Finding the Best Station Wagon of 2000

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From the April 2000 problem of Automobile and Driver.

The excellent news for the station-wagon trustworthy is that for 2000, the palette of obtainable two-box nameplates from which to decide on broadens by two to 19. Newcomers this 12 months embody the Saturn L-series, the BMW 323i, the Volvo V40, and the Ford Focus (which replaces the Escort and Mercury Tracer wagons).

It is tempting to suppose the market is lastly listening to us. For years, we have counseled the wagon’s decrease middle of gravity, higher power-to-weight ratio, simpler maneuverability, and inherently extra carlike dealing with conduct relative to minivans and sport-utility automobiles. And wagons can typically match the cargo capability of utes. By our sensible measurements, the typical household wagon (the 4 on this check are the largest you will get today) can carry extra containers, an extended pipe, and an even bigger piece of plywood than can the typical of the final 11 small and mid-size SUVs we have comparison-tested.

However as a lot as we might wish to suppose we have satisfied our fellow motorists to climb down from their high-rise, low-efficiency, view-blocking SUVs and get again on the bottom flooring of dynamic driving take pleasure in­ment, the info recommend in any other case. Wagon gross sales have simply stored tempo with the booming automotive market whereas SUV gross sales proceed to develop with the vigor of fissioning uranium.

Now, different magazines could be con­tent to wring their fingers and pose rhetorical questions on when the dopes shopping for SUVs will clever up and uncover the virtues of the wagon, however not this one. We dig deep to reply even the rhetorical questions.

On this occasion, we figured the easiest way to try this was to load up 4 household wagons and set a course for New Orleans—the epicenter of American voodoo wor­ship and follow—to seek the advice of the ancestral spirits for some definitive solutions. In fact, the truth that N’awlins lays declare to the oldest bar within the U.S., the most effective meals within the South, and a few of the most outra­geous nightlife in Christendom was imma­terial in our alternative of a vacation spot for this winter retreat. Actually.

We final in contrast household wagons in July 1994. Of the six automobiles in that face­-off, three have been discontinued (the wagon variants of the Honda Accord, the Mitsubishi Diamante, and the Toyota Camry). Two have been redesigned—­twice (the Mercury Sable and the Subaru Legacy). The successful VW Passat has been considerably upgraded to share engines and a fundamental suspension design with the Audi A4. And a single newcomer joins the family-wagon phase this 12 months—the Saturn L-series.

So let’s head south to the marshes, bayous, and plantations of Ascension Parish and the bustling boulevards of New Orleans throughout Carnival in quest of the most effective household wagon—by way of our conventional goal and subjective assessments—and a few ethereal prophesying about the way forward for wagoning. Laissez le bon temps rouler!

4th Place: Subaru Legacy Outback Restricted

We might higher admit proper up entrance that this Outback Restricted model, wearing SUV drag with knobby tires, cladding, and jumbo fog lamps, was not our first alternative of Subarus for this check. On this journey, we’re wagon advocates, keep in mind? Loaded to the gills with twin sunroofs, leather-based, an in­-dash CD changer, heated seats, and even heated windshield wipers, this Subaru busted the finances huge time at $27,900. What’s extra, all that luxurious burdened it with a portly 3625-pound curb weight—porkiest on this group. Had a much less opulent, extra sporting $24,190 GT wagon been out there—particularly ­with a handbook transmission—the outcomes may need been completely different.


HIGHS: Quiet, inflexible physique construction; luxurious appointments.
LOWS:
Inadequate energy and rear-seat house, poor dealing with from high-rise suspension.
VERDICT:
The right rig for households that all the time take holidays within the rain or snow.


For 2000, a relatively delicate restyling job belies larger adjustments beneath the Legacy’s pores and skin. The construction has been beefed up, with particular consideration paid to side-impact safety. Two beams now reinforce every entrance door, and the rear wheel-arch construction is fortified, as are the B-pillars. Unibody reinforcements imply the brand new wagon resists bending twice in addition to the outdated one, which interprets to an exceptionally rattle- and shake-free journey.

Adjustments to the flat-four engine are equally deceiving. Though it produces almost the identical peak output as final 12 months’s engine (165 horsepower and 166 pound-feet of torque) from the identical 2.5 liters, the engine is all-new. Its single-overhead-cam design is extra compact and extra gas environment friendly and is alleged to crank out extra low-end and part-throttle efficiency than its DOHC predecessor. That could be true, but it surely’s not sufficient to beat the friction and rotational inertia of the usual all-wheel drive and that scale-pegging curb weight. A pair extra cylinders or a turbo or each are urgently wanted.

