High performance station wagons

Recently my colleague announced the wonderful news that his partner was pregnant and that their bundle of joy was due mid January 2012 sometime. I was so happy for him, having experienced life’s most amazing experience just under 2 years ago myself.

Somehow, from that topic, we started talking about cars (surprise surprise). I asked him what he was currently driving and whether he was going to upgrade to a family car. From this question, I realised that he was also a car nut, with a particular weakness for high performance cars. He currently owns a 3 yr old Subaru Liberty 3.0R sedan. He mentioned that he was going to replace this Subaru with another high performance car, but this time a station wagon. This type of car would naturally provide the added versatility and space required to haul the little ones belongings. As most people would do at this point in time, he asked me (CarGuru) for my opinion on what cars would satisfy his priorities best. His priorities were (pretty much in this order):

  • High Performance
  • Practical
  • Ride and Handling
  • Budget: Up to $60,000 max
  • Body Configuration: Station Wagon.
  • Size: Medium to large.

Usually, at this point, without any hesitation, I would roll-off at least half a dozen or so cars that would satisfy the priorities mentioned. To my utmost surprise, this time round, I struggled to mention even a couple of different makes/models. I responded by saying that this is the first time that I have not easily (and quickly) been able to provide a range of options to select from. The real scary thing was, even after thinking about these priorities for at least a few minutes, I could not even add one more car to the list.

It was at this point that it dawned on me – the Australian new car market has distinct lack of high performance station wagons for the discerning family man who still wants to experience the joy of a fast and powerful car that handles just as nimbly as a sedan.

The cars that would meet the priorities/criteria above are:

  • Holden Commodore/Calais SS/SSV Sportwagon
  • Skoda Superb 3.6 V6 AWD wagon*
  • VW Passat FSI Highline wgn*
  • Subaru Liberty GT Premium Wagon/Subaru Outback 3.6R Premium

*Adding on-road costs would increase total cost past our budgetary figure of $60,000.

That is a total of 2 cars (possibly 4 depending on the prospective buyers negotiation skills).

What could possibly be the likely reason for this? Australians, for the last 5+ years, prefer to spend their hard earned money on SUV’s/4WD’s as their preferred method of transporting the family around. For the last few years, SUV/4WD sales have steadily grown and inevitably “consumed” the good old station wagon – why supply a vehicle when there is no demand. Whilst there are a couple of obvious advantages in driving an SUV/4WD when compared to a station wagon – commanding view of the road, easier to put babies/toddlers into the car child restraint seat (and take them out) – the disadvantages far outweigh the advantages:

  • Most do not have anywhere near the load carrying capacity to an equivalently sized station wagon (not very space efficient)
  • Most consume considerably more petrol
  • Servicing and parts are more expensive (for 4wd models)
  • Exacerbate city congestion and potentially pose a greater safety risk (particularly for the larger makes/models where fellow road users cannot see around/beyond the motor SUV/4wd in front).
  • Inferior ride and handling (with some models bordering on being unsafe in tight corners)
  • Higher Greenhouse gas production and other exhaust emissions

Maybe the Australian government should seriously re-consider increasing the import tariff rate (to 10%) on SUV’s/4Wd’s to be the same as all of the other imported cars. This will hopefully ease the current demand for these types of vehicles.

Maybe the Australian public should start bucking the current trend (of buying SUV’s/4WD’s) and re-ignite the good old Australian tradition of the good old family station wagon and start reaping the advantages.

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