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Help me pick my next wagon!

My beloved old 1990 Subaru Legacy wagon is sadly falling apart around her still strong engine, so I’m thinking I’m going to retire her soon and get another car, so I thought I’d ask around and see what you all thought about what I could get. Here’s the parameters:

  1. 4wd or AWD is STRONGLY preferred, but I have taken a few long looks at Jetta Sportswagen and Prius V.

  2. Manual transmission. VERY VERY strongly preferred, but also not a deal-breaker

  3. We’re talking wagons here: No SUV’s, and the only “crossover” I’ve seen and liked is the new Outback.

  4. I’m budgetting around spending no more than 30K, though I’m really gunning for more like 25K.

My little wish-list above are based around practicality as much as driving dynamics (I LIKE the way a 4wd car drives, I like shifting gears with a clutch, and I like being able to park in the city).

I’ve of course looked at Subaru, but after driving around in my Legacy, the new Impreza seems just a bit too small and the new Outback seems a bit too SUV-ish. So I’ve taken peeks online at used Audi A4’s and BMW 328’s, as well as some of the older (more wagon-like) Outbacks.

Any suggestions?

Subaru Impreza WRX STI hatchback. If you can take the automatic, consider a 2010 Cadillac CTS wagon.

The wagon is, basically, dead. Your choices are hatchback or SUV/crossover or van/minivan.

The wagon is impractical compared to the more upright SUVs. It seems that bending over and stuffing things into a short area with minimal headroom just doesn’t appeal to many once they have experienced cars like the RAV and CRV. They are dreaded SUVs only because why ? They are more practical ? Our RAV is just a more space efficient wagon with awd. Even Subaru gets it and has stretched out their wagon vertically which is the only difference between the modern car based SUVs and wagons. What you have left are hatchbacks. I would go for one if the those box on wheels don’t appeal to you.

I have a freind with the same mindset. He owns a previous gen v6 Subaru Outback which he likes but complains all the time because it isn’t tall enough…he refuses to consider an SUV too…go figure. SUVs are popular in car based form simply because enough drivers value practicality more than the look of a traditional wagon.

“They are dreaded SUVs only because why ?”

Maybe they handle poorly compared to station wagons.

I agree jt… But the difference is very subtle or no existantant. If you have driven a RAV or Rogue or Acura SUV compared to a Legacy or Volvo, you would be hard pressed to see the difference in anything but emergency handling and wagons have their own quirks too. The difference is well worth the added inconvenience. You can load bikes upright and generators through much wider doors then most wagons I can think of allong with added seating, more head room. And, in this day and age, little penalty in gas usage with the 4 cylinder models and none with most awd wagons. I would argue that the modern car based SUV is just a replcement for the wagon of yesterday.

Thinking out of the box a little, what about a Honda Element? As others have said, the “wagon” segment is a pretty small niche now.

There are very few wagons, and limiting those few to manuals cuts it down further, and few of those have AWD. You sound like a natural Subaru customer, so maybe should stay with them.

One wagon you’ve not listed, probably because AWD isn’t offered, is the Hyundai Elantra Touring. It’s not based on the current Elantra, so has a plain interior like older Elantras, but the exterior is clean and shapely. A manual is available on both the base GLS and the nicer SE. That’s a good thing with the optional automatic only being a four-speed. It’s a solid little wagon at a low price, though probably smaller and cheaper than what you’re looking for.

I like the Jetta wagon, but German cars are almost always costly to buy, maintain, and repair. That you’re still driving a 22yo car suggests long-term durability and reliability matter to you. German cars make for fun flings but poor marriages as most are terribly expensive to keep in good repair after their warranties run out.

Also on the cheap side is the Scion xB. No AWD, and maybe not even a wagon, but I think of it as one. It has as much or more cargo space than your old Subaru.

I din’t have anything inherently “political” against SUV’s, I’d just rather have a wagon - endangered, but not gone.

I silenced a friend of mine on the driving dynamics front when we swapped rides -his X3 vs my wagon- going through some corners. And wagons proved their viability to me when I packed 4 tables, a tent, and a few boxes into it and closed the hatch. Or when the big blizzard hit these parts February last year, when my wagon pushed a Tahoe out of a mid-road snowdrift.

If the Element rear windows rolled down instead of popping out, or seated more than 4, it’d be on the list. The CRV is really nice, but doesn’t handle all that great and with the cargo space more upward than outwards, filling it up covers more rear glass. I’ve been in a few xB’s and I like them. Haven’t been in an Elantra Touring, but I like Hyundai as an automaker. I don’t place a premium on ride height - up or down - though I din’t appreciate that springing the new Outback upwards has made it lose some cornering chips compared to the last generation.

My CX-7 handles really well and you can barely tell it’s got 8 inches of ground clearance unless you’re getting in or out of it. And it was able to fit a 46" flat screen TV in the cargo area with little trouble.