Cars You (Probably) Forgot Were Station Wagons

How far the station wagon has come. In the heady 1960s, nearly every car sold in America could be had as a wagon, while today station wagons are both very cool and very scarce. During the interim years when families transitioned to minivans and then to SUVs and crossovers, there were some rather oddball wagons produced. Because they sold slowly, many gearheads don’t even realize these cars were available as wagons. Time for a reminder! Here are 25 cars you might not realize were available as station wagons.

2011-2013 Acura TSX Sport Wagon

The turn of the decade was not a great time for Acura: It was getting beat up over the horrendous bionic beaver-tooth grille on the 2009 TL and there was plenty of grumbling about the new TSX, which was bigger and heavier and didn’t get the turbocharged engine everyone was hoping for. But then the TSX Sport Wagon came out and most of that was forgiven. Honda (Acura’s parent) didn’t make many wagons for the U.S. market, but those it did make were excellent, and the TSX was no exception, being, as it was, a rebadged and upgraded European-market Honda Accord Tourer. The TSX Sport Wagon was great to drive, had plenty of cargo space, and was attractive in a practical way. There was no way it would sell in any great numbers against the plethora of SUVs on the market, but it was one of the last honest station wagons, and we loved it.

1960-1974 Checker Marathon

Checker Motors Corporation of Kalamazoo, Michigan, made the iconic taxicabs that prowled the streets of New York City and other major American metropolises throughout most of the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s. Checker also made a consumer model called the Marathon, and naturally there was a station wagon. The Marathon’s classic 1950s styling lent itself perfectly to the wagon body style. Checker stopped making Marathon wagons after 1974, but the sedan stayed in production until 1982. Incidentally, if you happened to need a lift to the airport in the 1960s or ’70s, you may well have ridden in another type of Checker-built wagon—the eight-door, 12-seat, super-stretch Checker Aerobus.

1961-1962 Chevrolet Corvair Lakewood

Sixty years after its introduction, the Chevrolet Corvair lives in infamy thanks largely to Ralph Nader. Many car enthusiasts know about the Corvair Greenbrier van, a passenger variant of the Corvair 95 “Corvan,” but it seems that fewer remember the Corvair wagon—or Lakewood as it was known when it joined the lineup in 1961. The wagon wasn’t very popular; only 26,000 out of 282,000 Corvairs sold in ’61 were Lakewoods, and in ’62 fewer than 6,100 out of 307,000 Corvairs were wagons. Chevrolet dropped it for ’63, no surprise as the new-for-’62 Chevy II (soon to be known as the Nova) was less expensive and had more cargo space…and no engine under the trunk floor to melt your ice cream.

1971-1977 Chevrolet Vega Kammback

The Chevrolet Vega should have been General Motors’ greatest triumph but instead turned out to be a major disaster. GM was shooting to build the ultimate import fighter, investing beaucoup bucks in systems and technologies to back it up. Unfortunately, the cars were plagued by rapidly-rusting bodies and engines that overheated and warped. Part and parcel of the Vega lineup was a handy little two-door wagon called the Kammback (though whether it was actually a kammback is open to debate), along with a two-seat panel-van version with blanked out rear windows. Though the panel van was discontinued after 1975, the passenger wagon made it to the end of the Vega’s run in 1977.

1982-1988 Chrysler LeBaron Town & Country

Dodge and Plymouth’s infamous K-cars, the Aries and Reliant, were available in coupe, sedan, and wagon variants, so naturally the Chrysler division had to get one, too. Chrysler slathered it with stick-on wood and named it the LeBaron Town & Country, because—well, why not? The Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager of 1984 pretty much killed the station wagon in America, but the LeBaron T&C sold in small-but-steady numbers until Chrysler finally discontinued it after the 1988 model year. Chrysler hasn’t sold a wagon under its own banner in the United States since then, though it did offer a 300 Touring wagon (basically, a Chrysler-ized Dodge Magnum) in Europe.

2000-2002 Daewoo Nubira

When Korean automaker Daewoo make its assault on the U.S. market at the turn of the millennium, it did so with a trio of cars that included the compact Nubira, which was offered as a sedan as well as a wagon. Styled in Italy and engineered in South Korea using bits from GM’s Opel and Holden divisions, the Nubira wagon was a good and decent public servant, and cheaply priced to boot. But American buyers, stung by cheaply made early Hyundais and Kias, were reluctant to embrace a new Korean marque. Daewoo was purchased by General Motors in 2001, and the brand disappeared from the U.S. in 2002.

