It’s always baffled me as to why station wagons never found much popularity over here. To most “car people”, a wagon is the best choice if they were looking for the perfect all-rounder car – practical, relatively rare (this is important because most petrolheads are insufferably snobbish), less obnoxious than a monster SUV, and crucially, with car-like handling.
But at the same time, I can also see why station wagons aren’t popular here. Perhaps it’s because most wagons of yore tend to resemble hearses, and such practical cars (that isn’t an SUV) project a terribly dreary image.
However, the modern station wagon is a different prospect altogether, and in some cases, can even look sleeker than their saloon counterparts. This is particularly true in the case of the Mazda 6 Wagon on test here. As for not looking dreary, there’s a crossover-y vibe to Subaru’s latest Outback (essentially a jacked-up Legacy), what with its matte black cladding and raised ride height.
As for what both cars are like to drive, well, it’s exactly how you would imagine them to based on the way they look.
I’ve always been a big fan of the way the Mazda 6 looks, and in Wagon form, I’m even more smitten – especially the gentle wave at the shoulder line that tapers gently towards the rear and wraps around the tailgate, giving it an air of supercar-esque swoopiness.
I think the Mazda 6 Wagon looks best when viewed from the side, the extended glasshouse lending more coherence to the overall design. I almost get the feeling Mazda’s designers styled the Wagon first, with the saloon done as an afterthought.
That may be subjective, but the way the Mazda 6 Wagon conducts itself isn’t. It handles in an identical fashion to the saloon, with tautly controlled body movements, a well-damped ride, keen steering and the ability to “shrink” the harder I push it.
But then, the Wagon’s handling prowess isn’t too surprising, because against the saloon, it’s 65mm shorter from bumper to bumper and a paltry 11kg heavier (4800mm and 1524kg respectively).
The only chink in the 6 Wagon’s handling armour is how its 2.5-litre engine doesn’t really match up to the chassis. The motor is certainly powerful enough (boasting 187bhp and 250Nm), and it’s frugal as well (it’ll return a claimed 15.2km per litre), but its reedy engine note and flat power delivery leave much to be desired.
As an added bonus, the 6 Wagon gets 84 litres more boot space than the saloon (522 litres versus 438 litres), which is a significant amount on paper, but in real life, it’s even better – the 6 Wagon is blessed with a far larger loading aperture, with the ability to fit awkwardly shaped items (such as bicycles and furniture) with ease.
Practical though the Mazda 6 Wagon may be, if it’s outright space you’re after, then Subaru’s latest Outback would be a better choice, with its 560-litre boot. And with its more upright stance and elevated driving position, the Outback has better all-round visibility.
While the Outback has a marginally shorter wheelbase against the 6 Wagon (2745mm versus 2750mm), the taller glasshouse of the Subaru gives its cabin a more airy feel compared to the Mazda, which can feel a little claustrophobic, no thanks to its sloping roofline.
Unfortunately, the price to pay for the Outback’s increased practicality is how it doesn’t stack up too well against the 6 Wagon in the handling department. Its tall stance has a negative impact on agility, certainly, but I have a bigger beef with its vague helm and equally vague CVT.
Not helping the Outback’s cause is how it weighs 1580kg. And while its all-wheel-drive system provides plenty of grip, it’s more ponderous than the 6 Wagon on turn-in, to say nothing of its numbingly average 10.2 seconds zero-to-100km/h time.
Regardless of whether you’re of a sporty or practical bent, you’ll be glad to know that both cars have a healthy amount of kit. Both estates come with a touchscreen infotainment system (though the Subaru has the prettier, larger screen), Bluetooth telephony and cruise control as standard.
On the equipment front, the 6 Wagon has an edge over the Outback due to its Bose audio system and satellite navigation system. On the other hand, you are paying more for the car – it’s priced at $172,888, which is a hefty $12,888 premium over the Subaru.
So, perhaps, choosing between the pair might come down to which one is less detrimental to your bank account.
But the bigger question is: Will their myriad charms tempt buyers away from SUVs?
Well, that question might be more difficult to answer, but as great do-it-all cars, these station wagons have managed to win me over, at least.
Mazda 6 Wagon 2.5 (A)
ENGINE 2488cc, 16-valves, inline-4
MAX POWER 187bhp at 5700rpm
MAX TORQUE 250Nm at 3250rpm
POWER TO WEIGHT 122.7bhp per tonne
GEARBOX 6-speed automatic with manual select
0-100KM/H 8.2 seconds
TOP SPEED 218km/h
CONSUMPTION 15.2km/L (combined)
CO2 EMISSION 155g/km
PRICE INCL. COE $172,888 (no CEVS rebate/surcharge)
Subaru Outback 2.5 (A)
ENGINE 2498cc, 16-valves, flat-4
MAX POWER 175bhp at 5800rpm
MAX TORQUE 235Nm at 4000rpm
POWER TO WEIGHT 110.8bhp per tonne
GEARBOX CVT with 8-speed override
0-100KM/H 10.2 seconds
TOP SPEED 210km/h
CONSUMPTION 12.9km/L (combined)
CO2 EMISSION 177g/km
PRICE INCL. COE $160,600 (no CEVS rebate/surcharge)