2002 Midsize Wagons Comparison Test

  • Full Review
  • Pricing & Specs
  • Road Tests
  • Comparison (1)
  • Long-Term

2002 Subaru Legacy Wagon

(2.5L 4-cyl. AWD 5-speed Manual)

  • Comparison Test
  • Editors' Evaluations
  • Data and Charts
  • Safety Features & Crash Test Scores
  • Top 10 Features
  • Consumer Commentary
  • Final Rankings and Scoring Explanation

It used to be that family car shoppers had more wagons at their disposal than minivans and SUVs, but as the 1980s spilled into the '90s, people found that vehicles like the Dodge Caravan and Ford Explorer were more practical, more stylish choices. Yet, the wagons didn't die out completely. From amidst the rubble of the gigantic rear-drive V8-powered station wagons that no one wanted to drive anymore arose a small population of front-wheel-drive midsize wagons.

These wagons traded size for increased maneuverability and fuel economy — and provided seating for five. Their shelf life was limited, though, due to the increasing supply of high-riding alternatives. By the mid-1990s, most of them were gone — the list of casualties includes wagon versions of the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Nissan Maxima, as well as General Motors' aged A-body wagons (the Buick Century, Chevrolet Celebrity, Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser and Pontiac 6000).

Now it seems that we've reached the hors d'oeuvre course of a new wagon movement, as some consumers have admitted to themselves (and their families) that the current midsize wagons are safer, less expensive, more fuel-efficient and easier to drive than sport-utes of similar size — while offering equal, if not better, cargo capacity. And with the availability of all-wheel drive for some models, wagons, too, can deal with harsh winter weather.

Perhaps you've settled on a wagon instead of an SUV for your next family vehicle purchase (or at least you're thinking about it), but aren't sure which one is best. To help out, we've assembled three popular midsize choices for a small comparison test — the "upscale" sibling of Ford's strong-selling Taurus, the Mercury Sable; the standard-issue wagon for New England and Montana, the Subaru Legacy; and our Most Wanted midsize wagon, the Volkswagen Passat.

The first question for some readers is sure to be "How could you leave out the Saturn L-Series wagon?" Please know that we didn't intend it as a slight to American cars. Rather, we made our request for an LW300 a little late in the game, and our contacts at Saturn were unable to come up with one for us. However, we plan to acquire the updated 2003 LW300 for a full road test later on.

As you read this comparison, you'll notice significant differences in prices and equipment among the participants — the Passat was a top-of-the-line GLX 4Motion model (W8s excepted) with a $32,000 price tag; the Sable was a loaded LS Premium model still digestibly priced under $26K; and the Legacy was a cloth-lined GT model with Subaru's boxer four-cylinder, a manual transmission and a $24K MSRP. We certainly would have preferred to evaluate more comparably trimmed cars; a front-drive Passat GLS with either the V6 or the 1.8T would have been a better fit for this test, but as we've said before, we're limited to whatever's available from the manufacturers' press fleets. Moreover, the Legacy Wagon simply isn't available with a six-cylinder engine and luxury features like leather; these are reserved for the all-terrain Outback Wagon, which competed in our 2002 Crossover SUV Comparison Test (coming soon) — and this time, we just wanted a plain old wagon.

With those qualifiers out of the way, we can assure you that each wagon participated in a rigorous simulation of family duty over the course of a week — we took them shopping in the suburbs; we drove them through congested city streets and on the highway; we gave them a workout on the sort of two-lane roads that you might encounter on the way to the lake cabin; we stuffed three enthusiastic editors into their backseats; we tested their willingness to accept large suitcases and child safety seats; and we put them through our usual battery of performance testing.

By the end of the week, none of the wagons seemed like a bad choice; in fact, only 13.5 points separated the first-place car from the third-place finisher. However, in the most subjective areas — the editors' 23-point evaluations and our personal and recommended picks — the hierarchy was very clear. Keep reading and find out which wagon most deserves a spot in your driveway.

Third Place - 2002 Mercury Sable Wagon

Taken by itself, the current-generation Sable Wagon always seemed like a sensible choice to us. Not handsome or refined, but nevertheless competent and affordable. We last took up the cause of the Sable in a 2000 road test, in which Senior Road Test Editor Brent Romans concluded, "[The Sable] does a good job at doing everything a wagon is supposed to do. Price no object, we'd gladly take a Passat 4Motion Wagon.... But for the money, the Taurus/Sable Wagon is hard to beat."

Almost two years later, nothing has changed, except for the thoughtful additions of an auto-dimming rearview mirror and approach lights on the exterior mirrors. But the wagon we once spoke kindly of finished last in this test. What happened? It simply wasn't as appealing next to its peers.

Actually, the Mercury finished only 10 points out of second place, and if you glance at the Final Rankings page, you'll see that it held its own in the performance testing, feature content and safety categories. However, it wasn't popular with editors — no one wanted to buy one for personal use and no one was eager to recommend it to someone else. The Sable fared little better in our 23-point evaluations (in which editors rate every aspect of a car — engine performance, seat comfort and so on). Alongside the Passat and Legacy, it just couldn't provide the driving experience, cabin accommodations, or build and materials quality to get the high scores — not even a full LS Premium load of equipment and a reasonable as-tested MSRP of $25,795 could overcome these weaknesses.

Among our field of three, the Sable Wagon was the closest in size and spirit to the sauropod wagons of earlier days. It's about 10 inches longer and 4 inches wider than either competitor and has a nearly 40-foot turning radius (about 2 feet more than the Passat's and 4 feet more than the Legacy's). Inside, the Sable offers the most head- and shoulder room in the front seat and the most head-, leg- and shoulder room in the rear. However, when we put three people into the backseat, we found that the wagon's sloping roofline seriously limited the available head space for outboard passengers, allowing the rigid headliner to press against their skulls. In terms of the number of passengers you can legally transport, though, the Mercury is an obvious choice for carpooling — with the standard child-size rear-facing third-row seat, our test vehicle could have carried seven, and with a front bench seat (available as a no-cost option), eight bodies are possible.

