There's been a steady europeanization of the American automotive scene. Just look at the new Ford Fiesta, a subcompact that has wowed the Old World and made it across the Atlantic with most of its mojo intact. Or the fact that the likes of Audi and Mercedes-Benz continue to post record U.S. sales, even in an economy more familiar with the word "crapper" than many before it. So might it be time to bring that great European car style-the sport wagon-back in from the cold? It's too good to be ignored by the many and only embraced by a contrarian few. With a killer combination of exhilarating performance and handy practicality, it really is a modern-day conundrum why American drivers find it so hard to get into a sport wagon. The case in favor starts here.
Volvo 1800 ES
The P1800 Coupe, from which the 1800 ES is derived, is undeniably pretty and arguably the most beautiful car Volvo has ever produced. Good bones, then, forming a foundation for the three-door version that came out in 1972. That rear door was a frameless, all-glass item that revealed a highly usable cargo space. The 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine only developed 125 hp, but that didn't matter when the rest of the package was so cool in that Scandinavian way. Today, tidy examples are rare and collectible, because only 8,000 or thereabouts were made. Pity. It's probably not possible to determine exactly who invented the sport wagon, but if Volvo staked a claim, it might be wise not to dispute it.
Volvo V50 T5
Glory be, the V50 T5 is currently on sale in the U.S. for $33,050. It has a 2.5-liter inline five-cylinder engine with a turbocharger making 227 hp. Not that hard to do, but at least its 236 lb-ft of torque comes on song as low as 1500 rpm, and the drive goes to all four wheels. So that's a pleasant amount of low-end push with more than enough traction to exploit it, with or without a substantial piece of antique furniture in the back. Having a turbo means some potential for upping the boost and getting more power out of it, and the V50 is smaller than the V70, yet still exceptionally convenient.
Audi RS 6 Avant
Oh, for goodness sake, what's so bad about a 580-hp, 5.0-liter twin-turbo V10 (we say again, a V10; again, 580 hp) in a handsome, useful package that makes it not worthwhile for Audi to import it to the States? Zero to 62 mph in 4.6 seconds, a tenth quicker than a Porsche 911 Carrera (997); top speed 180 mph; all-wheel drive plus a pugnacious 480 lb-ft of torque, tempered by optional carbon-ceramic brakes, equals fun for all the family. Shame that a 2010 RS 6 Avant would cost around $150,000, but did we mention it has a V10? Imagine how good that would sound in the canyons.
Granted, the RS2 has been mentioned once or twice on the preceding pages, but when something is this good, a little revisiting is no bad thing. An Audi 80 Avant gone wild, what the RS2 represented was a raising of the game. By getting Porsche on board, it really emphasized the sport side of the equation and gave Audi some serious enthusiast credibility at a time when the warm glow of the Ur-Quattro was fading somewhat. It also saw the first use of an RS badge on an Audi and even though 315 hp from a 2.2-liter five-cylinder turbocharged engine sounds a little tame these days, hitting 60 mph from standstill in 4.8 seconds still seems rather delicious.
Jaguar XF Wagon
Assuming the Mayans are wrong about the end of the world and we get to see the other side of 2012, we will also see a mid-life revamp of the Jaguar XF. Those in the know (about Jaguar, not Mayans) are predicting that it will get a grille inspired by the XJ. (Funny, wasn't the XJ's look inspired by the XF? Car designers are a tricky bunch.) And word has it that a new model will then join the ranks. Yes, a wagon version. And given that there's a 470-hp supercharged V8 version of the sedan, logic suggests the same option for the 2013 five-door. There is a precedent for trunkless Jags. Back in the 1970s and through the '80s, a British coachbuilder called Lynx made an XJS estate/shooting brake affair, which it dubbed the Eventer (to appeal to the well-heeled horsey crowd). Even though it looked a little awkward, the design did away with those flying buttress pillars that usually impeded rearward visibility. Unfortunately, build quality was of a similar poor standard as most other British automotive products of the time.