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Dear Kelley Blue Book: In Search of an Affordable Station Wagon

With over 300 new models in Canadian showrooms, it can sometimes be challenging to nail down the vehicle that meets your needs and wants. If you are in the market for a new car, truck or SUV with specific requirements, drop us an email at Dear Kelley Blue Book [KBBSupport@coxautoinc.com] about your new vehicle requirements to get unbiased car-buying advice.



The Challenge: Finding an Affordable Compact SUV Alternative 


You only have to look down any Canadian street to see that compact SUVs have become the modern version of the family station wagon for many new-vehicle buyers. But what about buyers who have had their fill of the tall-riding, sport-utility-vehicle experience? What if you were looking for a vehicle that offered the room and utility of a compact SUV but looked sleeker and drove better? Like a small station wagon?  

While some luxury brands still sell a handful of wagons, admittedly, the list of affordable wagon contenders is relatively short. But which one of our examples makes the best choice as a compact SUV replacement? 


The Contenders 


2020 Fiat 500L 


Based on the Fiat 500 subcompact 2-door hatchback, the 2020 Fiat 500L 4-door compact wagon is one size larger with two additional doors, a larger rear seat and a big cargo hold. With a starting Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price of $25,495 CDN, the 5-passenger 500L can comfortably seat two grown adults in its back seat and can recline for casual cruising or flip and tumble forward to create up to 1,926 litres of cargo space with the rear seats folded and 634 with the seats up.  


The 2020 Fiat 500L is our only contender that doesn’t offer traction at all for wheels. The front-wheel-drive Fiat’s lone powertrain is a 160 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque 1.4-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder gas engine with a 6-speed automatic transmission. Combined city and highway fuel economy is estimated at 9.4 litres per 100 kilometres (L/100 km). Every 500L comes standard with the excellent Uconnect 4 infotainment system, along with a bright, 18-centimetre (7-inch) touch screen, the system features Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration. Optional upgrades include navigation and a 7-speaker Beats premium audio system. 


2020 Mini Cooper Clubman ALL4 


While Mini calls its compact Countryman an SUV, the 2020 Cooper Clubman ALL4 is 100 percent sub-compact station wagon. Don’t be misled by the Mini name. The all-wheel-drive (AWD) Clubman wagon is actually quite maxi. Thanks to the shape of the roof, headroom is also generous. Cargo space measures 360 litres behind the rear seats, 1,249 when folded. If you can avoid Mini’s substantial options list, the base $28,690 CDN 2020 Mini Cooper Clubman ALL4, with its 134 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque turbocharged 1.5-litre 3-cylinder engine, is competitively priced. Fuel economy is estimated at 8.5 L/100 km.  


If you are looking to add a bit of “sport” to your small wagon, the $31,690 CDN Cooper S Clubman gains a gutsier 189 horsepower turbocharged 2.0-litre 4-cylinder, and the topline $41,090 CDN John Cooper Works model has the same engine as the Cooper S tuned to generate 301 horsepower. All Clubmans come standard with an 8-speed automatic. Mini’s 3-year/40,000-kilometre No-Charge Scheduled maintenance is also a standout in this group of contenders. 


2020 Subaru Outback 


Classified as an SUV, the redesigned-for-2020 Subaru Outback continues as the station wagon version of the Legacy AWD midsize sedan with a slew of SUV attributes. Starting at $30,695 CDN, the 5-passenger Outback provides plenty of passenger room and utility, starting with its 2,144 litres of cargo space with the rear seats folded and 920 with the seats up. Roof rails are standard, too, sitting up high with improved tie-down points and equipped with integrated, retractable crossbars that stow away when they’re unnecessary to reduce wind noise and drag. 


The 2020 Subaru Outback’s standard 182 horsepower and 176 pound-feet of torque 2.5-litre 4-cylinder engine provides decent power, with an 8.2 L/100 km fuel economy estimate. Starting with the $38,695 CDN Outdoor XT trim, an optional turbocharged 2.4-litre 4-cylinder engine with 260 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque replaces the previous 6-cylinder engine.  A continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT ) is standard across all trims. For colder Canadian days, heated front seats are standard, while heated rear seats, heated steering wheel and ventilated front seats are available on higher trims. 


2019 Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen 


Still available new at Canadian dealers, the 5-passenger 2019 Volkswagen Sportwagen is a sporty yet immensely practical and efficient compact SUV replacement. Behind the rear seats is a flat floor with a substantial 861 litres of space. For longer items, there’s a back seat passthrough. For more stuff, the seats fold nearly flat, creating 1,883 litres of room. The Golf’s premium interior is one of its highlights; close your eyes, you’d swear you were in a more expensive Audi. 


Prices start at $24,400 CDN for front-wheel-drive (FWD) models with a 147 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque turbocharged 1.4-litre 4-cylinder engine. Fuel economy is estimated at 7.4 L/100 km with the standard 6-speed manual transmission. An 8-speed automatic is optional. Pricing for AWD models starts with the $31,200 CDN Alltrack that gets a 168 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque 1.8-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. The 2019 Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen also stands out by matching the Mini Clubman’s 4-year/80,000-kilometre comprehensive warranty. 


Our Choice 


The Fiat 500L compact wagon makes for a competitively priced compact SUV alternative for buyers looking for a bit of Italian style. Unfortunately, it’s lack of available all-wheel-drive, and relatively small cargo space are compromises buyers will have to accept. The same formula applies to the Mini Cooper Clubman ALL4. While AWD is standard, stylish, and offers a sporty drive, the Mini wagon’s interior space is the smallest of our contenders. 


Of our three compact wagon contenders, the Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen offers the largest cabin and cargo space, German engineering and design intangibles. The Golf is also the only vehicle here that can be had with a manual gearbox in either FWD or AWD form.  


Ultimately, the midsize Subaru Outback is our choice as an affordable compact SUV alternative. The Subaru wagon offers the interior space, foul weather driving capabilities and SUV-like utility that make it an excellent substitute to the generic compact SUV herd. 


If you’re in the market for a new vehicle and have a unique buying request, please contact KBB.ca at KBBSupport@coxautoinc.com.  



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