On paper, the Sable has the most cargo volume — 38.8 cubic feet with the second-row bench in use (and the third-row bench folded into the floor) and 81.3 with everything folded down. But when we got out a tape measure to see what the minimum height, length and width of each wagon's cargo bay would be — numbers that would be important to you if you wanted to haul a dresser, for instance — we found once again that the Sable's sloping rump compromised the available height and width. Interestingly, the smallest wagon, the Legacy, provides 4 to 5 inches more wiggle room in either case. Still, the Sable is the best choice for hauling long items, as its bay offers a minimum length of 41 inches (7 to 8 inches more than the others) and a flip-up rear windshield. It was also the only wagon with a 60/40-split folding rear seat that didn't need to have the seat bottom folded up or headrests removed to get a flat load floor, as well as ready-to-use crossbars (one of them adjustable) on its roof rails.

Grumbling under the hood of our LS Premium test wagon was Ford's 3.0-liter Duratec V6, which produces 200 horsepower at 5,650 rpm and 200 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm. Known for its noisy, unrefined nature, the Duratec has a healthy powerband with adequate torque for passing maneuvers. During performance testing, the Sable proved to be the quickest wagon, posting a respectable 9.0-second 0-to-60-mph time and 16.8-second quarter-mile.

The accompanying four-speed automatic transmission doesn't really enhance the engine's virtues, though, as editors complained that it was hesitant to downshift. And one driver wrote that the shifts were harsh when they finally arrived. Also, with the Sable's old-fashioned gear selection of D, D without overdrive and 1, the driver has no control over shifts between second and third gear. Most people won't care, but when we challenged the car (on a winding two-lane road or through the slalom), the transmission sometimes became overly choosy, shuffling between second and third. Some of us saw this as evidence of confusion, while others decided that the transmission was merely doing its best to get the correct gear.

Fuel economy is average for a V6-equipped car at 19 mpg city/26 mpg highway. We averaged 20 mpg during the test wagon's week-long stay.

Out on the road, the Sable's ride and handling characteristics left a lot to be desired. Besides giving their drivers an agile mode of transport, the Legacy and Passat happily bring up the question: Should a midsize wagon be fun to drive? The Mercury can only back away from this issue, perhaps feeling shame for skipping spin class at the gym. During our test loops, which incorporated a range of driving conditions that real owners might face, we consistently found the Sable to be the least enjoyable wagon. "Not in the same realm," said one driver.

Although the car's fully independent front strut/rear short-long arm suspension setup delivered the comfy highway ride that everyone can appreciate, it was evident to drivers that the Mercury didn't have a stiff enough structure to match the overall balance and control of the Legacy and Passat. As a result, the suspension allowed harshness into the cabin when the tires encountered broken pavement or freeway expansion joints, as well as noticeable front-end dive during braking and rear-end squat during acceleration. However, a couple of staff members noted that while the wagon's limits weren't high, its handling was predictable within those limits. A change of tires would probably help the Sable, as its standard 215/60R16 Firestone Affinity Touring T3s lost grip easily and howled piteously as we made our way down the two-lanes.

Editors generally found the Sable's steering slow to respond to driver inputs and devoid of road feedback compared with the competition, though one driver was satisfied with the weighting. Still, the Sable wasn't as easy to steer as the Legacy and Passat. "It seems like there's a lot of friction in this system," one editor wrote. "It's not fluid, like a Ford Focus steering rack."

Even with the rear disc brakes allotted to all wagons in the Sable/Taurus family, our test vehicle had the weakest braking ability of the group. Its 134-foot 60-to-0-mph braking distance put it nearly 8 feet behind the Passat and more than 13 feet behind the Legacy. Keep in the mind that the Legacy and Sable were actually about the same weight, as the Subaru was weighted down by an all-wheel-drive system. And in practical situations, drivers reported that the brake pedal felt mushy and failed to slow the car in a progressive manner (stopping didn't begin until several inches into the pedal's travel). Note that ABS is optional rather than standard.

Our car came with an optional traction control system, which monitors front wheel spin and responds to slippage using the engine and the brake system. On the few occasions that the system intervened as we accelerated over rough pavement, we found it helpful rather than overly intrusive. We're surprised that Ford doesn't offer its excellent AdvanceTrac stability control system as well for the Sable (or the Taurus), a class in which safety features are of premium value; it's optional on the highline Focus models and would certainly give the Mercury another bargaining chip in the midsize segment.

As we peered inside our LS Premium test wagon, we were again reminded of the giants that preceded it. Indeed, the cabin's long, flat dash, numerous seams and panels and completely analog gauge cluster (odometer and trip meter included) provided a fossil record of what all domestics used to be. However, not enough time has passed to make this sort of haphazard design seem cool again; compared with the others, it's just tired. Drivers also noted the lack of an on-dash gear indicator for the floor shifter. Not surprisingly, the Sable earned low scores in the interior design category of our 23-point evaluations, though one editor saw fit to give it an average rating on the basis of the few thoughtful features Mercury threw in — among these, double-flap sunvisors with adjustable lighting elements for the vanity mirrors.

Our test vehicle fared no better in the materials category, as everyone noted the allocation of hard plastics, rubbery soft-touch materials and excessively fake wood. Besides that, it seems that a number of suppliers contributed to the final package, given the mismatched grain patterns. The leather upholstery was least offensive; it seemed average in quality.