On the observe, the Sube ran simply forward of the 155-hp Taurus, reaching 60 mph in a leisurely 10.7 seconds. Passing requires superior planning, and momentum conservation turns into the order of the day.

Exacerbating the weak straight-line efficiency in a check that by no means ventured off-road had been the Outback’s sport-ute-pretender underpinnings. The suspension is raised, and taller P225/60HR-16 Firestone Wilderness tires are fitted to supply 7.3 inches of floor clearance (an inch extra daylight than tarmac-only Legacys). This setup offers commendable journey isolation over sharp impacts however ends in extra fore-and-aft pastime horsing over dips within the highway, extra physique roll, and peculiar conduct in transient maneuvers. There’s some imprecision because the tire tread blocks lean in curves, and the physique rolls noticeably earlier than taking a set. We expect the GT’s 205/55R-16s would work higher right here.

Our Subaru fell quick in a single different space of maybe larger significance to the vacationing household. The rear seat, which thoughtfully offers headrests and shoulder belts for 3, lacks head and shoulder room for 3 youngsters. Nixing the twin sunroofs would assist.

On the plus aspect, the cargo maintain ranks common on this group by most of our measurements, and the bags rack is the one one to supply crossbars with accent mounting factors. The Legacy wagon additionally felt extraordinarily refined and well-built—solely the Volkswagen was quieter on the freeway.

Put merely, the Outback simply is not our type of wagon. But when its SUV-like lure­pings idiot anybody into selecting it over an Explorer, we’ll endorse it heartily.

2000 Subaru Legacy Outback Restricted
165-hp flat-4, 4-speed computerized, 3625 lb
Base/as-tested worth: $26,590/$27,900
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 10.7 sec
1/4 mile: 18.0 sec @ 76 mph
100 mph: 36.1 sec
Braking, 70­–0 mph: 184 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.75 g
C/D noticed gas financial system: 24 mpg

third Place: Ford Taurus SE

That is as shut as any car involves the station wagons of the Donna Reed and Brady Bunch eras. The Taurus and its Sable sibling at the moment are the one center­-class household wagons to supply a 3rd rear­-facing seat, and thus passenger seating for eight. Our Taurus was the longest and widest automotive on this check, and never surprisingly, it provided probably the most house for carrying pas­sengers and cargo.

It hauls 81 cubic toes of stuff with the rear seats folded down (only one cubic foot lower than an Explorer holds). It has the longest and most helpful roof-top baggage rack. The rear glass opens independently of the liftgate for loading grocery sacks. And when not in use, the effectively the place the third seat stows can be utilized as a lockable storage space. The one hitch is a cargo shade that is mounted so low above the ground that something taller than 11.5 inches makes a bulge in it. (Shades within the different vehicles provide 4 to eight extra inches of clearance.)


HIGHS: Runaway winner within the cargo-hauling contest, equally excessive marks for security and worth.
LOWS: Noisy engine comes up quick on efficiency, rear bench belongs in a park.
VERDICT: The wagoniest wagon of the bunch.


Additionally racking up huge family-value factors is the Taurus’s security document. In 1999, it was the one mid-size automotive to obtain a prime five-star ranking for each the motive force and front-seat passenger in authorities crash assessments. And for 2000, “sensible airbags” that tailor their inflation price and drive to the dimensions and place of the occupant have been added, together with seatbelt preten­sioners and drive limiters.

Among the many different revisions made to the brand new Taurus are bigger and brighter headlamps, new sheetmetal (aside from the doorways), and tweaks to the steering and chassis to enhance directional stability. The chassis work was effectively well worth the effort. This massive wagon has not been reborn as nimble and tossable, however it’s now communicative and well-behaved, going exactly the place it’s pointed with modest and tolerable physique roll and completely no surprises. Its giant dimension and lowest-in-test grip (0.74 g) brought about it to run the lane change extra slowly than the opposite vehicles, but it surely negotiated the cones with larger ease and poise than the next-best Subaru.

The place the Ford comes up quick is in efficiency, refinement, and seat com­fort. Right here once more, our vehicle-availability juju allow us to down, as the one Taurus we may lay our fingers on got here with the low-­tech 155-hp Vulcan pushrod V-6. The smoother 200-hp Duratec DOHC six would have added simply $695 to the value­—that is $200 lower than the value of the leather-based seats (an admittedly helpful choice for spill cleanup in a household automotive, now that vinyl is taboo).

