January 8, 2015

Confession #59: The SUV-sedan is the strangest combination that won't go away

Most wagon fans have come to terms as much as possible with jacked-up wagons, if only as a way of keeping the breed alive somehow. With successes like the Subaru Outback, you can't really argue with it – and it's about all of the SUV many, many people need.

But the offshoot of this wagon-with-cladding trend is the curious sedan-with-cladding, the likes of which haven't been seen since 2007. Thanks to Volvo and the S60 Cross Country, it's back and as charmingly confusing as ever.

Volvo S60 Cross Country (Photos: Volvo Cars)

Volvo is launching this S60 derivative at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show, just two months after it showed the V60 Cross Country in LA. Volvo constantly points out that it's had a jacked-up wagon in its lineup since 1997, but that the S60 Cross Country is, "the first premium sedan with the same level of capability and rugged design cues of the renowned Cross Country wagons."

Subaru might like to have a word with you, Volvo.

1999 Subaru Legacy SUS (Photo: Subaru)
Around the same time the first Cross Country arrived, Subaru made small cars with a loyal New England following. The Legacy Outback wagon sold well enough that Subaru tested the waters in places like Maine and New Hampshire with a Legacy sedan riding on the Outback's lifted suspension. Thus the Legacy SUS (Sport Utility Sedan, obviously) was born in 1999. Maybe it was still too ahead of its time.

Even among the cold-climate set, I have no idea who would pick an Outback sedan over an Outback wagon. Maybe the loaded versions with leather and gold wheels and driven by Paul Hogan were enough to sway some people that they were making less of a utilitarian statement. I think I can count on my hands how many Outback sedans I've seen, even after living in New England, and still have fingers left over. Yet this variant lasted until 2007 and covered three generations of Legacy.

AMC Eagle Two-Door Sedan (Photo: AMC)

But the SUS wasn't the first. As is typical of these type of car-SUV hybrids, the AMC Eagle is to thank. Considered to be the inventor of the SUV-wagon-thing we know today, the Eagle line also included the far less popular sedan. Just over 43,000 two and four-door Eagle sedans were sold between 1980 and 1987, to people who thought a padded vinyl roof and four-wheel drive went together somehow. But AMC dealers in the Northwest and New England were undoubtedly happy to sell something that wasn't a Renault Alliance. And now Eagle sedans have been immortalized by both Subaru and Volvo. That's a good thing, I think.

Nowhere is Volvo saying this elevated sedan will save its bacon in the U.S. – that's the new XC90's job. It's incremental business and a way to get a fraction of customers to spend a couple grand more on bigger tires and different trim. With the S60 Cross Country, Volvo now offers a jacked-up and cladded version of every sedan, wagon and hatch it currently makes. In an age of four-door SUV "coupes," these things don't look so silly. Maybe the Eagle just came 35 years too early.

It also would be great if they still made the C70 convertible, because what the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet proved is that some people want a high-riding convertible.

AMC Eagle Sundancer (Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Christopher Ziemnowicz)

Actually, I guess the Eagle Sundancer proved that, too.

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