Editors disagreed on the issue of front seat comfort. Two were bothered by the flat, unsupportive swayback seat design, which provides no lumbar support or adjustment and employs a manual lever for seatback recline rather than a full set of power controls (dual power front seats are standard on the LS Premium). Another editor was satisfied with the level of cushioning but wanted a longer seat bottom to improve thigh support. Of course, everyone liked the standard power adjustable pedals; along with the relatively wide chairs, they allow the Sable to accommodate a range of body types.

The backseat has plenty of room, as well as a set of vents on the back of the center console to help keep passengers sufficiently heated and cooled, but the bench itself lacks any sort of supportive contouring. This, combined with the absence of headrests and the compromised headroom, made it uncomfortable for the three adult-size editors who squeezed in together. What's more, Mercury chose to omit a three-point belt for the center passenger during the 2000 redesign. Getting out of the backseat proved difficult due to high door sills, sloped C-pillars and rear doors that don't open very wide. Another issue for anyone planning to install a child seat with tethers is the placement of the upper anchorage points — they're on the cargo floor, which limits your options for loading luggage and makes it harder to cinch seats down snugly.

Editors were divided on the ergonomic worthiness and functionality of the center stack controls. One editor was content with the overall arrangement and commented only that she would have liked a tuning knob for the stereo. The others turned upon the automatic climate control system; pulled straight from the corporate parts bin, the controls are a collection of widely spaced buttons that look alike. One driver found it impossible to memorize the operational protocol and had to take her eyes off the road every time; she was also annoyed that this automatic system did not include a dedicated recirculate function, forcing occupants to use "max A/C" to shut out diesel stench. Still another editor found it difficult to set the manual mode. It was more of the same with the stereo head unit, where organization is again lousy and only small lettering distinguishes the identically sized and shaped seek and tune buttons; check out our stereo review for an evaluation of performance.

Two out of three drivers were satisfied with the secondary controls, but points were deducted for the strange location of the rear wiper button (on the lower left side of the dash) and cheap-feeling control stalks. The third editor, incensed by the scattered layout of the controls, wrote thusly, "It's like Mercury put a bunch of controls in a shotgun and then fired them at the dash." Something to consider during your test drive.

Interior storage space was rated sufficient, though the front door bins are small and the CD changer takes up most of the otherwise spacious center console. Map pockets and small rear door bins give kids a place to stow toys and magazines in the back. Cupholders are a plus, too; a single ratcheting arm design in front fits most beverages and allows the well to double as storage space. In back, a flip-down drawer design gives occupants a place to put drinks even when all three seating positions are in use.

Compared with its tightly assembled competition, our Sable Wagon had some serious build issues — among these were improperly aligned doors, liftgate, hood and quarter panels; noticeably uneven gap tolerances between panels inside and out; a vibrating dash; a loose center console and various other interior trim pieces; a misaligned passenger airbag cover; and poorly finished interior plastics. Reliability was a weak spot for the Sable (and Taurus) in the first half of the 1990s, but since then, it has been average. Given the short warranty coverage — 3 years/36,000 miles for basic and powertrain — an extended warranty would not be a bad idea. You can expect the Mercury's resale value to be lower than either competitor's.

At the end of the week, the Sable seemed like a second-tier choice. In this segment, we feel that buyers shouldn't have to settle for merely adequate handling, below-average build quality and an outdated cabin with marginal comfort levels.

SECOND OPINIONS:

Road Test Editor Liz Kim says:
Lumbering, oversized and lazy. This not only describes the NBC network but also the Mercury Sable. Of course, this will appeal to some buyers. Those who need to cart more than five passengers will appreciate the flip-down third-row seats, and people enjoy hearkening back to their youth when station wagons existed for the sole purpose of carting people and cargo, with no highfalutin ideas of being fun to drive or being a pleasant place to be for a few hours of your day. While the Sable fulfills the transportation needs of those who are simply looking for a comfortably damped ride around town in an old-school way, if you're looking for a vehicle that can give a little more, such as a nicely appointed, well-fitted interior with modern features, or one that allows you to enjoy the driving experience, then two other station wagons beckon. Listen to the siren song.

Senior Road Test Editor Brent Romans says:
Much of the gain in SUV popularity the past 15 years can be attributed to people not wanting to own what they consider to be sapless modes of transportation. And as much as I tried to objectively evaluate the individual merits for each wagon, I couldn't help but think "mommy-mobile" every time I got behind the wheel of the Mercury. It was like I was back in high school, driving my parent's '78 Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser ("Please, don't let any of my friends see me"). I discerned that the Merc's stigma comes from two areas: styling and brand. I dislike the Sable's shape, finding the bubbly and overdone rear end at odds with the front of the car. As for brand, Mercury has little positive resonance with me. Its products are, for the most part, simple derivatives of other Ford products. Other than the 2003 Marauder, there's nothing cool in the lineup. Subaru and Volkswagen, meanwhile, build some truly world-class vehicles. This kills the Sable for me, as does its driving experience and overall design. The third-row seat is interesting. But if you really need seven-passenger capacity, should you be buying a wagon? Mazda's updated-for-2002 MPV minivan is small as minivans go, holds seven and is actually more fun to drive. Oh, and I think it's more stylish, too. It's a sad day when a minivan outclasses a car for quotient of cool.

Stereo Evaluation - 2002 Mercury Sable Wagon

Ranking in Stereo Test: Second

System Score: 6

Components: The Sable was fitted with the optional (and far too expensive) audio system that provides a meager 80-watt amplifier and six upgraded speakers. Large midrange/tweets blast the driver and front passenger from the side mirror patches on the doors while large woofers reside near their ankles. Big speakers in the back are waaay back on the inside panel of the liftgate door. That's great if your groceries need entertainment, but any kids sitting in the backseat will probably show more appreciation for the tunes.