Saddled with the poorest power-to­-weight ratio, the Taurus completed final in all of the drag-racing classes. It lumbered to 60 mph in 10.9 seconds, accompanied by a rough growl and vibration felt by the steering wheel and the elective adjustable pedals. Vibrations additionally rippled by the chassis when traversing tough roads, all of which conspired with a relatively plasticky-looking sprint to present the Ford a relatively low-rent really feel.

The opposite egregious misstep includes seating consolation, particularly in again, the place occupants discover themselves on a tough, flat raised bench. And people carry-over doorways imply that adults driving again there nonetheless get an eyeful of C-pillar after they look to the aspect.

The Taurus can carry extra journey toys and diversions, however comfier seats and higher driving dynamics would possibly make mother and father and youngsters comfortable touring with a bit much less within the subsequent two wagons.

2000 Ford Taurus SE
155-hp V-6, 4-speed computerized, 3521 lb
Base/as-tested worth: $20,450/$23,320
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 10.9 sec
1/4 mile: 18.1 sec @ 76 mph
100 mph: 44.3 sec
Braking, 70­–0 mph: 196 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.74 g
C/D noticed gas financial system: 23 mpg

2nd Place: Saturn LW2

Saturn’s new “giant” sedan and wagon sequence is loosely based mostly on the European Opel Vectra, and on this check, that Euro her­itage expressed itself as exuberant perfor­mance. Our upmarket LW2 model’s stan­dard 182-hp, 3.0-liter V-6 (the LW1 will get a 137-hp, 2.2-liter four-cylinder) simply powered this, the lightest automotive within the check at 3249 kilos, to victory in almost all our acceleration assessments. It dashed to 60 mph in 7.8 seconds and thru the quarter-mile in simply 16.0 seconds at 87 mph, its four-­velocity computerized snapping off {smooth} shifts faster than Bourbon Avenue balcony boys can toss a necklace to a flashing passerby. The Passat nipped on the Saturn’s heels within the standing-start assessments, however the LW2’s quick-witted gearbox helped widen the efficiency hole within the passing and street-start contests.

Saturn additionally aced the lateral-grip check, with 205/65HR-15 Firestone Affinity HP tires that held on for 0.79 g. The LW2 was praised for its typically sprightly, dynamic conduct, however its chassis couldn’t fairly match that of the Passat for poise and finesse. Stiff anti-roll bars on the Saturn resulted in additional pronounced head toss over one-wheel dips. In fast transient maneuvers such because the lane change, the LW2 was extra prone to step out within the rear, giving the VW a virtually 6-mph advan­tage in that check. And the Saturn’s strut-­entrance suspension transmits a little bit of torque steer if the wheel is rotated in any respect with the hammer down.


HIGHS: Keen boy-racer drivetrain, good seats and cargo house.
LOWS: Saturn-familiar styling and panel matches, noisy engine.
VERDICT: Devotees of the marque shall be greater than glad.


In and out, the LW2 ranked second in dimension and hauling capability. With the rear seats folded flat, it could actually settle for 71 cubic toes of dunnage—one dice lower than can a Jeep Grand Cherokee. Passenger house entrance and rear falls inside one cubic foot of the bigger Taurus, and the rear seat is cause­ably snug, providing good thigh assist regardless of its decrease seating place relative to the opposite wagons right here.

Saturn wins one other gold star within the worth class. Our cloth-upholstered model with anti-lock brakes and traction management price a powerful $22,890, and it is exactly the Saturn we might order. Skip the $1095 leather-based package deal (its entrance buckets are much less snug) and the $220 premium audio system, considered one of which is on the ground of the cargo space, the place it may simply accumulate dust and grit.

Mitigating the robust worth ranking, nevertheless, is the LW2′ s shortage of options and facilities and its low ranges of refine­ment. That strong-performing engine, discovered elsewhere beneath the hoods of the Cadillac Catera and Saab 9-5 SE, feels as if it had been bolted on to the body. It vibrates the automotive at idle, and it initiatives its voice clearly by the firewall at an disagreeable quantity. A number of wind and highway noise penetrate the cabin, too, rising fatigue on cross-country treks. And as with the smaller S-series Saturns, the plastic physique panels are connected with a lot of room to develop within the warmth, which means that within the winter a nutria (see glossary) may prac­tically squeeze by the door gaps.

