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What Is Today's Family Car?

The station wagon, complete with faux-wood paneling, defined the American middle class for a long time.

In December, automotive contributors Mark Savage and Dan Harmon discussed automakers pulling out of the sedan market. Thankfully, for people who do need small, medium, and large size cars, there are still plenty of makes and models to choose from.

But what ever happened to the family car? The car that defined the American middle class for a long time: the station wagon, complete with faux-wood paneling and a rooftop luggage rack chugging along the highway.

The last of the American full-size wagons were discontinued in 1996. And now with sedans shrinking, it's time to explore what the modern family car is.

"People’s tastes changed. And when the SUV came along 30-35 years ago, that changed people’s perception of what a station wagon type vehicle could be," notes auto contributor Mark Savage.

If you like the ease of driving, parking, and gas mileage of sedans, you'll have to rely on Japanese, Korean, and German carmakers, says Savage. However, he says that crossovers have become "the bigger catch-all for everybody."

"I truly think the car of choice is kind of a mid-size crossover ... every car maker has that," Savage says. "You can still get five people into that very comfortably and still throw a bunch of stuff in the back— some of them now even have a third row seat."

As minivans become more luxurious and hatchback and crossovers abound, Savage joins contributor Dan Harmon to discuss the consumer market changes in family cars:

Mark Savage writes the auto review column, Savage on Wheels, for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Savageonwheels.com. He is also editor of Scale Auto magazine, part of Kalmbach Media in Waukesha.

Dan Harmon was one of the original members of Lake Effect (formerly At Ten). He started at WUWM in November of 1998 and left December of 2015 after 17 years of production.
Mark Savage writes the auto review column, Savage On Wheels, for WUWM (formerly for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) and Savageonwheels.com. He is the former executive editor of American Snowmobiler magazine and FineScale Modeler magazine, both part of Kalmbach Media in Waukesha.