Evolution of Style

Is this just a station wagon?
In the world of personal style and fashion it seems that many times there are no new ideas. While the classics never change much and never go out of style, anything that seems new and cutting edge likely isn’t, it’s just been tweaked and relabeled. Considering how much the automobile appeals to our sense of personal style one could make the argument that there are no new ideas in this area either.

Cars such as the pickup truck and sedan are always top sellers and always fill a need for practicality and style so they have not changed much over the years. People have always wanted the things that a pickup truck offers, and the sedan we are all used to is likely to never change. Think of any sports car that is on the market, that is one platform with universal appeal that nobody dare tamper with. The best example of style evolution in the automotive world is the station wagon.

Many would say that with the exception of a few European models, the station wagon disappeared long ago when GM quit building the three seat behemoths that used to sell in abundance back in the 80’s. Nearly every manufacturer sold a wagon version of every sedan that was in their lineup. The station wagon met the needs of those that needed a bit of extra capacity for hauling more people and more of their stuff. In Europe they are still very fond of the station wagon, or the “estate” as it is called in the U.K. To the Europeans the wagon represents the only way to maximize overall utility without reducing fuel economy.
1984 Dodge Caravan.

In the mid eighties the Chrysler Corporation invented the minivan and the style evolution really began. The Dodge Caravan and the Plymouth Voyager became so ubiquitous amongst the child rearing, baby boomers that any family that was any family had one. Ford quickly followed with the Aerostar and Chevrolet came out with the Astro. The Japanese and Europeans also followed suit.

The station wagon became a second class citizen as these new minivans began to proliferate. The minivan became trendy and with good reason: they had a new style that was much more appealing than the full-size vans and they held more people and things than the average minivan. Some of the early minivan offerings were truck based so they could haul heavier loads than a station wagon and could even be used for towing. The minivan was all the rage by 1990.

The Chevy Astro was the first attempt at a minivan from
Chevrolet. It was a true minivan because it was very truck-like.
As the years rolled on and everyone with any kids had a minivan of some sort, the trendiness began to wear off as people started looking for the next great styling statement. At this point the sport utility vehicle was becoming much more driver friendly than it had typically been, and all of the auto manufacturers began to offer models with four doors and extra seating.

The Ford Explorer hit the market and started selling like mad. The public figured that if it was tough enough to be used to chase dinosaurs in Jurassic Park then they needed one for themselves. Considering that the SUV was rugged looking, great in the snow, and offered towing capacities that the minivans couldn’t, people began to take notice and the SUV craze became intense by the late 90’s. This meant that the minivan was the new nerd mobile just as the station wagon had become years earlier.

The problem was, and still is, that to most people the SUV just isn’t very nice to drive on a daily basis. Truck frames, heavy-duty drivetrains, and four-wheel-drive systems just don’t lend themselves to comfortable driving and crisp handling. Auto manufacturers, ever adapting form and function to the changing demands of the auto buying public, figured out a way to make the SUV handle more like a minivan, but without giving it the dowdy looks of the minivan. They came up with what we call the cross-over utility vehicle or the CUV.

The cross over is a major compromise, and as such it loses the qualities of the minivan and the qualities of the SUV. Since it is not good for off-road use and not very good for towing, SUV purists have no use for them. The CUV cannot haul as many people or their stuff as comfortably as the minivan so for the purely practical family, the CUV is useless. In spite of these shortcomings the CUV is a big seller and appeals to a very wide range of people. Most people don’t have any interest in off-road adventures and most people are not as practical as someone who insists on a minivan.

The Ford Flex is just a station wagon and if anyone says
different then they probably own one.
Today the next step in this automotive evolution is upon us and after close examination it is obvious that we have gone full circle. Because CUVs still are not that car like in their comfort and handling, they have changed yet again. Some of them are now lower to the ground than they have ever been, and they are being sold more and more without the option of all-wheel-drive. They still have a high amount of interior space and they still have things like three rows of seating. Some good examples of this next stage of style evolution are vehicles like the Toyota Venza, Ford Flex, or the BMW X3.

Quite often these vehicles are still referred to as CUVs but let’s face it, they’re station wagons. They are based on sedans, they lack off road capability, they have a rear hatch over the cargo area instead of a trunk, and they are not particularly good for towing.

If you tell someone who owns one of these new generation CUVs that it is a station wagon, they will quickly correct you and tell you that the vehicle they have is much nicer or sportier than a station wagon. The answer to this is, of course they are. We haven’t seen any “station wagons” in 20 years. If you were to take a Chevrolet Caprice wagon from the early nineties and give it a more evolved style with modern features, you would have the CUVs of today.
Honda Accord Cross-Tour. Not an SUV, not a cross-over,
not a minivan. It's a station wagon.

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