COVER STORY

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Front Page -

En­dan­gered they may be, but sta­tion wag­ons still com­pete with their high and mighty SUV ri­vals, and in many cases wag­ons of­fer a prac­ti­cal al­ter­na­tive with very us­able space and bet­ter fuel econ­omy

BILL McKIN­NON

bill.mckin­non@big­pond.com En­dan­gered they may be, but sta­tion wag­ons still com­pete with high and mighty ri­vals FAM­ILY-FO­CUSED sta­tion wag­ons have be­come a dy­ing breed in Aus­tralia. Both the Ford Fal­con wagon and Toy­ota Camry wagon are gone.

Some sur­vive, such as the Holden Sportwagon, and there are loyal buy­ers in both the small-car and lux­ury classes, but the ris­ing tide of SUVs has washed sta­tion wag­ons out of show­rooms.

The dis­tinc­tion be­tween the tra­di­tional sedan-based sta­tion wag­ons and Aus­tralia’s new favourite fam­ily freighter has be­come much more blurred.

How­ever, there are still a num­ber of im­por­tant points of dif­fer­ence and it’s worth look­ing at some of the lead­ing con­tenders on the ri­val teams.

A sedan-based wagon is usu­ally lighter than a sim­i­larly sized SUV. This means bet­ter fuel econ­omy and lower ser­vic­ing and tyre costs. It also sits closer to the bi­tu­men with a lower cen­tre of grav­ity, so it’s more ag­ile and sta­ble, es­pe­cially cor­ner­ing.

But wagon driv­ers don’t en­joy the high-and-mighty po­si­tion with an unim­peded view of the road that SUV driv­ers, women in par­tic­u­lar, cite as a ma­jor at­trac­tion.

Boom­ing SUV sales in­di­cate that more peo­ple are tak­ing the

if you can’t beat em, join em’’ view.

It’s a myth that SUVs are more space­ef­fi­cient than wag­ons, al­though most mid­sized mod­els— in­clud­ing the pop­u­lar Holden Cap­tiva and Ford’s Ter­ri­tory— can come with a cou­ple of ex­tra seats in the back, a fea­ture no longer found in con­ven­tional wag­ons.

Chil­dren also love an SUV’s el­e­vated seat­ing po­si­tion be­cause they can sit back and en­joy the scenery.

Whether you choose a sedan-based wagon or an SUV — or sports util­ity ve­hi­cle— the good news is that affordable fam­ily trans­port with five-star safety can now also be an en­joy­able drive.

Among the wag­ons, the Com­modore VE Se­ries II Sportwagon, priced from $41,990 for the 190kW, 3.0-litre V6 Omega, is a stand­out. It looks sen­sa­tional— a rar­ity in wagon world.

Re­cent im­prove­ments to driv­e­trains, in­clud­ing E85 ethanol fuel com­pat­i­bil­ity, di­rect fuel in­jec­tion and sixspeed auto— plus a flash new dash with hands-free Blue­tooth and au­dio stream­ing as stan­dard— have rewrit­ten Com­modore’s tech­ni­cal re­sume to come up to 21st cen­tury stan­dards.

Around town, the 3.0-litre V6 av­er­ages 12.6 litres/100km in of­fi­cial tests. A big serve of ex­tra grunt in the 3.6-litre V6 SV6 Sportwagon, along with tighter sus­pen­sion, sports seats and other ex­tras, jus­tify its $45,790 ask, and with a city av­er­age of 13.3 litres/100km, you’re not sav­agely pe­nalised at the pump.

De­spite the Com­modore’s ap­peal, Ford’s Mon­deo and the lit­tle-known Skoda Su­perb are the kings of out­right space be­hind the driver’s seat.

Given their size, the fuel econ­omy from their 2.0-litre tur­bod­iesel en­gines is amaz­ing. Start­ing from $36,840, the 120kW, six-speed au­to­mat­ed­man­ual Mon­deo pulls like a train and av­er­ages 7.7 litres/ 100km in town.

The Skoda isVW en­gi­neer­ing with a Czech badge— a lux­ury wagon for half the ex­pected price.

The 125kW six-speed au­to­mated-man­ual Su­perb Am­bi­tion is $43,990, with a city av­er­age of 8.3 litres/100km, and the 118kW 1.8-litre petrol turbo Am­bi­tion, at $40,990, of­fers re­spectable per­for­mance too, av­er­ag­ing 9.7 litres/100km.

In the SUV show­room, Ford’s Ter­ri­tory, from $39,890, is still one of the best size/price/ per­for­mance pack­ages avail­able, es­pe­cially with big dis­counts ahead of the facelifted model. But the all-wheel-drive’s 17.6 litres/100km thirst in town is a big dis­in­cen­tive.

This month a 140kW 2.7-litre V6 tur­bod­iesel en­gine, which av­er­ages 11.6 litres/100km, goes un­der the bon­net as part of an up­grade. It’s worth a test drive.

Kia’s Sorento, a classy, sev­enseater with a bril­liant 2.2-litre, 145kW tur­bod­iesel, starts at $39,999, with a five-year/ un­lim­ited-kilo­me­tre war­ranty. Around town, it av­er­ages 9.5 litres/100km.

The five-seater Subaru Out­back now has enough in­te­rior acreage to keep a reg­u­lar-sized fam­ily happy.

This blue-chip, made-in­Ja­pan SUV starts at $38,490 for the 123kW 2.5-litre petrol (11.5 litres/100km), or $40,490 for a 110kW 2.0-litre tur­bod­iesel, in man­ual only, which av­er­ages a frugal 7.7 litres/100km.

FAM­ILY VIEW Si­mon and Genevieve Ab­bott want a ve­hi­cle with space and com­fort for their sons Felix and Jasper, aged seven and five, but which is also en­joy­able to drive. Kia’s seven-seat Sorento ticks the boxes for Felix and Jasper but their par­ents didn’t like the light steer­ing or the cabin trim. Si­mon liked the Com­modore which has a lot of guts, feels sporty and is very well man­nered on the road. But the Kia was mas­sively bet­ter in per­for­mance, fea­tures and qual­ity than I ex­pected’’.

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