Station wagons have mostly disappeared from new-car showrooms as manufacturers have replaced them with crossovers. While a handful of car companies still offer wagons, there’s more selection in the used market, especially if you’re looking for an inexpensive wagon based on an economy car platform.
Despite their compact size, these inexpensive wagons are a practical alternative to small crossovers and SUVs. You’ll find similar interior space, and their more direct links to sedan models mean more car-like performance. As with most of our used-vehicle articles, this one focuses on models that were sold new during the last decade.
Note that the Golf is more common as a hatchback, so to avoid wasting time, make sure the car being advertised is indeed the wagon.
- Some diesel models were implicated in Volkswagen’s emissions scandal. VW’s 2.0L diesel is a strong, efficient performer, but be aware it does not run as cleanly as the company claimed.
- Until 2014, gasoline-powered models used a five-cylinder engine. In these cars, look out for worn serpentine-belt tensioner and idler pulleys and failed ignition-coil packs.
- From 2015, the Golf wagon’s base engine was a 1.8L turbocharged four-cylinder. Its most common issue is carbon and sludge deposits on the intake valves, which can affect performance and fuel economy. The deposits can be cleaned up, but that adds to the Golf’s maintenance costs.
- Some Golf wagon models will have a dual-clutch automatic transmission that works well but is sensitive to proper maintenance. It’s also more expensive to maintain than the traditional automatic offered in other versions and model years. The base transmission is a five-speed manual with gas engines and a six-speed with the diesel.
Hyundai Elantra Touring (2009-2012)
The Hyundai Elantra Touring shares its styling and suspension with the Hyundai i30, which the company designed in Germany for the European market. It uses the same engine and transmissions as the Elantra sedan but offers a firmer ride and better handling.
- Ignition coils are a common failure point in the Elantra’s 2.0L engine. A bad coil will cause the engine to run roughly and should turn on the check engine light. Replacing a faulty coil is usually an inexpensive fix, and an easy job for an owner comfortable working on their own car.
- Watch for poor shifting from the automatic transmission during your test drive. Most owner complaints have to do with a transmission that slips and allows the engine to rev up as it shifts to the next gear. Numerous Elantra Touring owners have had transmissions rebuilt or replaced to fix the problem. Shift quality is a good indicator of an automatic transmission’s condition. So is checking the transmission fluid. If it appears dark brown and smells burnt, it could be overdue for a change.
- The Elantra Touring’s engine uses a rubber timing belt that must be replaced every few years. A worn belt can break and cause the engine to stall; a broken timing belt can also lead to serious engine damage. Before you buy, assess whether the belt needs to replaced soon. If it does, either ask the seller to have it done, or negotiate a lower price and have it done post-purchase.
Chevrolet Orlando (2012-2014)
The short-lived Chevrolet Orlando is a small wagon based on the same platform as the original Cruze sedan. New buyers could order one with either six-speed manual or automatic transmissions. Of the cars discussed in this article, the Orlando is the only one with three rows of seats.
- The 2.4L engine uses a timing chain that is prone to wear out and stretch if the oil is not changed frequently enough. An Orlando engine that consumes oil could be caused by bad valve seals or worn cylinder walls that allow the oil to leak past the piston rings.
- Orlando’s direct fuel-injection system has a high-pressure fuel pump that can malfunction. The usual result is an engine that runs “rich,” meaning the injection system provides more fuel than the engine needs. At best, that can cause poor fuel economy; at worst, the excess fuel can contaminate the oil and reduce its effectiveness.
- Ask the seller if they have service records for the Orlando you’re looking at. Frequent oil changes are key to this engine’s longevity.
- If Orlando’s automatic transmission shifts harshly, its electronic controls probably need to be reprogrammed.
- There are two well-known issues with Orlando’s electric power steering. One is a feeling of the steering wheel sticking slightly, which is often caused by a faulty steering-assist motor. The other is the potential loss of steering assist caused by corrosion. Chevrolet issued a recall to fix this, so if you buy a used Orlando, find out if yours was included in that safety campaign.
Fiat introduced the 500L in 2014, two years after the brand returned to North America with the subcompact 500 hatchback.
- The most common complaint about the 500L is the troublesome dual-clutch automatic transmission offered in early models. Some owners have had transmissions replaced multiple times due to mechanical failures. Fiat also offered a traditional automatic transmission, as well as a manual gearbox, and we would recommend either of these over the fragile dual-clutch unit.
- Make sure the air-conditioning system responds properly to its controls. Many 500L owners complain of getting cold air when they selected heat or vice-versa. To fix problems like this, the dealer may have to remove all or part of the dashboard, which can be expensive.
- Among 500L options was a panoramic sunroof with a fabric shade that is prone to tearing and coming loose from the roof. When test driving, operate the sunroof multiple times to make sure it and the shade move smoothly.