There is a problem with wagons, and that problem is this: For most of America, they are Dork Central.
Some of us — those raised on old Chevy Nomads and five-door BMW M5s — take issue with this. Some people take so much issue, in fact, that they embrace the dorkiness with both arms, driving wagons as a low-level form of civil disobedience. (A friend of mine in San Francisco is currently stuffing a Ford V-8 into his Volvo 245 simply because he thinks it’s funny. He is not wrong.)
Regardless, wagons make sense. For most people, sense-making is not cool. Sense-making is the IKEA parking lot and two car seats in back, and no one ever got laid because their cam-lock furniture screamed rebel hellion. (Side note: This is an injustice. Am I the only one who thinks Billy the Bookcase is a sexy mother?)
Blame the moms of the pre-SUV world, many of whom carted their brood around in sensible, dead-eyed land yachts. But the last generation to grow up in wagons — the children of the Reagan administration — is now in its car-buying twenties. The SUV has essentially displaced the wagon as family transport of choice. Into this high-riding, four-wheel-drive fray dives the low-slung 2011 Acura TSX Sport Wagon. And it is most decidedly cool.
As Honda — Acura’s parent company — tells it, this is an experiment. Wagons haven’t sold well in America for years, and the Big H expects to move just 4,000 TSX Sport Wagons here annually. For perspective, consider that Acura sold 3,824 examples of its MDX SUV in May of 2011 alone. The goal, it seems, is to figure out whether or not Americans will actually pony up for a premium, European-style sport hauler. Because the TSX is essentially a rebadged version of the European Honda Accord, this can be done cheaply, without racking up huge development costs. And because most journalists love wagons — insert obligatory 550-hp Cadillac shout-out here — Acura was virtually guaranteed positive press.
The best part is, the TSX wagon deserves it. For $31,820, you get a good-looking hauler that offers a spacious, modern interior and a strong, efficient powertrain. The TSX sedan’s 2.3-liter, 201-hp four is the only engine choice. It comes bolted to a five-speed automatic and cranks out a respectable 22/30 mpg city/highway. As with the TSX four-door, the back seat is comfortable for full-size adults and the chassis is a nimble, corner-dancing companion on winding roads. You tend to forget that the TSX’s ample rump is there, so willingly does the car bound and leap over twisty pavement.
Still, every wagon is defined by its wayback, and this one is no exception. The rear cargo area will swallow 61 cubic feet of stuff with the seats folded, 26 with them up. The rear load floor is flat, and there are tie-down points out the wazoo. Thanks to all the rear glass, visibility is even decent. You could ask for more than this, but you’d probably be asking too much.
There are negatives: You don’t get access to the TSX sedan’s excellent 3.5-liter, 280-hp V-6. This pays off in fuel economy, but sometimes leaves you wanting for low-end grunt. For cost reasons, there is no manual-transmission option, no available all-wheel drive. And if you live outside a major metro area, you will probably have to special order a car; with just a few thousand Sport Wagons allocated for U.S. consumption, rural dealers are unlikely to stock them.
All in all, though, none of that really matters. Good-looking, fun-to-drive wagons are thin on the ground in this country, and we should be glad the TSX five-door exists. Honda’s grand experiment will likely fail — crossovers and small SUVs are too hip now to be replaced by such a subtle beast — but that’s beside the point. Several thousand people are going to buy these things, forgetting what wagons once were and dwelling instead on what they could be. If the rest of the country doesn’t get it, that’s just their loss.
All Photos: Sam Smith/get-gadget
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