1981-1998 Ford Escort/Mercury Lynx/Tracer 

Some ideas die hard, including Detroit’s long-held (and largely healthy) notion that every car should be available as a station wagon. So when Ford launched its first home-grown front-drive subcompact in 1980, the Escort (along with its badge-engineered twin, the Mercury Lynx), it was available as a two-door, four-door and, of course, a wagon—complete with optional stick-on wood grain, because America, dammit. The wagon sold reasonably well, and when Ford introduced the second-generation Mazda-based Escort in 1991—with the Mercury version now called Tracer—the wagon returned, as it did in 1997 when the Escort was revamped. When the European-designed Focus took over for the Escort in 2000, it, too, was offered as a station wagon.

1972-1980 Ford Pinto

Chevrolet fielded a Vega wagon from the get go, but Ford waited a year before launching the wagon version of the Pinto. Like the Vega, the Pinto wagon had only two doors, and of course there was a version slathered in fake “woody” trim. Ford called it the Pinto Squire, as it was essentially a junior version of that diva of the stick-on wood-grain appliqué, the Country Squire. As the vanning craze took hold in the late 1970s, Ford made a conversion-ready version of the two-seat Pinto panel wagon called the Pinto Cruising Wagon—complete with a bubble rear window, though the shag carpet, ceiling mirror, phonograph, and Barry White records were not included. Ford offered a Pinto wagon right up until the model was discontinued in 1980.

1991-1992 Geo Storm Wagonback

Geo, for those who don’t remember, was GM’s captive-import brand sold through Chevrolet dealerships presumably to give the brand plausible deniability that Chevys were still American cars. The Storm, based on the Isuzu Impulse, was a nifty little economy car disguised as a sport coupe, notable for styling that Gen Xers loved and Baby Boomers didn’t understand. But everyone was scratching their heads when the 1991 Storm Wagonback came out, as it seemed to serve no purpose but to make the Storm look a little stranger than it already did. After just two years on the market, the Wagonback was dropped. Geo was folded into Chevrolet in 1994 and for reasons that have never been adequately explained to us, the Storm didn’t make the transition.

2002-2005 Kia Rio Cinco

The Rio has held down the fort as Kia’s subcompact since the turn of the millennium, and for a while Kia offered it as a wagon called the Rio Cinco. With its short length, one could argue that the Rio Cinco was more of a hatchback, but when we look at the thing, well, we think wagon. Kia doesn’t break out Rio sales by body style, but we can’t imagine the Cinco was very popular as we rarely saw them on the streets back then and we never see them now. When Kia redesigned the Rio for 2006, the Cinco had been sunk-o.

2002-2005 Lexus IS300 SportCross

The first-generation Lexus IS was Toyota’s take on the BMW 3 Series, right down to the straight-six engine. It was a hit when it launched in Y2K, and car fanatics were beside themselves when Lexus announced a wagon version called the IS300 SportCross. Worthy of note is the fast roofline, which ate up some cargo space but gave the car a slicker, sexier look aimed to change the minds of those who still viewed wagons as un-hip mommy-mobiles. The same enthusiasts stoked because “Lexus wagon!” were disappointed the IS300 SportCross wasn’t available with the manual transmission offered in IS sedans or its accompanying sport-tuned suspension, but we could deal because we had a Lexus wagon. The SportCross stayed on the market for four glorious years before its base car was replaced by the distinctly less-interesting second-generation IS. We still miss it.

2004-2008 Mazda 6 Sport Wagon

The first-generation Mazda 6 was a bright light in the sunset of the once-dominant mid-size sedan, because it wasn’t just a sedan—Mazda offered both a swoopy European-style hatchback and a station wagon as well. We can chalk this fine felicity up to bad planning: Mazda didn’t have an SUV of its own, relying instead on the Ford-sourced Tribute and the mini-minivan Mazda 5 as it rushed to complete its first crossovers, the CX-7 and CX-9. When the CXs arrived in 2009, Mazda puffed up the 6 to proper USA-friendly dimensions, leaving the wagon for other markets. But it was nice while it lasted.

