Car profiles

10 modern manual wagons collectors should watch for

by Rob Sass
27 September 2023 6 min read

Anyone paying even the slightest attention to the automotive world realizes that the station wagon is the automotive equivalent of what paleontologists refer to as a “dead clade walking.” Taken from the film Dead Man Walking, the term refers to groups of animals that barely survive an extinction event; instead they linger for a bit and then finally die out. The mainstream abandoned wagons for SUVs decades ago, but a small subset of enthusiasts recognize them for what they are—cars as rewarding to drive as their sedan counterparts, with some added practicality. The cognoscenti refer to them as long-roofs, hipster short-form to distinguish them from their grandparents’ Colony Parks and Country Squires. The holy grail is a manual-transmission long-roof. Here’s a quick rundown of what’s out there from the last 25 years, with some purely subjective ratings:

1999–2004 BMW E46 and 2005–11 E90 Touring

Fun to Drive: *****
Reliability and Maintenance Expense: ** ½ 
Pros: Safe, solid, sporty, and handsome
Cons: With BMW parts prices, minor irritations can add up quickly

BMW was somewhat late to the game in offering wagons in the U.S. Mercedes had been doing so with regularity since the 1970s, but it wasn’t until the early ’90s that BMW decided to offer the E34 5 Series Touring (wagon in BMW-speak) in the U.S. By the time the car’s successor—the very pretty E39—was introduced, manuals had become almost mythical in the RWD-only 5 Series. The 3 Series was the real sweet spot for BMW wagons in the U.S. The E46 generation (1998–2005) was the first officially offered here (there are many gray-market E30 and E36 wagons in the U.S. and almost all are manuals). Sold in six-cylinder 323i and 325i form in either RWD or AWD, these are great and highly sought-after cars that will do 300,000-plus miles with the usual BMW maintenance to things like seals, axle shafts, cooling systems, and power windows. The car’s successor, the E90/E91 (2006–13) was equally desirable, with added refinement and power. Many of the pain points are the same, with the addition of a failure-prone electric water pump. Expect to pay anywhere from $15,000 to $25,000 for a manual depending on miles, condition, and options. Rear-drive cars are prized for their lightness and simplicity and carry a slight premium in warm climates. A good E46 or E90/E91 is probably the gold standard for European performance wagons, both in driving enjoyment and reliability. 

2003–08 Mazda 6 Sport Wagon and 2002–03 Protégé 5

Fun to Drive: ***  
Reliability and Maintenance Expense: ****
Pros: Fun to drive; relatively inexpensive parts and maintenance
Cons: FWD only; horribly rust-prone; lacks the safety of a Euro wagon

Maybe the most overlooked manual transmission wagon is the 2002–08 first-generation GG1 Mazda 6. While it takes a knock for being FWD-only, the long-roof 6, dubbed the Sport Wagon, was offered with a five-speed manual, most commonly paired with a Ford-supplied Duratec 3.0-liter V-6. It wasn’t a bad setup and made 204 horsepower. Sadly, there was no Mazdaspeed 6 wagon. The car was handsome, reliable, and a decent performer, but outside of the West Coast, they’re getting very hard to find today. The same can be said for the other Mazda manual wagon, the Protégé 5. Based on the entertainingly simple Protégé sedan, the 5 wasn’t your average hatch, but a small wagon, almost unique in the marketplace in the early aughts, and certainly extinct now. Back in 2001, Car and Driver called its driving dynamics “scintillating” and said that the car had real personality: “Cheeky. Insolent. Pert.” Like the 6, the Protégé 5 seems to hold up well mechanically, and 200,000 miles doesn’t seem uncommon for West Coast cars that haven’t succumbed to body rust. Even though the price delta between the two models was significant when new, nice examples of either the 6 or the Protégé 5 seem to trade in the $6,000 to $7,000 range. 

2009–19 VW Jetta/Golf SportWagen 

VW Jetta Sportwagen front

Fun to Drive: ***1/2 
Reliability and Maintenance Expense: ***
Pros: The newest cars on the list, some are still under an impressively long 6-year/72,000-mile post-Dieselgate warranty
Cons: Somewhat underpowered irrespective of model; the usual Volkswagen quality issues. 

Modern VW wagon offerings in the U.S. consist of the Passat, Jetta, and Golf. Manual Passats ended with the B5 generation (1997–2004). The 1.8 Turbo and VR6 cars both came with five-speeds, as did the TDI. The oldest are now approaching 30 years old, and consequently, most B5 Passats are worn-out bags of trouble. And as tempting as the unicorn status of a 275-hp, 4Motion (AWD) Passat W8 manual wagon might be, (about 100 were sold in the U.S.), the maintenance hassles of dailying a VW this old and complex are way too daunting. A Mk 4 Jetta VR6 manual wagon was a sweet little ride, but they’re mostly gone, too, and I haven’t seen one in at least a decade. The consolation prize is the fact that late-model Jetta/Golf SportWagens are quite decent cars, and not uncommon with manual transmissions. The most desirable are probably the last of the line—the AWD Golf Alltrack wagon, which was discontinued after the 2019 model year. Manual-transmission Alltracks are still worth close to their original MSRP in the mid to high twenties. 

