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The market for station wagons is sort of like the typical American male's hairline -- it keeps receding for each year that goes by. Most Americans these days prefer to use minivans, crossovers and SUVs to meet their family hauling needs. As such, most of the choices are in two groups -- inexpensive small wagons on the bottom end and then higher-end wagons from luxury automakers. No matter what you choose, though, today's wagon still has many enviable attributes, including secure handling, respectable fuel economy and plenty of practicality.
Small wagons score high from a practical standpoint -- their small size makes them easy (and sometimes even fun) to drive, yet many offer close to SUV levels of cargo space with their rear seats folded down. For this year's group, our top recommended choice is the Volkswagen Jetta. Though it just barely limbos its way under the price bar for this category, the Jetta delivers what no other small affordable wagon can: a premium driving experience. The Jetta's interior and road manners are a step above, and it's also the only small wagon available with a frugal diesel engine.
For the shopper interested in a small wagon that's more affordable than the Jetta, the Kia Soul is worth a look. This new Kia boasts eye-catching style, a fun-to-drive demeanor and plenty of customization possibility. And, like all other Kias, it's got a great warranty backing it up. If neither of the above choices works for you, other recommended wagons to consider include the versatile Toyota Matrix, the retro-themed Chevrolet HHR and the hip-to-be-square Scion xB.
In terms of popularity for family transportation, mainstream wagons lost out to SUVs and crossovers decades ago. Thankfully, there are still a couple solid choices for shoppers in this segment. Among our staff, the ranking favorite is the Ford Flex. Designed to combine the best attributes of an SUV, minivan and wagon, the Flex offers roomy seating for up to seven passengers, a high-quality interior, upscale features, available all-wheel drive and an exterior shape so boxy it's actually cool. You can even get it with a turbocharged V6 this year.
A more traditional wagon choice with a price under $30,000 would be the Subaru Outback. Fully redesigned this year, the new Outback is bigger, roomier and more powerful. Its exterior styling has taken on a crossoverlike look, but the Outback still offers standard all-wheel drive, decent fuel economy and above-average off-road ability.
Two other midsize wagons worth a look would be the Honda Accord Crosstour and the Volkswagen Passat. The sleekly styled Crosstour, all-new this year, provides more cargo capacity than the Accord sedan upon which it's based. The Passat, meanwhile, is about as traditional a midsize wagon as you'll find, though it still has a premium interior and a peppy-yet-frugal turbocharged engine.
In this segment, you'll typically find luxury automakers' small wagons. Of this group, the all-new Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon is our favorite. Yep, Cadillac is offering a wagon for the first time in its history. Based on the CTS midsize sedan, the sharp-looking wagon variant is available with rear- or all-wheel drive and a choice of two V6 engines. As with the CTS, its high-quality interior can be fitted with many high-tech options, and it also happens to drive better than just about any other crossover SUV you'll come across.
The Audi A4 Avant (Audi-speak for wagon) is another excellent choice thanks to its sleek design, premium cabin materials and standard all-wheel drive. Previously, you also had a choice of a turbocharged four-cylinder or V6 engine, but for 2010 the V6 has been discontinued. Even so, those wanting a wagon with an appealing mix of style and substance won't go wrong with the 2010 A4.
Traditionally, Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz have been the only automakers to offer wagons that cost more than $40,000. For 2010, the list has changed a little, as Mercedes won't be offering a wagon variant of its redesigned E-Class. Even so, our first pick continues to be the midsize BMW 5 Series -- this wagon rewards drivers with exquisite handling, premium cabin furnishings and excellent build quality. Only one trim level, the all-wheel-drive 535i xDrive, is available, and it comes with a turbocharged inline-6 engine.
Audi's wagon, the midsize A6 Avant, is similarly desirable. Though not too many are on the road, this luxury wagon boasts a supercharged 300-hp V6 engine, all-wheel drive and a high-quality cabin. Finally, one other model to consider is the new Lincoln MKT. Based on the Ford Flex, the Lincoln comes with a nicer interior and more premium features.