1975-1980 Mercury Bobcat

General Motors gets much well-deserved flack for cheap badge engineering in the 1970s and ’80s, but such antics were old hat at Ford. A few years after the Pinto made its debut, Mercury popped up with its own version called the Bobcat, and naturally it was available as a two-door wagon, just like the Pinto. Mercury offered a basic Bobcat Wagon as well as the wood-trimmed version you see here, called the Bobcat Villager—a name that would reappear on the Nissan-designed Mercury minivan that shuttled some of you to and from school in the 1990s and early 2000s.

2004-2005 Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback

Kudos to Mitsubishi: While the few manufacturers making station wagons were trying to make them slick and sexy, more like hatchbacks than proper wagons, Mitsubishi went Volvo 850-style with the Lancer Sportback, complete with a squared-off tailgate and taillights that stretched to the roof. It was so square that packing crates looked aerodynamic by comparison. Unfortunately, with its anonymous front end, the Lancer Sportback looked more dorky than cool, and the fact that the sport-themed Ralliart model had the same 162-hp engine as the base model meant it had little appeal for enthusiasts. Two years after it arrived, the Sportback died a quiet death, though the name would reappear in 2010 on Mitsubishi’s hatchback-based WRX fighter.

1982-1989 Nissan Sentra

Like Ford and Toyota, Nissan built a wagon version of its subcompact car, but its designers took a slightly different (and, as it turns out, prophetic) approach: Rather than a boxy wagon, they made a car with a fast roofline that looked more like a long, four-door hatchback. The second-gen Sentra wagon, shown here, followed the same theme and was even available with four-wheel drive, making it a competitor for Subaru (and, arguably, a harbinger of the Honda Accord Crosstour). Alas, in the car world being cool doesn’t necessarily make you popular, and when the third-generation Sentra made its debut for 1990, the station wagon was gone.

1973-1977 Pontiac Astre Safari

In the early 1970s, General Motors was just beginning to probe the depths of badge engineering. The Vega (see above) was a corporate rather than a divisional creation (big mistake!), and two years after it premiered as a Chevy—and right in the middle of its quality meltdown—Pontiac got its own thinly disguised version complete with a wagon called the Astre Safari (which sounds like some sort of organized hippie-stalking event). The Astre was dismissed by the press as little more than an expensive Vega, though it did have one key advantage at the very end: In 1977, Pontiac substituted its new 151-cubic-inch (2.5-liter) Iron Duke four-cylinder for the Vega’s troublesome aluminum-block 2.3.

1978-1979 Pontiac Sunbird Safari

Does this car look familiar? It should, because it’s basically an Astre Safari with a new name. Just as Ford developed the Mustang II from the Pinto, GM derived a bigger coupe from the Vega, though the company at least had the good sense not to call it Camaro II or Firebird II. Pontiac’s version of that car, which is best known as the Chevy Monza, was called the Sunbird. Since there was no wagon variant, Pontiac kept the old Astre wagon in production, renaming it Sunbird Safari. With the 2.5-liter Iron Duke under the hood, it was probably the best Vega ever made, though it seems a little silly to use the words “best” and “Vega” in the same sentence.

1988-1989 Renault/Eagle Medallion

Forget about knowing that there was a wagon version of the Renault Medallion—a lot of people don’t even realize that the Medallion existed. A product of the AMC/Renault partnership, the Medallion was essentially a Renault 21 reworked for the U.S. market. The Renault Medallion launched in spring ’87 as a 1988 model, just before Chrysler bought AMC. Chrysler created the Eagle brand for cars sold at Jeep dealerships, and the Medallion became an Eagle for ’89. Given the Eagle brand’s lack of recognition, Americans’ distaste for French-built cars, the ongoing fad for minivans, and a name that sounded like an overpriced trinket peddled to nursing-home residents via late-night advertorials, it’s no surprise the Eagle Medallion lasted only one more year before it disappeared.