Performance: The driver and co-pilot can feel like they're in the front row of a rock concert by twisting the enormous volume knob, but they won't mistake the experience for an evening at the Greek Theatre. The sound is powerful, just not very refined. Portishead's Roseland NYC Live rocks, although the numerous strings sometimes blend together and the vocals aren't as lively as in the Passat. The Beatles show there is good separation up front, but rap bass lines overwhelm the full-range speakers in the cargo area with flutter and distortion appearing at high volume (but it's loud).

Best Feature: Blasters near the reflectors.

Worst Feature: No speakers in the rear doors.

Conclusion: It only beats the Legacy with help of separate tweets and the CD changer. — Trevor Reed

Second Place - 2002 Subaru Legacy Wagon

Introduced in 1990, the Legacy is the oldest nameplate in the current Subaru lineup and largely responsible for the company's reputation as a purveyor of dependable, affordable station wagons. Lately, Subaru has shifted its attention and money to other projects — the high-performance Impreza WRX, the newly redesigned 2003 Forester sport-ute and the Outback, an all-terrain version of the Legacy wearing an SUV costume. This doesn't mean the third-generation Legacy sedan and wagon (2000 to present) are worth ignoring, but it does mean that Subaru has saved a lot of the good stuff for the others.

Case in point: our top-shelf GT test wagon came with Subaru's ever-versatile 165-horsepower boxer four engine rather than the Outback's six-cylinder, and a cloth rather than a leather interior (available only for the GT Limited sedan and the Outback models). It was also equipped with a five-speed manual transmission, which obviously wasn't our first choice for a comparison of family-oriented vehicles. However, having the five-speed probably worked in the Legacy's favor, as our previous experience has shown that the Subaru's four-speed automatics are often sluggish with downshifts. Our test vehicle had no options, leaving us with a four-speaker cassette stereo and the lowest as-tested price of the group — $24,320. Remember that an all-wheel-drive system (standard on all Legacys since 1996) is built into that price, making the Subaru a great buy for shoppers in snowy climates who don't want to pay the premium Volkswagen asks for its 4Motion models.

Despite its short equipment list, the Legacy was quite competitive in this test and finished just 3.2 points behind the Passat (though the margin would have been greater if we'd gotten a more reasonably priced Passat test wagon). The Subaru's affordability certainly helped, but it was also a favorite with editors (two out of three picked the Legacy first for their own garages), a solid performer during instrumented testing and plenty crashworthy.

So why didn't the Legacy win? Too many of the features we identified as important for a midsize wagon were either optional (and therefore not included on our test car) or not available at all. Moreover, editors felt that the Legacy lacked the versatility of the Passat — its backseat is really more suited for two than three, and its four-cylinder engine doesn't have the ready supply of torque underfoot that its competitors possess.

Though 2 inches taller than either of the others and slightly longer than the VW, the Subaru was the smallest wagon overall, and this was evident when we seated ourselves in the vehicle. Indeed; the front seats are comfortable and supportive with ample legroom (more than the Sable and Passat) and headroom, but the quarters are narrow, and anyone with a large frame may find hip- and shoulder room scarce. Power controls are provided for seat height and fore/aft adjustment, while seatback recline and lumbar have manual levers. In an odd packaging decision, Subaru chose not to make side airbags (for front occupants) available for any Legacy Wagon, forcing buyers who want them to step up to the Outback Wagon (Limited, L.L. Bean or VDC trims) or get the Legacy GT Limited Sedan (this situation will be rectified in 2003 Legacy Wagons, which will be available with both side airbags and leather). On the plus side, the Legacy Wagon received a four-star side-impact rating (out of a possible five) without the bags.

The rear seat is less accommodating than the front, as leg-, toe- and shoulder room are the lowest of the group, and the center hump is prominent. That is not to say that the Legacy backseat is unfit for human occupants; our three adult editors (roughly average in size) were pressed up against each other back there, but they admitted that with two adults, these quarters would be preferable to the Sable's due to the seat's superior contouring and thigh support, adjustable headrests and slight improvement in headroom (the Subaru might have less on paper, but in the rear world, it has less swoopy sheetmetal). And unlike the Sable, the Legacy has three-point seatbelts for all.

Still, space isn't the only issue back here — the door armrests and the C-pillars are all hard plastic, offering little respite for limbs and heads on long road trips, and there are no console-mounted vents, map pockets or door bins. Further, designers chose to mount the upper anchorage points for child seats with tethers on the headliner over the cargo bay; this creates a visibility issue for the driver and restricts access to luggage. Getting out of the car wasn't as easy as it might have been — the doors open wider than the Mercury's, but the wraparound-style rear side windows extend past the C-pillars, making it harder to avoid bumped heads. Subaru's double sunroof design could win your family over, though — a small porthole over the front seat tilts up, while a larger opening over the rear seat slides open completely.

Even with its lower capacity — 34.3 cubic feet (with the rear seat in use) versus 36 for the Passat and almost 39 for the Sable — we found the Legacy's cargo hold to be just as useful for everyday hauling. Four large suitcases fit in easily, and the Subaru was the only wagon with grocery bag hooks. When we measured the minimum dimensions available for loading larger items, we found that the Legacy offered the widest bay, as it never measures less than 42 inches across (this is 3 to 4 inches more than the others). It also tied with the Sable for minimum hatch opening width at 42.3 inches.

If you need more room, you can fold down the 60/40-split rear seat; however, designers made the odd decision to have the seat bottom fold up in one piece before the seatback partitions can fold flat. This of course negates the point of a split-folding seat, since you can't use one side for cargo, while a human occupant sits on the other side. Other complaints included the apparent lack of cargo tie-down points (there were small plastic panels where the tie-downs should have been) and our test wagon's exposed rear bumper — Subaru makes you buy the scuff guard as a $57 option.

