, trucks, sport utilities and crossovers dominate the market. As such, they’ve become ubiquitous, ho-hum, nothing special.
Could the re-introduction of the station wagon — this time with a bit of sex appeal — attract would-be SUV buyers?
Volvo, Jaguar, Mercedes, Volkswagen and even Buick think so. Those companies and more are selling station wagons in the U.S., prompted in part by the steady success of the Outback.
Two of the latest examples are luxury models from Jaguar and Volvo — the Jaguar XF Sportbrake and the Volvo V90.
I took a separate trips in each from my Berkeley home to the mountains with my wife and 12-year-old daughter.
I enjoy driving, and station wagons, being lower to the ground, cruise more smoothly and handle curves with far more agility than a top-heavy SUV. Both cars hold the road like a sports sedan, but unlike a sedan, I can fit a lot more junk in the back.
Both vehicles drew looks and attracted strangers who walked up to ask “What is that? Looks nice.” Unlike the family wagons of the past, or like the modern-day Outback for that matter, neither is a utilitarian box. The designers, each their own way, have created expensive-looking, eye-appealing vehicles that perhaps help justify their high prices. (Our options-loaded V90 Inscription carried a $69,340 price tag. The XF Sportbrake S, $84,815. Both cars are all-wheel drive.)
The V90, which we drove to Mono Lake and back, is the plusher of the two. The buttery leather seats were supportive and comfortable.
The interior design is a bit unusual, but attractive, with plenty of walnut paneling set off by what Volvo calls “touches of chrome elevating the car’s elegance.”
The steering and cornering were tight enough to please, but nowhere near sports-car territory. The eight-speed automatic transmission was smooth. The engine, a turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-liter four cylinder, has plenty of power for any need short of “thrill ride.” With 316 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, it reaches 60 mph from a dead stop in 5.8 seconds — but sometimes feels like it’s struggling to do so.
The V90 and the XF Sportbrake S are similar-size luxury wagons, but with completely different personalities. We drove the Jaguar to Yosemite along California State Route 120 and had a blast.
The core of the Jaguar’s personality is its engine: bigger, faster, more fun. It also burns more gasoline and pushes the price tag far higher than on the Volvo. Its 380 supercharged horses and 332 pound-feet of torque, and a zero-to-60 time of 5.3 seconds, nudges it into thrill-ride territory.
Each of the vehicles is impressive in its own way. If your personality fits the vehicle’s, I’d guess you’d be happy, assuming you’ve got the money to pay for it. And if you don’t, the Subaru Outback — at $20,000 to $30,000 less — is a very nice car.