Shooting Brakes and Station Wagons: What’s the Difference?

If you dig deep down the obscure car rabbit hole, you may stumble upon the phrase “Shooting Brake.” They look fairly similar to station wagons, which are becoming increasingly uncommon. Both have large trunks, both are long and low, but their names differ greatly. So what exactly are they, and how are they different from estates?

Dodge Magnum Station Wagon (top) and Ferrari 612 Scaglietti Shooting Brake (bottom) | John B. Carnett/Sjoerd van der Wal via Getty Images

What is the difference between shooting brakes and station wagons?

Well, the answer is fairly simple: a station wagon has four doors, whereas a shooting brake has two. While Carwow says that shooting brakes also have more sweeping rooflines, it all boils down to the number of side doors the vehicle has.

Some shooting brakes might be mistaken for coupes, but their longer bodies and hatchback trunks are dead giveaways. They also tend to be more luxurious, whereas station wagons are built around practicality. After all, four doors in your estate make it easier for everyone to get in and out.

There are exceptions to this “rule,” such as the Volkswagen Squareback, VW’s tiny Beetle-based wagon that came after the Bus. But the Ferarri FF is a much more “high society” example. They’re a combination of a coupe and a estate, with the door count from a coupe and the trunk space of an estate. But the term shooting brake sounds odd. A station wagon makes sense, as they were originally wagons pulled by horses. So where did the strange name come from?

Why is it called a shooting brake?

Rolls Royce Shooting Brake
Rolls Royce Shooting Brake | Sjoerd van der Wal/Getty Images

The name originates from the 1890s, before motorcars were even mainstream. Brakes were the kind of carriage pulled by younger horses, as a means to break them in and train them for bigger and better wagons. And these brakes were primarily used by hunting parties. Put them together, and you have shooting brakes. Though the car was vastly different than the carriage.

For starters, the carriage was open and had no roof, that way the hunters could stand up, see around them, and shoot. They were high off the ground, sort of like a mobile platform, giving them a vantage point over their game. And, most obviously, they were pulled by horses.

There really isn’t a connection between the cars and the carriage. But if I had a hunch, the reasoning behind the name is that it just sounds better. A while ago, Mercedes called their four-doored CLA a shooting brake even though, in technicality, it’d be a wagon. It just makes a car sound fancier, even if the name doesn’t exactly mean anything.

Though whether it’s a station wagon or a shooting brake, there’s no denying that the sales of both are drastically dipping in the states.

Both shooting brakes and station wagons are dying breeds in America

Volvo 850 Station Wagon and Aston Martin Vanquish Shooting Brake
Volvo 850 Station Wagon (top) and Aston Martin Vanquish Shooting Brake (bottom) | National Motor Museum/Martyn Lucy via Getty Images

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Shooting brakes were uncommon from the start, but with crossovers and compacts taking the country by storm, station wagons are being pulled out of the US as well. The Passat wagon disappeared a long while ago, and now the Passat sedan will be leaving as well. Even Volvo recently pulled some of their wagons as well, despite the fact that the Volvo 245 and 850 may be the most iconic wagons in history.

So while you now differentiate the two body styles, this new information may fade into obscurity. But hey, at least now you know the difference.