By Suzanne Kane

Looking for a good used car – perhaps an alternative to that gas-hungry SUV? How about a station wagon, also called sports wagons? Wagons offer better fuel economy than larger SUVs, they have a sedan-like ride and allow for flexible cargo carrying.

Here are 3 top used station wagons to consider. The list is derived from sources such as Consumer Reports, Edmunds.com, Kelley Blue Book (KBB), the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and more, and comprehends reliability data, owner satisfaction, fuel economy, value-for-money, performance, safety and features and amenities.

  • Volvo XC70 (2001 and later) – Although technically competing in the midsize sedan segment, the Volvo XC70 Volvo_XC70(XC stands for Cross Country), has the “sure-footedness of all-wheel-drive, SUV-grade cargo space and a superior reputation,” according to Edmunds.com. Side airbags have been included since the beginning (Volvo XC70 is now in its third generation), and a T6 model with turbocharged 3.0-liter engine arrived in 2008. Editors at Consumer Reports place the 2005 XC70 as a great used car value in the $16,000-$18,000 price range and also hail its added safety features and amenities, addint that XC70 “represents a dwindling breed of utilitarian wagons.” Consumers looking for a used XC70 should consider certified pre-owned cars. If more power is your criteria, check out 2003 and later. But you can’t go wrong with 2001 or 2002 either, as these second-generation XC70s, as long as they have been properly maintained, are great used car values. What’s not to like? Edmunds warns that the “European and premium status of Volvos” can translate into expensive repair bills if there are any problems.
  • Scion XB Wagon (2004 and later) – From Toyota’s youth-oriented Scion division, the Scion xB compact wagon was designed to attract the 18 to 34 year old crowd – and has been very successful in this effort. Although the boxy look may turn off some consumers, the intended market apparently loves it, especially with xB’s high personization. Other pros include hassle-free pricing and the fact that xB can be built to order in about a week. Edmunds recommends xB as “an excellent choice for those who are looking for a well-equipped, safe and versatile small utility vehicle.” Consumer Reports points out the 5-passenger Scion xB’s “enormous backseat, spacious cargo area, easy access and relatively powerful engine… a good alternative to a similarly-priced sedan.” The magazine lists the 2004-2005 xB in best used car values in the $8,000-$10,000 price range and among the most reliable small used cars from 1999 to 2008. The 2009 Scion xB is an IIHS Top Safety Pick. KBB compliments the second-generation xB (introduced in 2008) for its entry-level luxuries such as standard air conditioning, power windows/locks/mirrors, and Pioneer sound system with iPod integration in its top 10 new and used back-to-school rides.
  • BMW 3-Series Sports Wagon (2000 and later) – Look for fourth-generation (the wagon debuted in 2000, a year after the sedan), and fifth-generation (bowing in 2006) for the best used car values in this compact luxury category. Edmunds’ editors hail the fourth-generation BMW 3-Series for “world-class suspension, engines, steering and brakes… a delight to drive.” CNET editors complimented the 2006 BMW 325xi Sports Wagon for “fine performance and all-weather traction, small wagon usefulness, and a complete suite of all-weather electronics,” but added that “Fully optioned, this is a pricey wagon.” Consumer Reports likes the 2009 3-Series wagon’s “agile handling, firm yet supple and controlled ride” and further likes the front seat comfort and fit and finish. Cons include “conrols, cup-holder design, small interior, premium fuel.”

Bottom line when looking for a used station wagon: buy the newest model in your price range, keeping in mind the safety, perfomance, fuel economy and amenities that best suit your needs. Make sure that the wagon you choose has been well maintained and, if possible, buy one that still has a manufacturer’s warranty that can be transferred.

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