Every Legacy comes with a 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine that supplies 165 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 166 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm. This doesn't seem like much power next to the V6 engines in the Sable and Passat, but during performance testing, the Legacy, aided by a five-speed, did beat out the Volkswagen in acceleration with a 9.3-second 0-to-60-mph time.

However, we suspect that many buyers will not find this engine as appealing as the other choices in this segment. Subaru's boxer four likes to rev — and needs to rev in order to make its best power. Around town, this was OK, as the engine settled into its powerband quickly, and the gears were spaced out enough so that frequent shifting wasn't necessary. But during higher-speed driving, we felt that acceleration was lacking, particularly when we were cruising in overdrive on the freeway and decided to pass a slower-moving vehicle. Add some passengers and luggage along with the automatic transmission that most buyers prefer, and the pace is going to be leisurely at best.

Because of the weight of the all-wheel-drive system, fuel economy isn't great for a four-cylinder. Our five-speed was rated at 21/27, and automatics come in at 22/27. We averaged 22.4 mpg.

Editors disagreed about the operation of the five-speed manual transmission. Two drivers remarked on the surprisingly good shifter feel, short throws between gears and the overall quick, light action of the shifter and clutch, but the third said that engagement was notchy. All mentioned that it was sometimes difficult to get smooth upshifts, if one was too abrupt with the throttle, and there were a couple of reports of driveline lash when shifting into first gear.

Since we're talking about a Subaru, we're talking about power flowing through all four wheels all the time. Manual-shift models like ours get Continuous All-Wheel Drive, which splits power equally (50/50, that is) between the front and rear wheels under ideal traction conditions. When slippage occurs, a viscous coupling in a transaxle-mounted center differential responds and reroutes power to the wheels with the best traction. Legacys with automatic transmissions get an electronic AWD system that does the same job, while attempting to optimize the power distribution before any of the wheels start to slip. We've tried both systems and have found them to work equally well. Additionally, GT models come with a rear limited-slip differential that can transfer power between the rear wheels if one of them loses grip. You don't have to wait until winter to take advantage of this feature, either: When the car is going around a curve, this differential transfers torque to the outside wheel to improve traction and balance.

Obviously, the Legacy is well-suited for winter driving, but during this test, the weather was dry, and we were mainly concerned with its worthiness as a station wagon. And regardless of where you live, this wagon's all-wheel-drive capability affords it terrific grip on curvy roads — quite a bonus if you're a wagon buyer who enjoys driving. Also in play here is the GT's sport-tuned, fully independent front strut/multilink rear suspension, which at times made our test vehicle feel more like a sports car than a family wagon. Body roll is minimal compared with the others, and the Legacy instills confidence when pushed around turns. The downside of the car's higher handling threshold is that the ride is not as soft — if this is important to you, try the non-sport-tuned Legacy L or go with one of the other wagons.

Adding to our enjoyment was the Subaru's surprisingly quick steering; drivers generally thought that it had a predictable feel (that is, the steering effort increased as the speed of travel increased) and provided ample feedback from the road below. Braking was another strong area for the Legacy, which hauled itself to a stop from 60 mph in just 120.7 feet (a number typically reserved for sport coupes). Editors reported that the brakes worked well in everyday situations as well with smooth, progressive operation.

Four-wheel antilock disc brakes are standard on all Legacys, though the GT gets larger front discs than the base L model. Sixteen-inch alloy wheels and 205/55R16 Bridgestone Potenzas are also included with the GT; two editors were satisfied with the grip and noise level of the tires, but the third found them wanting in both areas — something to pay attention to during your test drive. Wind noise is another thing to watch for; our test car had a noticeable leak from the driver door, likely due to the frameless window design Subaru uses for all its cars.

As with other Subarus, the Legacy's cabin is simple in design, and for the most part, well constructed (we did find a few panel misalignments and poorly finished plastics). While some drivers liked the legible instrumentation and the comfortable middle-class environment, one editor found the plain design and gray color scheme overly drab — "just your average Japanese layout," she wrote. We agreed that buyers who seek a luxury-car feel to their wagon should opt for the Passat.

The materials used in the Legacy are several levels above those in the Sable but still not on par with the Passat's. You'll find soft-touch material on the dash and doortops and hard decent-quality matte-finish plastics on the pillars and center console. Drivers actually had nice things to say about the faux wood trim, which isn't too glossy and brings a bit of warmth to the gray cabin. Coarse gray velour covers the seats; one editor thought it wasn't soft enough, while another deemed it handsome and durable.

The center stack controls are small, especially the outdated single-DIN stereo head unit (check out the stereo review to find out about the performance of the four-speaker, 80-watt system). Fortunately, the climate control system with three rotary dials and three auxiliary buttons (A/C, recirculate and rear defrost) is simple to use. But editors didn't like "clickety" feel of the dials.

Editors gave the secondary controls mixed reviews. The Legacy employs the simple three-stalk layout for lights, wipers and cruise, and everyone liked the substantial feel of the stalks and their straightforward operation. However, the power buttons for the cruise control and foglights are inconveniently located on the left side of the dash. Further, no one liked the single non-automatic button that controls the double sunroof — if you want the rear skylight open, you must wait for the front porthole's glass to tilt up and then continue pressing the button while the rear roof retracts. Besides that, one driver reported that the window and door lock buttons were too close to each other, making it easy to hit the wrong button, while another observed that nighttime illumination of the controls was poor.

Storage areas include an average-size center console container and glovebox, front door bins, a change drawer for the driver, a shelf for CDs in the dash and a lined tray behind the shifter. A larger center console container (preferably with a liner) and some provision for storage in the backseat would be worthy improvements to the Legacy's cabin. Two fixed-size front cupholders are housed in the center console, and two rear cupholders deploy from a drawer in the back of the console; all come with a rubber liner.

