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Five more of the greatest station wagons ever... the Japan Edition

You, the readers, made a point about some equally cool wagons not making the cut. So here we are.

My colleague Rob Margeit's piece on 10 of the greatest station wagons ever received a heap of feedback.

It seems that many of us, be it part-time, or full-time car enthusiasts, love a good wagon. I too, am one of those nerdy folk.

Fast family cars are great. Even more so, when they can fit a dog.

We also noticed a few of you, in the comments section, heckled, good naturedly, from a distance.

We love us some good banter around the office, and appreciate those who took time out of their day to pipe-up in the comments section; crying outrage the Mitsubishi Legnum VR-4 did not make the cut.

A few of us at CarAdvice chatted about this point in detail, and figured it would only be fair to do a follow-up, highlighting five other of the greatest stations wagons ever.

This time, from the Orient.

Mitsubishi Legnum VR-4

We start this with a rather unloved JDM cult classic – the Mitsubishi Legnum VR-4.

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The main drawcard of this wagon version of the humble Galant sedan, was its engine. Underneath that rather long bonnet, you'll find a transversely-mounted 2.5-litre V6 with two turbos attached to it.

Good for 206kW at the flywheel when new, and demolishing the dash to 100km/h in under six seconds with a manual transmission, the Legnum VR-4 is still fast, even by today's standards.

The other transmission option is a five-speed auto, dubbed INVECS-II (Intelligent & Innovative Vehicle Electronic Control System 2), which uses 'fuzzy logic' to create shift patterns on the fly to suit the conditions at that exact moment.

Wild.

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Mitsubishi Legnums were an expensive car to own in Japan, given the large displacement engine incurred costly fees and taxes. Because of this, a mass exodus occurred during the 2000s, with many finding new homes here in Australia as cheap, used cars.

There were a few versions offered, with the Type-S variant incorporating Mitsubishi's Active Yaw Control (AYC), which was made famous by its Lancer Evolution stablemate.

The Legnum was never as popular as the Stagea with Australian enthusiasts, with many stating its front-heavy nature and understeery handling not as rewarding as Nissan's.

Interestingly, they're now thin on the ground here in Australia, with many wrecked, pulled part, or pilfered for parts.

Because of this, great examples, equipped with a manual transmission, are now fetching the most money they ever have.

Nissan Stagea (WC34 generation)

The above criticisms of the Mitsubishi Legnum dovetail nicely into the next cool wagon – the Nissan Stagea.

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The WC34 generation remains the one true hero of the range, with the later M35 series never reaching the same status amongst aficionados.

Underneath a WC34 Stagea, you pretty much find a Nissan Skyline. There is a heap of commonality under the skin between these two cars, with many chassis and suspension components interchangeable. That makes the Stagea built on excellent foundations, then.

Many have been used for drifting and motorsport purposes, believe it or not.

At any point in its life, there were at least 16 regular versions of the Stagea produced in either rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, before you begin to count any odd limited editions that exist. Such diversity.

The Stagea was powered by Nissan's straight-six RB25 engine, in either RB25DE (naturally aspirated) or RB25DET (turbocharged) format. Some versions even featured Nissan's own rear-wheel steering technology, HICAS (High Capacity Actively Controlled Steering), as per the Skyline range.

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The 260RS was the cream of the crop however, and was badged as an Autech product, not as Nissan.

Autech is Nissan's performance subsidiary, similar to Mercedes-Benz's AMG.

This special version of Stagea swapped out the regular Skyline mechanicals for those from a Skyline GT-R. Changes included the introduction of the full-fat RB engine, a 2.6-litre, twin-turbo with individual throttle bodies, code-named RB26DETT.

Complete with its wild, unique bodykit, the Autech 260RS is as close as you'll come to a genuine GT-R wagon.

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX Wagon

Rally fans rejoice – you too can have a large family and pretend to be Tommi Makinen on your days off.

Produced in small numbers only for the Japanese domestic market, the EVO IX wagon literally took what was already great about the regular Evolution IX sedan, and placed it inside a wagon body shell.

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It wasn't Mitsubishi's first crack at making a hot wagon however, with cars such as the Libero GT, and Mitsubishi RVR, both borrowing components from their turbocharged family members long before the Evolution wagon existed.

