Can Design & Performance Bring Wagons Back?

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.

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  • johnparke

    The biggest reason BMW isn’t trying is that they are all about profitablity nowdays. I read somewhere that an X3 is more profitable than a 3 wagon.

    I honestly don’t understand BMW’s logic in terms of which niche they go after.

  • BimmerFile_Michael

    To me this is what makes everything so difficult in my world right now- I am in the lucky situation here in Germany of having the full BMW menu for me to consume, new or used and know some of the road map to the future.

    I love wagons and hatches bc of their increased function and sportier behavior (for the most part) compared to an SAV. I have been toying with the idea of a used E61 M5 wagon, a 330d F31 wagon, or an M135i 5 door- they are all roughly the same amount of money. Operating costs and fun factor are the variables- the F31 M Sport being the least “enthusiast” oriented of course but the most economical and practical.

    Convincing the better half of what I want is really what I need is the tough part- if there was a sportier 3GT shooting brake I would be all over it and there would be no questions asked as it would have the luck and a dialed up sports pack for sure.

  • Adam

    I think its an issue in the US because when you say wagon to an American car buyer a mental picture of an 80’s Buick roadmaster (with wood body trim and blue velour interior) pop into mind. Just like how everyone thinks diesel cars are exactly the same as the late 70’s early 80’s Mercedes diesels, rattle, clatter smoke. On the other hand anyone who’s driven a euro wagon will tell you that its fantastic fun and practicality.

  • Herr26

    In the US it was getting difficult to sell a Touring in a land where the SUV is king. BMW and many other premium manufacturers have had this problem so that when a wagon and an SUV sat alongside in the showroom the customer always went with the wagon and it was purely for more status. As I have said you have seen European premium manufacturers pull their wagons from the US primarily because the customer was taking the SUV instead. The sole survivor of the mid-line premium wagon is the Mercedes-Benz E-Klasse. And from what someone told me @ Paris. Mercedes are not federalizing the updated car because it is being decimated by the in-demand ML and GL-Klasse leaving the BMW F31 3er Touring as the last one standing. But if you look at how BMW have rushed the X1 to the US which is the reason why the facelift was earlier than usual. BMW facelifts are not usually carried out in two years after market introduction , especially a successful one like the X1. The X1 is there to offer customers the exclusive SAV choice ahead of the Touring. Some in Munich have reservations about the F31 and its imminent sales response in the US. Time will tell if the car is successful. If it underperforms it will be pulled by the LCi. By 2017 BMW will have a full-line of SAV’s from their FWD BMW FAST right through to a flagship X7 model. The X7 is purely in response to the decline of the luxury sedan in favour of the SUV in key priority markets where the X7 will provide sustainability for the luxury segment. Which is precisely why concepts from Bentley and Lamborghini have appeared. Whilst a RR SAV might appeal to Rapping and reality TV douchebags who have put Phantom front-ends on US trucks? Surprisingly there is huge resistance within BMW to make a RR SAV with many thinking that a high-end luxury-sport X7 would be more acceptable. An X7 would also fulfill a long term goal for BMW as when BMW owned Land Rover , BMW had planned to take the Range Rover further upmarket with a LWB and a V12. Something the positioning of the new Range Rover illustrates. With the X7 BMW finally get their “Range Rover”. Of course BMW know exactly what the situation is with wagons in markets like the US and are currently working on creating another segment for sportier concepts as equal models to the Gran Coupe series of cars 2er , 4er and 6er. (BMW have now green-lit a four door 1er but using the RWD architecture and sportier 2er model ) Using the term “Gran Sport Tourer” the first model presented is a 6er Gran Tourer and is expected as a concept car. The car is conceived as a lower roofed Touring /Shooting Brake showcasing performance , style, luxury and exclusivity over utility. The 2er GST is when it gets interesting because it is entirely a new concept for the segment. To preview how interesting… BMW design boss Adrian VanHooydunk has a strong admiration for the design freshness and innovation illustrated by Hyundai’s Veloster .

  • que

    I think Cadillac has something to do with the resurgence of the sport wagon. CTS and the V series…

  • Kantcant

    I had a 2006 5-series E61wagon and LOVED it. My favorite car of all time. Fast, fun, functional. I am a Gen-Xer so I have no pathetic baby boomer hang ups when it comes to wagons. When we traded it in there was no choice but to go with the X5. BMW no longer offered the wagon and personally I think GT is hideous and the X6 impractical for my family. The X5 is fine but it never gives me the thrills that 5-series wagon did. The build quality is B+/A- compared to the wagon which was A+. You can just feel the difference between a car made in the states and one made in Germany. PLEASE PLEASE BMW bring back the 5-series wagon by the 2014 model year. And give it enough ground clearance so that I can drive home over pot holes in the city, very fast and precise on the highway, and not bottom out on the dirt roads up to our country house. If its not there in 2014, you will lose the sale of 21 cars, as my two business partners and I always buy the same car and we have 7 more each to purchase until retirement (averaging a new one every 3/4 years)! : )