In addition to the few interior build issues we noted, drivers observed slight gap variations around the front fascia and rear hatch of our test wagon, as well as a driver door that needed a good slam to close completely. Reliability has always been a strong point for Subarus, and the Legacy is the only wagon in this group that Consumer Reports has consistently ranked above average over the last decade.

From a driver's perspective, the Legacy was the most entertaining wagon among our field of three. Add to this its standard all-wheel-drive system; its comfortable, carefully constructed cabin and its distinguished reliability record, and you have a very likeable car. But with a modest power supply and a small backseat, it probably won't do for a family of five and all the stuff that inevitably gets packed into its car for a long trip. Perhaps our first-place wagon can offer its assistance.

SECOND OPINIONS:

Road Test Editor Liz Kim says:
The Subaru is lots of fun — all-wheel drive, linear steering, a raucous but spirited engine and a sport suspension all add up to lawlessness on local deserted roads. But what are the reasons that one would buy a station wagon? To transport people and things in a convenient and comfortable manner. Those who sit in the rear won't find things too plush, with deficient shoulder room for more than two passengers, no storage space and hard materials all around. Loading cargo isn't too bad — overall the cargo area is smaller than the other two. It's not really comfortable, since our sport package-equipped model was more at home on twisty roads than around traffic. So if what appeals to you about the Legacy is its "fun" aspect, first you've got to ask yourself why you need a station wagon. If you're not really that concerned with creature comforts, and what you're primarily concerned with is driving characteristics, wouldn't you rather get a WRX sport sedan or wagon instead?

Senior Road Test Editor Brent Romans says:
Of the three wagons, this was the only one I had any fun in. On more than one occasion, I caught myself careening around corners at speeds that no wagon should have any business doing. I even tried to out-accelerate a Ford Mustang while going up a two-lane freeway entrance ramp. Obviously, I lost that drag race, but the point is that the Subaru — at least in GT trim — is able to encourage such hooliganism. I'd attribute this to the Legacy's nimble handling and, in our test car's case, manual transmission. It'd be nice to have the option of ordering a six-cylinder engine in the Legacy. Subaru puts one in the Outback, but only for the feature-laden (and expensive) L.L. Bean Edition and VDC trims. With a full load of passengers and cargo, an automatic-equipped Legacy wagon is going to be rather pudgy. Even so, the Legacy is the wagon I'd likely buy. The way I see it, the main point of getting a wagon instead of a minivan is for the better handling and maneuverability. Overall, I'd agree that the Passat is a better choice. But if you get a Legacy, it's all right by me.

Stereo Evaluation - 2002 Subaru Legacy Wagon

Ranking in Stereo Test: Third

System Score: 5

Components: The standard stereo in the Legacy wagon is Australian for simple. There's a tape player in the dash (no CD!) powering a full-range speaker in each door. Your local dealer will be happy to install a single-CD player or in-dash six-disc changer, two-way speakers in each door, satellite tweeters and a powered subwoofer under the seat for rump-rattling bass.

Performance: While it has only half as many speakers as the Passat, the Legacy wagon does an admirable job in stock form. Bass is strong and clean, but drums don't resonate very much, and it's no surprise since there's only 80 watts to go around. The output of midrange and high tones are fine for blasting Pearl Jam, but the performance of Stevie Wonder and friends doesn't have the depth and texture found in the Passat (maybe it's in the available upgrades). Also, the tiny buttons and the low placement of the stereo can make it hard to use while driving.

Best Feature: Simplicity.

Worst Feature: Absence of a CD player is a sin.

Conclusion: It gets the job done and the optional speakers could possibly put the Sube into second place. — Trevor Reed

First Place - 2002 Volkswagen Passat Wagon

Before getting lost in the details of the Passat, we'll attempt to answer a few commonly asked questions. Yes, this is the third comparison test in which a Passat has earned highest honors — the 2000 Family Car Comparison Test and the 2002 Premium Family Sedan Comparison Test being the first and second. Yes, we're aware that the Passat doesn't have the distinguished reliability history of competitors like the Subaru Legacy; however, even Consumer Reports, a publication that tends to err on the conservative side in this area (for the protection of the buyer), has identified the Passat as its top choice among family sedans since 1999. And yes, all of our editors have miniature Passats on their nightstands, each of which gets a deferential kiss on the hood at bedtime. OK, not really.

After of a week of testing, we knew the Passat Wagon had a good chance of winning this comparison, but we weren't sure that our GLX 4Motion model could overcome its $32,925 as-tested price (we score this category on a curve, and the Legacy had already set it at 24 grand). We know that's a lot of money to spend on a family car, though if you're ready to part with a couple grand more for a dressed-up sport-ute, it may seem like a bargain. Still, most of us here would rather spend $5,000 to $7,000 less on a front-wheel-drive Passat GLS Wagon with VW's 1.8T powerplant instead of the V6. And here's the great part: we did the math, and due to the generous standard equipment lists throughout the model line, a lower-level Passat would still have won this test, only by a larger margin.

Understand that this wasn't a blow-out; the Passat beat the Legacy by just over 3 points, and we'd certainly feel comfortable if you chose the Subaru. We do think that a sensibly trimmed Passat is the best choice for most families shopping in this segment, as evidenced by the car's 100 percent score in the "Recommended" category — this means that every editor would recommend the Passat first to someone shopping in this segment. Furthermore, the VW gave us little to complain about — it scored well in our 23-point evaluation; provided 6 of the top 10 featureswe identified for a midsize wagon, as well as the most safety features and nearly impeccable crash test scores.

The Passat is closest in size to the Legacy — its overall length is about two inches greater, as is its wheelbase length. A compact hood design allowed engineers to maximize greenhouse dimensions, and indeed the VW's cabin feels spacious and inviting and can accommodate people of a wide range of sizes front and rear. In terms of actual measurements — head-, leg- and shoulder room — the Passat was, in most cases, second to the Mercury, though going by the manufacturer specs, it actually offered the least amount of head- and legroom in the front seat of the three wagons. However, in our experience, the Passat is usually a good fit for taller drivers.

