Whatever you do, don't call the new Honda Element and Suzuki Aerio SX wagons. That unfortunate moniker conjures up images of Beaver Cleaver types pulling little red Radio Flyers on suburban paper routes. Or Nick at Night '60s visions of fake-wood-clad Galaxie Country Squires and Olds Vista Cruisers shuttling between the Dairy Queen and hometown split-levels. And the big nightmare: '80s soccer moms behind the wheel of millions of minivans with juicebox holders and Curious George window stickers.
Whether you're driving, hanging out with friends, or exploring a few new decorating ideas,
Musty wagons are what Mom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, and your Aunt Ethyl got around in. So what do first-time new-car consumers want? How do 16- to 29-year-olds who grew up on Power Rangers action figures see themselves in the auto marketplace? Certainly not in a "Married...with Children" minivan; that's just too sticky. SUVs? Way too expensive, nasty on gas, and who goes off-road anyway? Pickup trucks have a tough edge and a hip functionality, but not much room inside. And the scale is just too mega. What's cool today for a growing percentage of new buyers are inexpensive, fun-to-drive, mostly Japanese-brand small sedans. Easy-revving, fuel-sipping four-cylinder engines and independent suspensions with cat-quick reflexes are the price of entry. Good looks and big tunes are part of the package, too. And if bombing around town is a social experience, then it doesn't hurt that there's stretch-out room for friends and all the cool stuff your friends are into. So it would appear that, at least as far as one market subset is concerned, things are evolving toward the high-roof wagon. There, we said the "W" word. Take a compact or subcompact front-drive sedan, raise the roof and seating position, and add a squarish body with an enclosed cargo area and room for lots of stuff.
If you're getting twinges of deja-vu, that's to be understood. An invasion of Japanese high-roof wagons hit these shores two decades ago, with names like Nissan Stanza wagon, Toyota Tercel wagon (the ubiquitous 24-hour bank-teller machine on wheels), Honda Civic "tall boy" wagon, Dodge Colt Vista, and, later on, the Mitsubishi Expo and LRV. Even the original Honda Odyssey was a compact high-roof wagon of sorts. To a nameplate, all these products prospered for a while, then got clobbered--on the practical side by roomier minivans and on the hunky side by outdoorsy SUVs--and disappeared from the U.S. scene within a few years. But times have changed. And the high-roof wagon is currently the number-one-selling body style in Japan.
What comes around goes around.