SUV or station wagon – which is best?



Posted September 28, 2023

SUVs have eclipsed station wagons, sedans and hatches as the go-to family car over the last decade, but are they the better option?

SUVs have been the clear body style of choice for Australians in 2023. Small, medium and large SUVs accounted for almost 60 per cent of new car sales in July 2023 according to the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI). Three of the month's top five selling cars were SUVs: the MG ZS, Tesla Model Y, and Toyota RAV4. Passenger vehicles, meanwhile, represented less than 1 in 5 brand new cars sold.

As auto makers stop producing passenger cars such as hatches and wagons, there will be room for SUVs to capture even more market share. Recently, Volkswagen announced that they will no longer be producing station wagons, pulling the Golf, Passat and Arteon wagons in favour of more popular SUV models. They may be followed by the remaining small number of car manufacturers still selling station wagons in Australia.

This is big news, considering the station wagon's long history in Australia as a family hauler of choice. These days, however, fewer buyers consider purchasing a station wagon as their new car.

Are SUVs necessarily the better choice? Might it be worth considering a station wagon over an SUV? We’ve looked into the pros and cons of each style to help you make an informed car-buying decision.

What is a station wagon? What is an SUV?

A station wagon is typically the same size as a sedan, but has a bigger cargo carrying capacity. Modern examples include the Mazda6Mini Clubman, Peugeot 508, and Skoda Octavia. Station wagons are still a popular across Europe, but not so much in Australia in recent years.

An SUV is a car that generally sits higher off the ground to offer higher seating positions for occupants. Some SUVs also come with off-road capabilities and better towing capacity than regular cars. SUVs come in range of sizes, from small (compact) to medium and large. Since the late 90s and early 2000s, SUVs have grown greatly in popularity. The Mazda CX-60, MG ZS EV, BYD Atto 3, Subaru Crosstrek, and Toyota LandCruiser Prado are modern examples.


blue Volkswagen Golf station wagon

Station wagons like the Volkswagen Golf typically bring greater cargo carrying capacity than a equivalent hatch or sedan. Image: Supplied

SUVs and station wagons compared

Ride height

Part of the appeal of an SUV has always been that they allow the driver to sit higher up in traffic, allowing for better visibility of the road ahead. That said, the proliferation of SUVs and dwindling number of passenger cars means you’re usually sitting behind other SUVs on the road, which cancels out any height advantage.

Some car buyers believe that fitting a child car seat, and lifting a child into and out of the seat, is easier in an SUV thanks to the higher hip height. The hip height also means you can slide into the driver’s seat rather than bending down to get in, which is why SUVs can be a better option for seniors, or for people with back injuries or mobility issues. It makes it easier to load objects into the boot, too.

Fuel economy

Generally, wagons are more fuel-efficient than their SUV counterparts because they are more aerodynamic than higher-riding SUVs, and they weigh less. For example, a Mercedes-Benz C43 4Matic wagon uses a claimed 9.6L/100km, according to official consumption figures, whereas the Mercedes-Benz GLC43 4Matic SUV, which shares the same engine and basic underpinnings as the wagon, uses a claimed 10.4L/100km.

Similarly, the Volkswagen Golf 110TSI wagon uses a claimed 5.6L/100km compared with a claimed 7.1L/100km for the similar-sized Volkswagen Tiguan 110TSI SUV.

Boot and interior space

Looking at wagons and SUVs that share the same basic underpinnings, wagons have the edge in cargo space – just. A few SUVs have slightly more cargo space than their wagon counterparts – BMW X3, Audi Q5, and Mercedes-Benz GLC. But the Peugeot 308, Skoda Octavia, Volvo V60 and Jaguar XF Sportbrake all have more cargo space than their SUV siblings.

In terms of interior occupant space, the differences are generally negligible. SUVs might have more head room, but some wagons may have more leg room.


The BMW X3 is a popular mid-size premium SUV. Image: Supplied
The Mercedes-Benz GLC outsold the equivalent C-Class wagon. Image: Supplied


Very little separates the two body styles when it comes to safety. SUV and wagon models based on the same vehicle architecture usually have the same, or similar, safety equipment. A quick glance at the ANCAP website suggests the crash safety ratings don’t differ greatly, either.


Aerodynamics and weight differences give wagons the edge for acceleration. The Volkswagen Golf wagon is 0.6 seconds faster to 100km/h than the Volkswagen Tiguan, and the Benz wagon has a 0.1 second advantage over the GLC. The laws of physics mean SUVs aren’t usually as dynamic as wagons. A taller vehicle generally has more body roll when cornering as the weight shifts to the outside corner when the vehicle starts to turn. Because station wagons are lower to the ground and based on sedans, they typically offer driving characteristics typical of a passenger car.

Off-road ability

Many SUVs are designed to go off-road. It’s worth keeping in mind, however, that many SUV models are in fact two-wheel drive and are not suitable for all-terrain driving, even if their styling and marketing gives the impression of off-road capability. These are often referred to as soft-roaders. For example, a Toyota LandCruiser is a true off-roader, while the Toyota RAV4 is generally considered a soft-roader.


There are very few brand-new station wagons available to purchase in Australia, as car manufacturers like Volkswagen decide not to continue making wagons in favour of more popular models. If you want to buy a station wagon, you'll likely need to choose a used version instead.

SUVs, on the other hand, can be found in abundance - both new and used. There is a wide range of models and sizes readily available for purchase from the majority of brands in Australia.


landcruiser prado

Some SUVs, like the upcoming Toyota LandCruiser Prado, have genuine off-roading capabilities. Image: Supplied

The verdict: are SUVs or station wagons better?

Station wagons can be just as spacious and practical for couples and families as SUVs, and superior when it comes to fuel economy and performance. But many people will continue to favour SUVs for their modern aesthetic and the wider range of models available across different price points.

The choice between an SUV or station wagon is usually going to come down to personal preference and budget. In fact, some people may prefer a wagon these days just because they’re less ubiquitous. But if a wagon appeals, and you prefer buying brand new, you might want to get in quick, because they could be a dying breed in Australia.


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