Since our test wagon was a GLX, both front seats came with power controls for fore/aft adjustment, height adjustment and seatback recline, along with manual lumbar adjustment (GLS models have the same adjustments but everything's manual). Added to this is Volkswagen's signature tilt and telescoping steering wheel; it has a wide range of adjustment and comes in every VW, except the EuroVan. After you've found the perfect position, the Passat's seats provide firm, Euro-style cushioning that keeps you adequately supported for long distances. To be fair, though, two of our drivers don't find Passat seats especially comfortable, as the contouring of the back cushion doesn't seem to suit them. But our third editor, like most other people we know, was — and is — very fond of the seats. We recommend that you get as much seat time as possible before making a decision.

Editors gave top honors to the Passat's backseat, as they found it to be the most comfortable for two or three passengers. The Sable might have more hip- and shoulder room, but the VW's supportive bench, superior headroom (one inch less in the specs, but better in practice since the roof doesn't taper), three adjustable headrests and cushioned door panels made the difference. There was also ample room for knees and toes. Our only reservation about this backseat has to do with the center seating position: if your center occupant is out of a car seat, he may find the backrest a bit hard, since a pull-down armrest (with storage and cupholders) is housed here. Three-point seatbelts are provided at all three positions. VW came up with the best location for the upper anchor points (for child seats with tethers) — on the back of the rear seat so that the tether straps don't intrude in the cargo bay. In addition to the required safety stuff, every Passat comes with side-impact airbags for front passengers and a head curtain protection system for front and rear occupants.

Without the 4Motion all-wheel-drive system, the Passat Wagon offers best-in-class cargo capacity with the rear seats in use at 39 cubic feet (compared with the Sable's 38.8). Even with the extra bulk of 4Motion, the our test wagon provided 36 cubic feet — second best in this group. When we checked the minimum available dimensions, we noted that the VW had the most height to go around — 33 inches at the cargo bay's lowest point — and the second most width and length (still almost 7 inches less than the Sable, though).

If you need a larger load area, the 60/40-split rear seat folds flat, provided you remove the headrests and fold up the bottom cushions separately. The Passat offers greater utility than the Legacy in this regard, as the rear seat bottoms fold up in corresponding 60/40 sections, such that you could actually use one side for cargo and the other side for a human being. Still, seats-down capacity is less than either of the other wagons' at 54.6 cubic feet.

One irritation noted during our evaluation was the absence of an exterior release handle for the liftgate — when your hands are full, you have fumble around with either the remote or have the foresight to hit the release button in the cockpit. And in a vehicle of this price, we would have liked a couple of grocery bag hooks. Perhaps the pair of interior grab handles (so that you can close the hatch with getting your hands dirty), two cargo bay power points, and the attractive stainless steel cargo tie-downs and loading edge protector will offset these issues for your family.

Our test wagon was powered by a 30-valve, 2.8-liter V6, which produces 190 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 206 pound-feet of torque at 3,200 rpm. As in other Passats that we've driven, the V6 revved smoothly and silently, but with the 4Motion Wagon's hefty curb weight of 3,644 pounds, the car didn't feel especially fast. During performance testing, the VW was the slowest of the three, as it needed 9.5 seconds to reach 60 mph and 17.2 seconds for the quarter-mile. In the context of everyday life, however, a V6-equipped 4Motion Passat should definitely be able to meet your needs, as power is adequate in all situations.

Fuel economy, on the other hand, is cause for concern; our test wagon was rated at just 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway. During a week of testing, it averaged 16.8 mpg (while drinking premium fuel) — a number low enough to attract the attention of any self-righteous SUV owner. Our recommendation? Unless the roads in your area never get plowed, stick with the front-wheel-drive Passats — they offer better performance and better fuel economy (20/27 with the V6 automatic, 21/31 with the 170-hp 1.8T automatic).

A five-speed automatic with Tiptronic automanual capability is standard on 4Motion Passats (the front-wheel-drive models give you the choice between this and a five-speed manual gearbox). Most owners will prefer to leave the car in "D" and let the transmission make the decisions, and that's generally what we did, too. Editors liked this transmission better than the others and reported that it usually provided crisp, timely shifts. The manual mode is useful when you want the transmission to hold a lower gear (on a steep descent, for instance), but it's not intended for sporting purposes, since the transmission overrides your choices higher in the rpm range.

Like the Subaru's system, 4Motion is a full-time all-wheel-drive system; under ideal traction conditions, a mechanical center differential sees to it that the Passat's front and rear wheels receive an equal share of engine power. When grip is compromised, the differential can redistribute power up to a 67/33 ratio in either direction. Side-to-side power transfers are also possible with the aid of Electronic Differential Locking (EDL), a function of the antilock brake system that applies braking forces to a slipping wheel, thereby redirecting power to the opposite wheel. EDL is active at speeds of up to 27 mph; it's standard on all Passats, but on the AWD models, it works on both the front and rear axles. Those are the technical basics of 4Motion that you might care to know, but when you're out on the road, you'll scarcely be aware that it's working. As with the Subaru, there is something to be said for the feel of all four wheels propelling you and the Passat around a curve. But front-drive Passats like curvy roads, too.

While the Legacy GT was more fun to drive, our Passat test wagon provided an ideal balance of ride and handling. We realize that most owners don't have the time or inclination to play with their cars on little-traveled two-lane roads and will spend most of their time motoring between destinations in the city and on the highway. For these mundane tasks, the Passat is a wonderful companion, as its fully independent four-link front/double-wishbone rear suspension provides a smooth ride, filtering out harshness from bumps and ruts that a Sable/Taurus cannot. As you're making that left turn into the driveway of your children's elementary school, you'll notice that body roll is well controlled, giving the car a stable feel.

