There was a time, not too long ago, when brand new station wagons languished on dealer storage lots all over the country. But these things go in cycles; wagons have made a comeback. You may not have realized many of the best cheap station wagons are in fact—wagons. This is because they’ve been marketed as everything but. Small Crossover SUV is the term most often applied, but make no mistake about it. If it’s based on a car and has four doors and a rear hatch, it qualifies as a wagon. As for the cheap part, given the median purchase price is around $30,000 these days, we figure anything priced to sell below that figure qualifies as, uh, inexpensive.
All-new for the 2014 model year, the Fiat 500L, while seemingly based on the spunky little Fiat 500 Coupe, is in fact a considerably larger automobile. If European style with a quirky nature intrigue you, the Fiat 500L has all of the above. Power comes from a 160-horsepower, 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 180 ft-lbs of torque. A six-speed manual transmission feeds the front wheels as standard equipment, but a six-speed automated manual is offered as an option. Combined fuel economy is rated at 28 mpg with the manual, 27 with the automated transmission. Other standard features include keyless entry, power accessories, and air-conditioning. Maximum cargo capacity is 68 cubic feet. Pricing starts at $19,195.
Ford’s Flex inspires considerable discussion as to just which category it fits. Some say it’s a wagon, many say it’s a crossover SUV; others make the case for a minivan. Power comes from a 3.5-liter V6 making 287 horsepower and 254 ft-lbs of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission is the standard offering. Fuel economy is rated at 20 miles per gallon combined. Standard equipment includes heated mirrors, automatic headlights, rear parking sensors, and cruise control. Flex also offers all-wheel drive and a more powerful 365-horsepower engine as options. However, to stay under the price cap, you’ll have to do without. Max cargo capacity is 83 cubic feet. Pricing starts at $29,015
Ford C-Max Hybrid
For those more concerned about potentially high fuel prices and the environment, Ford offers the C-Max Hybrid wagon. The hybrid powertrain consists of a 2.0-liter normally aspirated four-cylinder engine and a continuously variable transmission paired with an electric motor to produce a total system output of 188 horsepower to feed the front wheels. Standard features include alloy wheels, keyless entry, automatic headlights, blind spot mirrors, cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control, and Ford’s Sync voice command system; plus Bluetooth telephony and audio streaming, The EPA says 40 mpg combined for the C-Max hybrid’s powertrain. Maximum cargo capacity is 52.6 cubic feet. Pricing starts at $24,170.
Kia’s best selling model proves a station wagon can enjoy healthy sales—as long as you don’t tell anyone it’s a wagon. The base Soul is fitted with a 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder engine with 130 horsepower and 118 ft-lbs of torque. A six-speed manual transmission with hill-start assist is standard equipment. A six-speed automatic is available too. A 164-horsepower, 2.0-liter four with 151 ft-lbs of torque is also offered, but only with the six-speed automatic transmission. Maximum cargo capacity is 61 cubic feet. Fuel economy is rated at 26 miles per gallon combined for both of the engines. Standard features include power accessories, heated exterior mirrors, and a tilt and telescoping steering wheel with audio controls. Pricing starts at $15,100.
MINI Cooper Countryman
Thanks to its unexpectedly roomy back seat, the MINI Cooper Countryman transports five adults while holding on to that distinctive MINI flavor of cool. If style is important to you, the Countryman may well be what you’re looking for. Power comes from a 1.6-liter inline four with 121 horsepower and 114 ft-lbs of torque. Both the manual and automatic transmissions are six-speeds and feed the front wheels. EPA says 31-mpg overall with the manual, 27 with the automatic. Cooper S Countryman gets 181 horsepower and 177 ft-lbs of torque from turbocharging the 1.6-liter four. Standard features include push-button ignition, Bluetooth connectivity, automatic wipers, automatic headlights, and automatic climate control. Max cargo capacity is 42.2 cubic feet. Pricing starts at $22,750.
While the reboot of the Scion xB may have diminished its cool points, the fact remains the wagon is one of the most utilitarian offerings on the market. That boxy shape makes it excel at interior capacity, and a generous array of features means you don’t have to make a lot of trim-level choices to buy it. Power comes from a 158-horsepower, 2.4-liter four with 162 ft-lbs of torque. The front-drive powertrain employs a five-speed manual transmission as standard, but a four-speed automatic is available. EPA estimates 24 mpg combined—with either transmission. Standard features include full power accessories, air conditioning, cruise control, Bluetooth, and a touchscreen interface. Maximum cargo capacity is rated at 70 cubic feet. Pricing starts at $17,740.
A great choice for an active family into lots of outdoor recreation, Subaru’s Outback offers better than average off road capabilities and yet it is also a very comfortable way to go about daily driving. Power comes from a 2.5-liter, horizontally opposed four-cylinder making 175 horsepower and 174 ft-lbs of torque feeding all four wheels through a continuously variable transmission. Fuel economy is rated at 28 mpg combined. There is also a 3.6-liter flat six capable of feeding 256 horsepower and 247 ft-lbs of torque through a CVT, also to all four wheels (22-mpg combined). Standard equipment includes full power accessories, cruise control, air conditioning, Bluetooth, and a touchscreen interface. Max cargo capacity is 73.3 cubic feet. Pricing starts at $24,895.
Toyota Prius V
The Toyota Prius of station wagons brings excellent resale value, a strong reputation for reliability, a hybrid powertrain, and a roomy interior to the game. As such, it’s a formidable competitor. Power comes from a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine teamed with two electric motors, and is routed to the front wheels through a continuously variable transmission. Total system output is 134 horsepower and 153 ft-lbs of torque. Fuel economy is rated at 42 mpg combined. Standard equipment includes keyless entry and start, automatic climate control, heated mirrors, Bluetooth hands-free telephony and audio streaming, cruise control, sliding and reclining rear seats, and a fold flat front passenger seat. Maximum cargo capacity is 60.3 cubic feet. Pricing starts at $26,675.
Like Ford’s Flex, there’s considerable disagreement whether Toyota’s Venza fits into the wagon category. The Venza’s base engine is a 181-horsepower, 2.7-liter four-cylinder with 182 ft-lbs of torque. A six-speed automatic feeds its power to the front wheels. Fuel economy is rated at 22-mpg combined. Standard features include automatic headlights, dual-zone automatic climate control, a touchscreen interface, a rearview camera, and heated exterior mirrors. You’ll also find Bluetooth, voice activation, and a power adjustable driver’s seat. For the record, all-wheel drive and a V6 engine are available, but choosing either of them pushes the price above our $30,000 cap. Maximum cargo capacity is 70.2 cubic feet. Venza pricing starts at $28,915.