A New Breed of Wagons: Sold, Planned, or Experimental

A fleet of high-priced and often high-riding station wagons is rolling into car dealerships:

* Subaru invented the "sport-utility wagon" genre with its Outback in 1996. It sells 48,000 a year - more than half the sales of its bestselling Legacy wagon line and 36 percent of the company's overall volume. A new, racier version - the Outback Sport - based on its small Impreza wagon is also available:

* Volvo introduced three new all-wheel-drive versions of its popular V70 wagon this year, including a high-performance version and the Cross Country, which boasts more ground clearance for rough roads. Almost half of Volvo's sales are wagons. And the company plans a smaller V40 wagon next year.

* Audi introduced a wagon version of its compact A4 - which it calls the "sports sedan with a fanny pack" - on top of its new all-wheel-drive mid-size A6 wagon. Next year it plans a big-fendered, jacked-up All-Road A6 wagon.

* BMW plans a similar pricey, mid-size "off-road" wagon that it calls a "sport-activity vehicle" in the next two years.

* Mercedes-Benz just reintroduced its all-wheel-drive wagon - at $50,000. Only half as expensive as the top-line Mercedes, it has attracted the highest-income buyers of any Mercedes.

* Volkswagen will sell a new Passat in June. Industry experts expect an all-wheel-drive option soon.

* Saab will sell its first wagon in 25 years next year, a version of its new flagship 9-5.

* At the Los Angeles auto show last year, Ford displayed two Taurus wagons, a jacked-up, safari wagon called Santa Fe, and a less radical luxury performance version called the Mercury L'Attitude. The cars will not likely be produced but were meant to gauge consumer reaction, a spokesman says.

* And General Motors displayed a concept luxury utility wagon, the Buick Signia, in Detroit this year, with a clamshell rear door that turns the back into a pseudo-pick-up.

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