Reliability, practicality, and worth have lengthy been hallmarks of the Saturn model, and its disciples will really feel proper at house on this new model (they most likely will not even discover the noise and the panel gaps).

2000 Saturn LW2
182-hp V-6, 4-speed computerized, 3249 lb
Base/as-tested worth: $21,800/$22,890
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 7.8 sec
1/4 mile: 16.0 sec @ 87 mph
100 mph: 21.8 sec
Braking, 70­–0 mph: 186 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.79 g
C/D noticed gas financial system: 22 mpg

1st Place: Volkswagen Passat GLS V-6

All proper, right here we go once more­—sure, this $27,880 V-6 Passat is dear, and on this firm, it clearly appears to be like prefer it’s slum­ming, down for a go to from the genuine-wood class. We requested a base Passat GLS powered by the feisty little 150-hp, 1.8-liter turbo priced at $22,525 to start out, however solely the new-for-2000 2.8-liter 30-valve V-6 was out there.


HIGHS: Bucks-up match, end, and chassis finesse.
LOWS: Bucks-up worth.
VERDICT: Rear-seat consolation and cargo capability meet a household’s wants, driving dynamics will delight the fanatic.


That engine provides $2600 to the value, and mated to the $1075 five-speed computerized transmission, it generates velvety-smooth and quiet acceleration from any velocity. It takes 8.0 seconds to hit 60 mph, about twice that for the quarter-mile. These numbers are inside a half-second of the 1.8-liter Passat wagon we examined in November 1998 (with a handbook transmis­sion). That signifies that even when we might gotten the automotive we requested for, the Passat’s ending order on the drag strip wouldn’t have modified. (Its gas financial system may need been higher, too. Over our 400-mile journey, the V-6 Passat gulped premium on the abysmal price of 20 mpg.) That base automotive additionally runs on the identical excellent Audi A4-derived chassis, with the identical multilink entrance and trailing-arm rear suspension that presses the tires to the tarmac with unmatched preci­sion. The identical laser-accurate, frictionless steering that communicates each nuance of road-surface information. The identical Continental 195/65HR-15 tires that generate modest grip (0.76 g right here) in stoic silence. Our Passat sailed by the emergency lane change with out drama at 62.7 mph, feeling as if the gates had widened by a minimum of two toes.

Out in the true world, the Passat’s exceptionally inflexible chassis absorbs bumps and imperfections quietly and with no intestine­-jiggling repercussions. Freeway miles slip by in close to silence at 70 mph, with only a 67 or 68 dBA whisper—and that is with both engine.

And the Passat acquits itself effectively within the people- and stuff-hauling classes as effectively. Regardless of being the shortest automotive within the group, measuring 13.8 inches shorter than the Taurus, its upright greenhouse makes probably the most of inside house. With the seats up, it matches the Taurus’s 39 cubic toes of cargo capability; the rear seat is 5 cubic toes smaller, however vertical C-pillars and the massive, sq. home windows make it feel and look larger than the Taurus, which accounts for its first-place rating within the rear-seat consolation class. (Prime marks within the styling column additional vindicate the selection made relating to greenhouse form.) The rear doorways additionally open wider for simpler entry. Alas, when the seat are folded down, the Passat’s smaller dimension can now not be disguised—the max capability is 56 cubic toes, the smallest within the group.

Including to the impression that this automotive is visiting from the subsequent rung up on the status ladder are the Passat’s spectacular construct high quality and luxurious touches, equivalent to free scheduled upkeep for 2 years or 40,000 miles and a 10-year/100,000-mile restricted powertrain guarantee.

We agreed unanimously that Volks­wagen’s newest Passat makes probably the most artic­ulate argument for purchasing a wagon relatively than any of the extra cumbersome hauling units, no matter which engine is specified. And for the SUV trustworthy hooked on all-wheel drive, VW’s new 4Motion system will quickly be out there on V-6 computerized fashions, priced at simply $1650.

As we headed house from sunny New Orleans, belching day-old Cajun spices and nursing Hurricane hangovers, we had been satisfied of the veracity of Priestess Miriam’s prophesy: “Station wagons will return!”

2000 Volkswagen Passat GLS V-6
190-hp V-6, 5-speed computerized, 3382 lb
Base/as-tested worth: $25,125/$27,880
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 8.0 sec
1/4 mile: 16.2 sec @ 87 mph
100 mph: 22.0 sec
Braking, 70­–0 mph: 187 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.76 g
C/D noticed gas financial system: 20 mpg

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