August 19, 2010 at 2:59 pm EDT | by Joe Phillips
Sport wagons sizzle again

Skinny jeans. Strappy stilettos. Button-up blouses. Blame it on “Mad Men”— or a longing for simpler times — but retro is all the rage. For any of you Don Draper wannabes, the only thing missing is a blue and white 1962 Cadillac Coupe de Ville.

As if on cue, automakers are rolling out something almost as iconic: station wagons. This time, they’re called “sport wagons.” And instead of wood side panels or clunky dual-hinged tailgates, this new generation has snazzy styling and the latest high-tech gear.

These haulers also have fuel-friendly engines — and that’s the irony. Gas-chugging wagons of the past began losing their luster during the 1970s oil crises. Today, Americans still need space but want greener rides to help pinch pennies at the pump.

That rules out minivans and SUVs. And crossovers, well, they look like SUV clones.

So on to wagons, which are new and different all over again.

Acura TSX Sport Wagon
$32,500 (est.)
Mpg: 21 city/ 30 highway
Cargo capacity: 14 cu. ft. (42 cu. ft. with rear seats folded)
Audi, BMW and Mercedes cornered the luxe wagon market years ago — just look at any Bloomingdale’s or Whole Foods parking lot. Now Acura wants in. Due this fall, the all-new TSX Sport Wagon is a rebadged Honda that’s popular in Europe. The two share the same sure suspension and four-cylinder engine, but the TSX’s uptown interior has steering-wheel paddle shifters, Bluetooth and a slick nav system with large eight-inch monitor. In the cargo bay, under-floor bins can hold a laptop, and removable side panels allow for golf bags. There’s also Acura’s trademark tapered front end, which — love it or hate it — looks like it has an overbite. Alas, the TSX only comes with front-wheel drive (with no plans to add the stellar SH-AWD all-wheel-drive system), so forget trekking in blizzards and ice storms.

Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon
Mpg: 18 city/27 highway
Cargo capacity: 25 cu. ft. (58 cu. ft. with rear seats folded)
From automaker-on-the-skids to Detroit darling, GM is posting stellar profits after that government bailout. One of the reasons: chic Cadillac product, like the CTS Sport Wagon. Forget the staid styling and yacht-like handling that your granny loved; now there’s edgy sheet metal, potent engines and taut Euro handling. Choice of five trim levels, with oodles of options: panoramic sunroof, heated/cooled seats, 10-speaker surround-sound stereo, keyless ignition/entry, rearview camera, even a heavy-duty pet net. But beware: the cost for all those bells and whistles can reach, ouch, $51,000. Two other downsides: narrow front-seat legroom and poor rear visibility.

Subaru Legacy Outback
Mpg: 19 city/27 highway
Cargo capacity: 34 cu. ft (71 cu. ft. with rear seats folded)
Outbacks have always been a rainbow-sticker fave, and this redo is no exception. There’s literally more for gays and lesbians to love now, with the longer, wider and taller frame and loads of passenger room and cargo space. Unfortunately, the larger size means handling isn’t as spry and nimble. Still, crash-test scores are primo and the rear seats recline — a nice touch. There are six trim levels, and all-wheel drive, hill-hold assist and stability control are standard across the board. Options include heated side mirrors, Harman Kardon stereo, rear privacy glass, windshield wiper de-icer and iPod interface.

VW Jetta SportWagen
Mpg: 23 city/33 highway
Cargo capacity: 32 cu. ft. (67 cu. ft. with rear seats folded)
Low cost, high gas mileage, a blast to drive. That pretty much sums up the freshly styled Jetta SportWagen. Form-fitting seats are uber comfortable, as is the whisper-quiet cabin with panoramic sunroof, multifunction steering wheel and nifty blue lights on all the gauges. There’s also more cargo room than in many midsized crossovers. Stability/traction control is standard, with rear side airbags an option. A new clean-diesel engine joins the lineup, boosting fuel efficiency to a whopping 30 city/41 highway. And while braking is bit sluggish, the acceleration, cornering and ability to dart in and out of traffic are all top-notch.

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