Most station wagons are modified sedan-type car bodies, having the passenger area extended to the rear window (over the normal trunk area of the vehicle). Unlike a standard hatchback car, which otherwise meets this description, a station wagon is the full height of the passenger cabin all the way to the back; the rear glass is not sloped too far from vertical. A station wagon is distinguished from a minivan (MPV) or SUV by still being a car, sharing its forward bodywork with other cars in a manufacturer's range.
The vast majority of today's station wagons have an upward-swinging, full-width full-height rear door supported on gas struts, but historically many different designs have been used:
In Europe, Australia and South Africa, these vehicles remain popular and in volume production, although minivans (MPVs) and the like have had some impact.
Station wagons are lower in profile than a minivan or SUV and thus have less air resistance when driving on the highway.
In the early days, many station wagons were aftermarket conversions and had their new bodywork built with a wooden frame, sometimes with wooden panels, sometimes steel. These vehicles are called woodies and these days are highly collectable. Vestiges of this style survived for a long while on the American market (but never elsewhere) in the form of attached, non-structural wood-grained panels attached to the sides of some station wagons. Originally, these were real wood but more often they are artificial 'fake wood'. The appeal of these is such that even now there are aftermarket suppliers of them for such modern vehicles as the Chrysler PT Cruiser.
Station wagons were the originators of fold down seats to accommodate passengers or cargo.
In the United Kingdom, a very specific type, rare these days, is known as a shooting brake. These are modifications of luxury coupés with an estate car - like back fitted. They generally remain with two side doors. The purpose of them, historically, is obvious from the name; they were vehicles for the well-off shooter and hunter, giving space to carry shotguns and other equipment. They have rarely been made by the factory and are generally aftermarket conversions; some are still made. Up through the early 1960s many of them were built as woodies, making them some of the most exclusive and luxurious woodies ever built.