Thanks to the increasing sales of minivans and crossover SUVs, popularity of the station wagon has dwindled, especially in North America. Like most any other vehicle being made, the design of the wagon has drastically changed as well. They are no longer the stretch-limo-sized max-capacity grocery getters we remember from our childhood. Instead, they’ve become more functional, more economical, and more technological. If you refuse to part with tradition and see minivans as something that only soccer moms drive, here’s a few recommendations on how to choose the best station wagon.

Cargo Capacity

Obviously if you’re in the market for a station wagon, you have a need for space. While wagons don’t provide near the amount of space as their early-model predecessors, there are many that come with features such as fold-down seats, power liftgates, and bi-level storage areas to not only enhance the convenience of storage but diversify it as well. This makes storing odd-shaped objects much easier compared to the hulking early models. Most of the bigger wagons, like the Mercedes-Benz R-Class, Toyota Venza, or the Volvo XC70, will be able to store around 70 to 80 cubic feet of cargo; if you go with something smaller like the Kia Soul you’ll be in the neighborhood of 50 cubes. The average is around the 65-70 cubic feet mark, so if you stay here or above you’ll be maxing your storage capacity.

Powertrain

Normally this wouldn’t be much of a decision to make in terms of choosing a wagon. Most today come with either four- or six-cylinder engines and automatic transmissions (though there are still several manuals available), with several being front-wheel drive. However, there are now some other options to choose from, the first being an alternative fuel option. Audi, BMW, and Volkswagen all offer clean-diesel wagons for those who wish to pull a few extra miles per gallon at the pump. Diesel engines also have a reputation for reliability and longevity. There are several cases of diesel engines running past 400,000 miles. Even though diesel fuel can be slightly more expensive than regular gasoline at times, the added mileage and longevity should make up for the difference.

The other powertrain feature to choose is all-wheel drive. There are currently 18 models of wagon being offered with all-wheel drive from popular manufacturers like Ford, BMW, Mercedes, Subaru, Volvo, and Audi; and it’s a good thing considering the areas where wagons receive most of their popularity are typically covered in snow in the winter. If you’re looking for V8 power, look elsewhere. You may want to check out a large crossover SUV if that’s your need. Your only option for a V8 wagon is the Cadillac CTS-V wagon, and you’ll fork over quite a few coins to get a hold of that one.

Seating

Most wagons are going to seat as many people as your common midsized sedan. Most were built with the thought of creating more cargo capacity than they were seating capacity. But if you’re in need of seating for greater than five, and refuse to part with your added cargo space, there are a couple of options to look into. The Ford Flex offers seating for up to seven and its boxy style leaves it with no shortage of headroom. The Lincoln MKT and both Mercedes wagons, the E-Class and the R-Class, feature a third-row seat, but none of these options are going to go easy on your pocketbook as the Flex is the lowest-priced of them all, starting at $29,200.

Price

Prices for wagons range from $13,300 for the Kia Soul, to $62,165 for the Cadillac CTS-V Wagon. It really all depends on where you want your conveniences. For those looking for a bit of luxury in their wagon, some good choices would be:

2011 Mercedes Benz E-Class          New Model MSRP: $56,200

2011 BMW 5 Series          New Model MSRP: $55,950

2011 Audi A6          New Model MSRP: $53,310

Those wanting economy over flashy gadgetry have the options of some quality choices as well. Ranking among the best are:

2011 Kia Soul          New Model MSRP: $13,300

2011 Volkswagen Jetta Wagon          New Model MSRP: $19,510

2011 Subaru Outback          New Model MSRP: $23,195

The best of the middle of the road, those that offer a touch of luxury as well as affordability are:

2011 BMW 3 Series Wagon          New Model MSRP: $36,200

2011 Audi A4 Wagon          New Model MSRP: $36,300

2011 Cadillac CTS Wagon          New Model MSRP: $38,265

2011 Ford Flex          New Model MSRP: $29,200

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