2008–12 Audi A4 Avant

Audi A4 Avant front three quarter action pan

Fun to Drive: ****
Reliability and Maintenance Expense: *
Pros: Beautiful inside and out, excellent driving dynamics
Cons: Abysmal reliability record

Audi has a long history of building sporty wagons with manual transmissions. The 100 (5000)-based cars from the 1980s were all manuals if you opted for the Quattro AWD system. And let’s not forget the Porsche-engineered-and-assembled RS2. These days it’s a blue-chip $75,000-plus collectible. 

The B8 A4 Avant was the last Audi wagon to offer a manual transmission in the U.S. They’re gorgeous inside and out, and lovely to drive, albeit quite scarce with a manual. But having personally known two people whose 2.0L turbo A4s have suffered catastrophic, post-warranty engine failures, and one other whose 50,000-mile car had a quart-every-600-miles oil habit, it’s hard to recommend an A4 to anyone in good conscience. 

2003–07 Volvo V70 R

Fun to drive: *****
Reliability and Maintenance Expense: ** ½ 
Pros: Handsome; insane inline-5 turbo and AWD
Cons: Pricey parts and service 

For most of its history in the U.S. prior to the early aughts, Volvo offered a manual-transmission wagon. Outside of one of Paul Newman’s V-8–swapped 740 wagons, the holy grail is almost certainly the P2-generation V70 R wagon. Its maniacal turbocharged inline-5 made almost 300 hp, and while RWD would have been a hoot, the car was offered only in AWD form. Six-speed manuals were rare, and those who opted for this were treated to one of the most artfully designed shifters outside of a gated Ferrari box. Well on their way to being full-fledged collectibles, cars with average miles are mid-teens, and the best, low-mileage cars can break $30,000. A small price to pay for what might be one of the greatest manual-transmission wagons ever. 

2005–07 Subaru Legacy 2.5 GT Wagon

2006 Subaru 2.5 GT Wagon Limited front three quarter action

Fun to drive: *****
Reliability and Maintenance Expense: *** 
Pros: WRX style, power, and grip; infinitely modifiable
Cons: The usual Subie flat-four head gasket issues every 90,000 miles or so

In the early aughts, the non-Birkenstock wearers in Subie showrooms were drooling over the WRX. You could excuse them for overlooking its more practical sibling, the Legacy 2.5 GT Wagon. With AWD and the same 250-hp 2.5-liter turbo flat-four as the WRX, a five-speed Legacy GT wagon is truly something special. Although it’s the same body as the far more common Outback, with a functional hood scoop, shed of body cladding, and at a far lower ride height, the Legacy GT Wagon was actually quite handsome. Just as tunable as the WRX, finding a stock manual with low miles is nearly impossible, but the market has yet to catch on to how special these cars are. About $15,000 or so buys a nice one. 

2004–11 Saab 9-3 SportCombi

Saab SportCombi

Fun to drive: ***
Reliability and Maintenance Expense: **** 
Pros: Quirky looks; nicely appointed inside; GM serviceability; bargain prices
Cons: Orphan status and uncertain support going forward 

Saab offered wagons in the U.S. off and on for about four decades, but the only one it sold in volume was the 9-5. Top spec 9-5 Aero wagons with a five-speed are quite rare, and the few good ones that remain generally have asking prices in the ten-grand range. Most, however, are 200,000-mile examples with asks of about half that. Perhaps more interesting, though, is the last-generation 9-3 Combi. Sadly, GM had actually started to do some OK things at Saab right around the time the wheels fell off. The last generation of the 9-3 and 9-5 were pretty solid, but only the GM Epsilon-based 9-3 was offered as a wagon. As you may have noticed, nearly every Euro brand has to have a clever name for “wagon.” Saab’s, unsurprisingly, was the oddest: “Combi” is Saab for wagon. And quite a decent wagon it was. With its vertical tail lights and upswept profile, it was quirky like a Saab should be, and nicely appointed inside.

The 9-3’s 2.0-liter turbo GM Ecotec four managed a wholly adequate 210 hp. Most were FWD, but somewhere around 10–20 percent of them were ordered with AWD. Saab called this model the SportCombi X. The manual version of this car is the true 9-3 wagon unicorn. The final version of the 9-3 racked a reasonable reputation for reliability and maintenance costs. This is backed up by the fact that most of the cars you’ll see advertised have between 150,000 and 225,000 miles on them. FWD manual 9-3 wagons with under 100,000 miles are around $9000 or so. A similar manual 9-3X might bring around $13,000 to $15,000, if it’s really nice. The largely unfounded concerns about parts seems to be keeping Saab values down. 

