They may not be the ubiquitous sight they once were on American roads, but station wagons are in the midst of a global renaissance. From the insane 577 horsepower Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG to the forbidden fruit of the Jaguar XF Sportbrake and Audi RS6 Avant, wagons are reemerging as refreshing alternatives to Crossovers and SUVs as more performance-oriented people movers. Unfortunately, most of the world’s best sports wagons aren’t available Stateside. What’s worse, it seems like the two most exciting wagons built in recent memory won’t see the light of day at all. The Geneva Motor Show, the legendary backdrop that introduced the world to legendary performance cars like the LaFerrari, the 1989 Corvette ZR-1, and the 1961 Jaguar E-Type, had an unlikely smash hit last year in the Volvo Concept Estate. This year, amid the debuts of hotly anticipated supercars like the Aston Martin Vulcan and the Mercedes-AMG GT3, Geneva will be home to another buzz-worthy concept wagon: Audi’s Prologue Avant.
Both the Concept Estate and Avant are two cars come from automakers with a long and storied history of building some of the best station wagons in the world, and both signal a new design direction for the brands. In the Concept Estate, Volvo did the near-impossible in making a root beer-brown station wagon look undeniably sexy in a sea of supercars, taking home several “Car of the Show” awards last year. While the Avant is based on the Audi Prologue concept that debuted at the Los Angeles Auto Show last year, the long-roof variant is a sleek and muscular look at Audi’s future design language as it continues to battle with Mercedes and BMW for dominance in the luxury market. Despite the fact that Volvo and Audi have made clear that both the Concept Estate and Avant aren’t likely to see production, both cars show that the often-neglected station wagon segment is key to their future design plans.
Unlike the show car-only Volvo, the Prologue Avant is tantalizingly close to production-ready. Borrowing its powertrain from a 3.0 liter diesel-hybrid Q7 e-tron quattro, Audi says the all-wheel drive car can travel 33.9 miles on pure electric power, and the V6 engine and electric motor combined produce 449 horsepower, taking the big wagon from zero to 60 in an impressive 5.1 seconds. Audi has taken the taut lines of the Prologue coupe and effortlessly extended the roofline into an elegant, tapered rear end that takes station wagon design to a new, effortlessly sporty level.
Inside, Audi says the minimalist interior “has the character of a luxurious lounge,” and utilizes an all-digital display and touch screen systems that should find their way onto production Audis over the next few years. Out front, the Avant uses Audi’s all-new laser headlights shared with the next-generation R8, an innovation that will make an appearance on most future models. Unfortunately, they aren’t legal in the U.S., so it may be years before we ever get them here, if we do at all.
Unlike Audi, which has been experiencing a design renaissance for the better part of 20 years, Volvo has a lot at stake in its future models. After being cast off by Ford during the global financial crisis, Volvo continues to struggle with finding a market and slumping North American sales even as new car sales continue to soar. With aging designs and a weakly competitive lineup, the Concept Estate was the third of a trio of surprise concepts that Volvo unveiled to signal their new design direction. While the Concept Coupe and Concept XC Coupe were introduced to great fanfare, the Estate seemed like the one most likely to go into production given Volvo’s history and success with station wagons. Volvo didn’t release performance information for any of the concepts, but they all showcased an exciting new design language that the company hopes will quickly set Sweden’s sole automaker apart from the German competition, and translate into some much-needed sales, especially in the American market.
The language from the concepts is already bearing fruit in the all-new XC90. The SUV has long been the best-selling Volvo, and the new model is already garnering strong reviews from the automotive press. The XC90 directly carries over interior design language from the Concept Estate, including an all-new touch screen infotainment system and a fit-and-finish that the brand describes as being “a nod to the Swedish living room.” Outside, the SUV also borrows the Estate’s “Thor’s Hammer” headlights and aggressive new grille design. While the XC90 is the best looking production model Volvo has made in years, it’s still a far cry from the sporty Estate. The closest we may ever come to seeing a production version of the Concept Estate will be the next-generation S60, which could come as early as 2018.
Apart from the Dodge Magnum and Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon of recent years, the station wagon is an all but dead segment in America. Hopefully, with models in Europe getting too good to ignore, and breathtaking concepts like the Audi Avant Prologue and Volvo Concept Estate striking a chord with consumers, the wagon is due for a big comeback. We’d love to see the Audi or the Volvo lead the charge, but it just isn’t likely. For now, we’ll have to compare them on paper, and that’s no easy task. For power and aggression, the Avant Prologue is the clear winner. For modern luxury and tasteful left-of-center design, the Concept Estate has the Audi beat. In the end, it’s a matter of personal taste. They’re both some of the best concepts of the decade – too bad we’ll never get to see what they can do on the road.
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