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The Rise of the Green Wagon

The late 1990s and early 2000s were the “Super-Size me” era for family vehicles.  Consumers flocked to large SUVs en masse, and carmakers responded with offerings that got bigger and heavier with each passing year.

In recent years though, the bigger-is-better trend has been turned on its head.  Carmakers have adapted to skyrocketing fuel prices by building cars that are lighter, smaller and more fuel-efficient.  Families still want the “utility” of the sport utility vehicles that once dominated the marketplace, but they aren’t willing to sacrifice fuel economy for sake of size alone.

Enter the green wagon.  Today, most carmakers offer some form of extended hatchback hauler with extra cargo space in the rear to accommodate the demands of family life.  In many ways, these cars represent a compromise between the stowing capacity of SUVs and the fuel-saving power of modern sedans.  Here are a few of the standouts.

Toyota Prius V
The Toyota Prius V (shown above) is a larger, extended version of the popular Prius Liftback, which has dominated the hybrid market in the U.S. since its release.  Offering more than 67 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats down—compared to less than 40 cubic feet in the standard Prius—the Prius V is a family car that doesn’t compromise when it comes to fuel economy.  At 44 mpg in the city and 40 on the highway, the V is still one of the most efficient cars on the road.

Subaru XV Crosstrek
Subaru’s long-awaited first hybrid release is the XV Crosstrek wagon.  The Crosstrek provides 22.3 cubic feet of storage with the rear seats up and nearly 51.9 cubic feet with them folded down.  The XV is both more powerful and more fuel-efficient than the non-hybrid Crosstrek, producing 160 horsepower (compared to 148 hp) and 31 mpg combined fuel economy (compared to 28 mpg).  Fuel economy numbers may not be in the same class as the Prius V or Ford C-Max, but neither of those two cars are well-suited to ascend a slick mountain road like a Subaru.

Ford C-Max
The most affordable of the green wagons, the Ford C-Max starts just north of $25,000 and boasts 42 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway.  Critics praise its roomy passenger seating and surprising power and agility—188 horsepower is nothing to sneeze at in this segment. With its rear seats up the C-Max doesn’t offer a ton of cargo space (24.5 cubic feet,) but folded down that figure boosts to 52.6 cubic feet.  The C-Max is only available as a hybrid or plug-in hybrid—although the plug-in Energi version compromises cargo space to make room for a bigger battery pack

Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI
The Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen boasts as much cargo space—both with the seats up and folded—as any other wagon on this list.  Starting at $25,595, the Sportwagen TDI expands to nearly 67 cubic feet of rear storage when it’s needed.  Like all turbodiesels, the Jetta does much better on the highway (42 mpg) than in the city (30 mpg).  Its crisp handling and powerful acceleration make it a joy to drive on the open road.

BMW 328d Wagon
BMW’s Sports Wagon offers a luxury spin on the utilitarian green wagon.  The 328d gets 37 mpg in combined fuel economy (32 mpg city, 45 mpg highway) from its four-cylinder diesel engine, while providing 180 horsepower and 280 pounds-feet of torque.  The xDrive four-wheel-drive version is a little less efficient. At $45,075, the wagon may cost thousands more than its gas-fueled counterpart, the 328i, but in return, drivers get 10 mpg in additional combined fuel economy.  Great fuel efficiency and German engineering is a winning combination.

Article by Brad Berman, appearing courtesy ebay Green Driving.