A station wagon, often shortened to just 'wagon,' is a type of vehicle body style that is characterized by a full-height cabin that extends all the way to the rear of the trunk. Beyond the additional rear cargo space created by the design, wagons are similar in appearance to a sedan. In fact, many station wagons are simply modified versions of an automaker's sedan vehicle. For example, the standard Audi A4 body style is a sedan, while the Audi A4 Avant is a wagon.

Station Wagon vs. Hatchback Body Style

Hatchback vehicles are similar in design to wagons, though certain distinctions are evident. While both body styles retain an extended 2-box design, hatchbacks feature a more sloping, gradual height decline in the rear of the vehicle. In comparison, wagons allow for superior cargo space by employing a near vertical drop-off in height at the rear bumper. Another difference between the two body styles is that wagons tend to have side windows over the cargo area, while hatchbacks do not.

Station Wagon vs. SUV Body Style

The definition of a station wagon could also be seen to characterize an SUV or minivan). However, the body styles differ in that the station wagon retains the compactness of a car. Despite this fact, the wagon, SUV and minivan all serve similar purposes (extended seating and cargo area). Because of this, the introduction of the minivan in the 1980s and the rise of the SUV in the 1990s are largely accredited for the decline in popularity of the wagon body style.

Types of Station Wagons

Station wagons have been around almost as long as automobiles have. Originally crafted as commercial vehicles, wagons became popular family cars in the 1920s and 1930s. Since that time, several types of station wagons have emerged. Some of these include:

  • Woodies: early wagons that included a cabin body crafted from wood
  • All-steel wagons: wagons crafted completely from steel became economical in the mid-1940s
  • Full-size wagons: wagons that can seat between six and nine passengers
  • 2-door wagons: more compact wagons with only two doors

Current Popularity of the Station Wagon Body Style

Rising oil prices in the 1970s and popularity of minivans and SUVs in the 1980s and 1990s led to struggling sales of the wagon body style. Because of these factors, the last full-sized American market wagons were discontinued in 1996 (the Buick Roadmaster and Chevrolet Caprice). However, more compact wagons continue to be offered as a viable alternative to larger, more expensive SUVs and minivans. Today, popular wagons currently available in the North American market include the Dodge Magnum, Subaru Forester and Volkswagen Passat Variant.

Station Wagon Proprietary Terms

Many automakers distinguish their station wagon offerings through a proprietary term. Some of these include:

  • Avant (Audi)
  • Touring (BMW)
  • Variant (Volkswagen)
  • Caravan (Opel)
  • Weekend (Fiat)
  • Sportwagon (Alfa Romeo)