1960-1973 Saab 95

In its early years, Saab was best known for the funky-looking 93 and 96 coupes, but it also made a nifty little wagon called the Saab 95 (not to be confused with the 9-5). The 95 stayed in showrooms for nearly a decade and a half until the new 99 came along in 1974, and surprisingly, Saab didn’t offer the 99 or its replacement, the 900, as a station wagon. In fact, Saab didn’t offer a wagon in the U.S. market for another 25 years, ceding the segment to Swedish archrival Volvo. Finally, in 1999—once the wagon segment was all but dead—Saab began importing the big 9-5 wagon. Perhaps it’s not the biggest surprise that Volvo is still here and Saab isn’t.

2000-2004 Saturn L-Series

Saturn was one of GM’s great failed experiments, a company-within-a-company that turned out to be an unproductive money pit. Ten years into the experiment, it was clear engineering Saturn-specific cars was financially unsustainable, so rather than growing its own, Saturn turned to GM’s European division for its new big car. The Saturn L-Series was based heavily on the Opel Vectra, and since the Vectra was offered as a wagon, Saturn brought that over as well, marketing it as the LW200 and LW300. Like the rest of Saturn, this was a great idea that was poorly executed. Build quality on the L-series cars was abysmal, and recalls and TSBs numerous. With Saturn’s first SUV, the Vue, waiting for its at-bat, interest in the LW was minimal. But the idea wasn’t forgotten: After Saturn folded, Buick took over as Opel West, and today’s Buick Regal TourX is based on the Vectra’s replacement, the Opel Insignia. Sadly, with Opel sold to PSA Group, the TourX will disappear after 2020.

1998-2002 Suzuki Esteem

Suzuki did well with its rugged 4x4s but it never could seem to come up with a car Americans liked, and the Esteem was another in a long list of failures. Oddly styled and strangely named (though the names used in other markets—Baleno and Cultus Crescent—were worse), the Esteem Wagon appealed to the sort of folks who thought name brands were a frivolous waste of money. A useful but forgettable car, the Esteem sold in insignificant numbers and was dropped after 2002.

2004-2008 Suzuki Forenza

If there’s one thing we know about Suzuki, it’s that the company never throws anything away—witness the Samurai, which it kept on the market for seven years after Consumer Reports ruined its reputation. Likewise, after Daewoo beat a retreat from the U.S. market (see the Nubira above), Suzuki brought a Daewoo model back to the States as the Forenza. That included the wagon, which probably would have sold well were it 1974 rather than 2004. The Forenza was a handy little car, affordable and inoffensive to drive, but with the compact SUV ascendant, it didn’t stand a chance.

1988-1996 Toyota Camry

The Toyota Camry spent much of the 1980s and 1990s battling with the Honda Accord and Ford Taurus for the title of America’s bestselling mid-size car, and one of the tools in the Camry’s arsenal was a station wagon. Toyota offered a wagon in both second-generation (1988-1991) and third-generation (1992-1996) versions of the Camry. The third-gen car is our favorite because its back window featured not one but two wipers. (Full disclosure: We’re easily amused.) The wagon disappeared with the arrival of the fourth-generation Camry in 1997, by which time the Sienna and RAV4 had taken over as Toyota’s resident vacation-mobiles and the Highlander was on the drawing board.

1968-1997 Toyota Corolla

The Corolla first came to the U.S. in 1968, so it’s no surprise a wagon was part of the lineup from the earliest days. What is a surprise is that a Corolla wagon was still on sale nearly thirty years later. Thanks to the popularity of compact wagons in other markets, Toyota had a station-wagon version of the Corolla handy, and the marque offered this useful little mini-hauler in America right up until 1997. When a new Corolla made its debut for 1998, it was nearly identical to the car it replaced—but the wagon was gone. Bummer.

1987-1990 Volkswagen Fox

The Fox was Volkswagen’s ill-fated attempt to take on cheap cars of the mid-’80s like the Hyundai Excel and Yugo GV, and it was based on the Brazilian-built VW Gol (no, the “f” isn’t missing, that’s its name). Along with two- and four-door sedans, VW offered up this nifty little mini-wagon. The two-door configuration had shades of VW’s air-cooled Type III Squareback, while the angular lines brought back memories of the water-cooled Dasher—attributes that must not have resonated with the Fox’s cash-strapped buyers, because the Fox wagon was a slow seller. When Volkswagen facelifted the car for 1991, the wagon was gone.

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