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However, the Evolution IX wagon does represent Mitsubishi's most serious attempt at cramming everything it had learnt in competition into a compelling station wagon package.

It borrowed more heavily from the Evolution range than previous attempts. The wonderful 2.0-litre turbocharged 4G63 engine, in mechanical specification identical to that of the Evolution sedan, was lifted across to power the wagon. So was the Active Centre Differential (ACD) driveline, Bilstein dampers, and numerous alloy suspension components.

As per the regular sedan version, an MR version was also offered. This model added a smaller turbocharger with a titanium-aluminium alloy turbine wheel in lieu of the inconel alloy item from the regular GT version, optional BBS forged wheels, and black-housed headlights.

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Power outputs for both versions were close to the sedan, with official figures coming in at 206kW and 392Nm.

Despite a slightly lower torque figure, an Evo wagon, when new, went from a standstill to 100km/h in just under five seconds.

Not bad for a little Lancer.

Toyota Crown Athlete V Estate (S170 generation)

What happens when you begin to mature, but still lust for a quick wagon in your life?

Well, you naturally opt for the pinnacle of dignified Japanese wagon motoring – the Toyota Crown Estate.

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This is not a new, or rare special edition wagon, however. Toyota has been building the Crown estate since the late 1960s, back when some vehicles Toyota produced were sold under the 'Toyopet' brand.

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However, we're going to be focusing on one of the more interesting, late model versions, the S170 generation Crown Estate.

This particular car was built upon a generation of Toyota S chassis that underpinned great cars such as the Lexus GS / Toyota Aristo.

As Toyota's big, luxurious, long-wheelbase, rear-wheel drive platform, you can expect nothing but suppleness and smoothness when behind the wheel.

I know this, because I once owned an S170 generation Crown myself.

The Athlete V Estate version is powered by Toyota's 1JZ-GTE motor. A straight-six, turbocharged engine with its variable-valve timed head developed by Yamaha, a subsidiary of Toyota.

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Despite being branded 'Athlete V', it featured a rather unathletic four-speed auto, with ridiculously tall gearing.

Wafty, calm, and serene, yet brisk, is the best way to describe it. Possibly what a cloud would be like, if you could hitch a ride on one.

These particular cars have recently amassed a bit of a following in Australia, with a small, yet interesting car club dedicated to sharing knowledge and parts related to the S170 generation Crown.

Subaru Impreza Sports Wagon Casablanca

This last mention goes out to one of the most bizarre and truly strange wagons of all time – the Subaru Impreza Sports Wagon Casablanca.

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During the 1990s, Japan had this fascination with creating 'classically styled' versions of regular cars.

Some brands really embraced this theme, including Subaru, with its odd Impreza Casablanca range.

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The proliferation of this movement in the 1990s can trace its roots back to a particular set of niche Nissan products from the 1980s.

The story goes a disenfranchised teenager, Naoki Sakai, moved to San Francisco in the 1960s with his wife, and became obsessed with tattoo culture. He took his obsession and monetised it, by printing tattoo designs on T shirts.

He claims to have amassed a fortune of more than $300,000 from selling his wares, which he quickly blew, right down to the last dime.

Fast forward a few years, he finds himself back in Japan, poorer than he once was, and now designing cars for Nissan. His homage-themed vehicles, the then-concept Nissan Be-1 and S-Cargo van, made their debut at the 1987 Tokyo motor show.

The crowd went wild. So Nissan had to produce them.

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Dubbed 'Pike Cars' due to their manufacturing location, this funky set of automobiles was built by subcontractor Aichi Machine Industry, which to this day manufactures parts for Nissan oddities such as the Juke and Cube.

Digression aside, Sakai-san's bold styling efforts went on to inspire such wacky and wonderful things, like the Impreza Sports Wagon Casablanca.

Sadly, under the bonnet of the weirdly styled Subaru, you'll find nothing more than a 1.5-litre naturally-aspirated version of its EJ flat-four engine, hooked up a rather lousy four-speed auto.

Sure, it's far, far away from the fire breathing WRX STi wagons of Japan, but no other Subaru estate car remains as interesting as this one.

Did we miss any of your favourite Japanese wagons? Or is there another nation which you think, has built equally cool wagons? Let us know in the comments section below.

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