Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Lowly Station Wagon Hits Comeback Trail Has-Beens No Longer, Wagons like Outback Sport Rugged New Image

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Lowly Station Wagon Hits Comeback Trail Has-Beens No Longer, Wagons like Outback Sport Rugged New Image

Article excerpt

Sedans and coupes? Passe.

Sport-utility vehicles read like yesterday's news, and minivans are headed for the off-ramp.

But load up the kids and the groceries. Station wagons are hap'nin'. Just count the Subaru Outbacks you see on your next trip to the mall. Subaru and other manufacturers are turning yesterday's faux-wood Country Squires into sporty, up-market vehicles. The new "wags," many sporting all-wheel-drive, look poised to outrun sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) as drivers search for something just as flashy but more practical. "They're looking for something that's easier to drive and easier to park," says Automobile Magazine founding editor David E. Davis Jr. He says SUV sales "have probably peaked and will fall back to their more natural levels" in a few years. To some of the original SUV fans, the vehicles have traded in their tough, off-roader image to join minivans in the "mom-mobile" category. Still, buyers hooked on the foul-weather, curb-hopping performance of SUVs want much of the same in their next car, and they're finding it in the new breed of station wagons. "The hot segment in the next couple of years is going to be the all-wheel-drive four-door station wagon," Keith Crain, publisher of the trade journal Automotive News, wrote in a March 23 editorial. "The segment is going to grow like wildfire as more car companies offer versions of those vehicles." So far, Subaru leads the way. The company's small, four-wheel-drive (now all-wheel-drive) wagons have had a loyal following for more than 20 years. Now Subaru has staked its survival on the Outback "sport-utility wagon," a jacked-up station wagon with gentle off-road capability. Other automakers are ready to follow Subaru's tracks (see story, below). Truck-meister Ford, however, is unconvinced that station wagons will overtake the trend in SUVs. "These products are all being offered by companies that don't have sport-utilities," says George Pipas, manager of sales analysis at Ford. He argues that a larger trend toward more versatile vehicles will flatten any station wagon reemergence. What consumers want most in the 1990s is a car that does everything, Mr. …

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