2011–13 Cadillac CTS-V Wagon

2013 Cadillac CTS-V Sport Wagon

Fun to drive: *****
Reliability and Maintenance Expense: **** 
Pros: Insane power and acceleration with braking and chassis to match; wicked good looks
Cons: Six-figure price; rarity 

Every pyramid needs a top, and the capstone of manual-transmission wagons that were sold new in North America is this unlikely beast. Cadillac built just under 1800 CTS-V wagons, and only 514 were manuals. The 6.2-liter supercharged V-8 advertised 556 hp; Recaro front buckets and a limited-slip diff were among the available options. Magnetic ride control and six-piston Brembo calipers were standard. RWD allowed for some truly epic smoky burnouts for those so inclined. 0–60 mph came up in just over 4 seconds. Prices are a little hard to peg because the number of transactions is small, but the lowest-mileage cars can certainly crack $100,000. Even that price seems like a bargain for a very special car, one with the fingerprints of “Maximum” Bob Lutz all over it.   


  • John R Marchiando says:

    Would love to have one!

  • Richard Collier says:

    You overlooked the larger SAAB wagon. My 2006 9-5 Aero 5-speed wagon is a terrific car once one learns how to handle the torque steer.

  • paul s murray says:

    Of all these the Volvo V 70 is the one that tickles my fancy the most. ( maybe the sight of those 850 wagons racing around stuck with me ) However, as you mentioned, Volvo’s can be a bit pricey in the maintenance department. So of the rest why don’t we split the difference, kill two birds with one stone and go with a ‘Saabaru’ 9-2x Aero.

  • john wogan says:

    i am a cofirmed wagon fan( V70R and 1959 colony park) i aso have a volvo v50 6spd manual,turbo,all wheel drive.It is only marginally slower than the V70R and has all the good volvo virtues parts are readily available and reasonably inexpensive would make a good entry into the wagon market

  • ztodd says:

    When I bought my e46 touring in 2001 I wanted three things – a wagon, a manual transmission, and at least a 6 cyl engine. The 325 was the only car that fit those requirements. My local BMW dealer had a slot in their order queue for a touring, and allowed me to spec the order. The only options I ordered were Sport package, leather interior, and upgraded sound system. 22 years and 140,000 miles later I still love this car!

  • Robert Carley says:

    We have a 2008 Volvo V50 T5 wagon with a six speed manual. Lots of fun to drive, and a great second car for when you need to haul a few items. Having a local mechanic who specializes in Volvos certainly helps to keep it on the road.

  • JJ says:

    In 2011 I went into my local Traverse City, MI BMW dealer hoping to order a new 328i wagon with manual and was informed that I was 2 weeks too late to order what I wanted. Okay fine .. so I bought a 2011 Ranger pickup and then a 2016 FIAT 124 Spider and then a 2022 Mustang GT convertible … ALL with “stick shift”. I certainly still own them all (18 in total) …. and I am soooo glad I’m 74 years old and will NEVER have to buy one ‘o them new-fangled AUTOmatic transmissions – I am at 2.4 million miles and except for my Mother’s 1974 Lincoln Mark IV (which (bought her in 1979 I have never owned an “automatic”) – in fact I have no idea how to drive them?!?

  • Paul Ipolito says:

    We saw a beautiful CTS-V at your Cars and Coffee event in Amherst, NY (Buffalo suburb). We drove in from Rochester and it was well worth it. A nice mix of cars and a great day for it. Kudos to your Regional Rep. I hope you do another in the area in 2024.

  • Andrew says:

    The B8 Audi A4 Avant (wagon) was never offered in a Manual Transmisson in the US , the B7 A4 Avant was the last wagon with a Manual transmission offered from Audi in the US from 2006-2008.

  • Gary Bechtold says:

    I had a 2004 Subaru Impreza WRX Wagon and a 2005 Legacy 2.5 GT Wagon. The Legacy was my favorite and I still miss it. Such a fun car to tackle the backroads on.

  • MGWrench says:

    Since my college days in the early ’70’s, I’ve always had a station wagon for all of the reasons you mentioned. I still have my ’93 Volvo 940 Turbo Wagon that gets pulled out whenever there is a load to haul. At just over 350K miles, it’s still runs great and I still enjoy how well it rides and how comfortable it is. I know your article was about wagons primarily available in the US. The one I always wished I could find is the MG ZT-T with the optional 4.6l Ford V8. MG Styling with wagon practicality would be a lot of fun.

  • David Bjerke says:

    Dodge Magnum???

  • paul s murray says:

    Peugeot 505 GTD???

  • Kacpa2 says:

    I would include several cars that are relatively easy to manual swap such as Lexus IS300 Sportcross. Sedan had a manual, its all plug and play and it can accept 1jzgte and 2jzgte easily as its twin models and cousins in jdm toyota lineup had such.
    Its only con is fact you might need to seek out already swapped car(usually costs more) its quite rare in US already and its a bit tiny for a wagon. Ita more of an equivalent to Impreza Wagon/Hatch more than V70 R and even shorter than E46 Touring.

    However it has a party piece that makes up for it in some usecases. Front passengerseat folds flatto form a table/platform for long items or even sleeping. It being also RHD markets means you could get 2 of such and have both front seats fold for some scenic car camping in it despite smaller boot than Legacy or Volvo.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More on this topic

Hagerty Insider Newsletter

Your weekly dose of auction reports, market analysis, and more.

Thank You!
Your request will be handled as soon as possible
Hagerty Insider Newsletter
Your weekly dose of auction reports, market analysis, and more.