As I slipped behind the wheel of my E61 535ix wagon this morning I couldn’t help but think about what Porsche did with the Sport Turismo Concept this past week. It was part brilliance and part guts. But let’s back up for a minute. We’ve long extolled the virtues of the wagon or touring here on BF. They’re the logical choice for the best of both utility and sport. They’re lighter, faster, more efficient and typically way more fun than their crossover brethren.
Yet, they’re dying in the North American market. With the current generation 5 Series, BMW pulled the plug on their full-sized wagon offer for the NA market. While it’s a decision they’ve gone on to publicly regret, the vehicle that replaced it, the 5 Series GT, is selling enough to support their original decision. Yet the 5GT doesn’t raise the pulse of enthusiasts like a real touring even though in its short run it has already eclipsed the sales of the previous generation 5 wagon. Why? In my estimation it’s the look, weight and overall lack of sporting credentials.
How is it that we have manufacturers like Mercedes and Porsche going the opposite direction with wagons by making them sleeker and even sportier than before? Sure they’re meant primarily for the European market, but why can’t the US consumer get behind the more appropriate choice when it comes to buying a car based on utility?
There are surely a handful of reasons (the memory of those awful 70′s and 80′s wagons the big 3 made surely don’t help) but I have to chalk much of it up to BMW and other manufacturers not wanting to spend the money on marketing that would make the American public believe in wagons again. And perhaps not creating the right wagon.
How are Porsche and Mercedes doing it? For one it’s understanding the niche and designing appropriately. What if the next 5 or 3 Series wagon spawned a sleek shooting-brake like car similar to the new CSL wagon. No not a tall, ungainly (yet effective) people mover but something truly exciting to look at? And what if BMW positioned it not as a family vehicle but something more akin to the ultimate GT car. That could get it out of the shadow of the crossover and position it as something new, sexy and impossibly interesting. Basically what Porsche did this week with the Sport Turismo concept.
To BMW’s credit a car like that in the US might be better off in five years anyway. Perhaps wagon scared Baby-Boomers are a lost cause. In five years Gernation Xers could start to generate the appropriate levels of income. And that could create the right demographic, one that might just look at $50,000 and $80,000 wagons in a new light. If BMW was to bring sexy back with a sleek wagon and position it (and market it) correctly, could we see a wagon resurgence? We’d certainly welcome it.