Should you feel more enthusiastic on the way to a state park over the weekend, the Passat will still be capable, if a little soft. When we pushed our test vehicle around the curves on canyon roads, editors noted a moderate amount of body roll. Once the VW settled back into a neutral stance, there was ample grip, such that it was easy and even rewarding to power out of turn. Still, one editor felt that the wagon's body rolled over heavily enough that more damping (stiffer shock absorbers, that is) would be desirable.

Everyone liked the steering. Though not as quick as the Legacy's, it nevertheless provided predictable weighting (more power assist in the parking lot, less on the highway) and decent feedback from the road. All Passats come with four-wheel antilock disc brakes, and in the past, we've been happy with the pedal feel and performance. However, our test wagon was a rather elderly press car (13,000 miles) and had apparently been driven hard, as it came to us with warped rotors. As a result, several drivers noted pedal pulsation during normal non-ABS-assisted braking. Yet, the VW still offered progressive pedal feel and acceptable performance — it came to a stop from 60 mph in 127 feet, which is respectable for a 3,600-pound vehicle and more than 6 feet shorter than the braking distance of a 2000 Passat GLX 4Motion Wagon we tested.

Seat yourself in a Passat — any Passat — and it will be hard to go back to the Legacy or the Sable. Editors gave it perfect 10s in both the interior design and interior materials categories of our 23-point evaluations. Our test wagon had a beige interior, which complements the black dashtop, doortops and steering wheel to create an upscale two-tone ensemble. Tasteful chrome accents are standard fare in base Passats, and V6 models get real wood inlays (that actually remind you that a tree gave of itself for you). At night, virtually every gauge and control in the cabin lights up in blue or red and is thus easy to find and use. Take into account the soft-touch materials (with matching grain patterns) applied liberally throughout the cabin and our test wagon's high-quality leather interior treatment, and there's little reason to spend more on an Audi or BMW for the sake of luxury alone.

Like other German automakers, VW tends to use a lot of small buttons for center stack controls. This effect is exacerbated on GLX models, which include the company's Climatronic automatic climate control system. Even so, editors gave the system high scores, because of its orderly arrangement of the various controls and its increased functionality over the Sable's system — which lacked a "recircularity" button to block out odors or dust. Improvements we'd like to see include a dedicated "off" button and an easier-to-read display (higher placement in the center stack would certainly help). The stereo head unit has more small, flat buttons, but the performance of the Monsoon sound system offsets this disadvantage.

Editors had few complaints about the secondary controls — the front windows are one-touch up and down from the driver door; the sunroof opens and closes automatically via an easy-to-use rotary dial; the cruise functions are all on the steering wheel; and the turn signal and wiper stalks have a solid feel when you manipulate them.

Storage space is about on par with the Mercury, but VW's designers provided nicer accommodations. The list includes a small two-tier center console with a felt lining; front door bins with rubber-nub linings; an average-size glovebox with a felt lining; a felt-lined change well for the driver; rear map pockets and fold-down rear center armrest with a negligible amount of felt-lined space (room enough for pens and stray Legos). The front cupholders are in the center console and are equipped with spring-loaded anchors — they can't accommodate large water bottles. The rear holders are less useful than the ones in the Legacy and Sable, as they pop out from the fold-down armrest, such that you can't get to them with three kiddos onboard.

We rated the Passat's build quality highest of the group. Other than some rough edges on interior plastics, a squeaky glovebox door and minor orange peel effect on the exterior paint, we could find nothing wrong with it. Overall, our test wagon seemed to be very solidly constructed — it had the tightest exterior panel gap tolerances. On the subject of reliability, the Passat seems like a safe risk to us: Consumer Reports has rated Passat reliability as average to above average since the redesign for 1998. Besides that, we can draw on personal experience — our 1999 Passat GLS sedan is still in excellent condition after more than 50,000 hard miles.

There is very little that we don't like about the Passat Wagon. It handles well and provides a superbly smooth ride; it has a comfortable, luxurious cabin; it comes with lots of amenities and safety features even in base trim; and it has the best crash test scores in its class. When optioned sensibly, we think it's the wagon that will most likely suit your family.

SECOND OPINIONS:

Road Test Editor Liz Kim says:
I refuse to be apologetic for the Passat winning yet another comparison test. It simply outshines the rest of the competition in almost every aspect that would be required of a vehicle. Say you want a wagon that's actually fun to toot around. The Passat provides a driving experience that's actually enjoyable, rather than a mere form of conveyance. Like the features of a luxury car but aren't remunerated to your full potential? Passat's comfort features are built into the car; even the cheapest version has an encompassing list of safety and convenience equipment. Most of the options and packages that drive up the cost of the car are frills. That's what happens when you start out with an excellent basic car, rather than a decent one that's just been dressed up with silly knickknacks. With an aesthetically pleasing package inside and out, I have no hesitation in recommending the Passat to others or desiring one for myself.

Senior Road Test Editor Brent Romans says:
I feel like the Passat is the automotive equivalent of a five-day Jeopardy champion; every comparison test we put it in, it wins. It's not hard to figure out why. When it comes to offering a rich blend of comfort, performance, utility and style, there's nothing better. After driving the Mercury, the Passat felt like a VIP club where the gin and tonics are free and the women all look like Jolene Blalock. The VW's interior is warm and upscale, its engine is smooth and the backseat is plush. Even the cargo tie-downs are chromed (hopefully, they aren't just for decoration). OK, so it costs more. But you don't have to get one as loaded-up as ours. Another great aspect of this car is that it can accommodate a wide range of budgets and desires. While the Subaru comes only with all-wheel drive, the Passat's 4Motion system is a la carte. My personal choice would be a GLS with a few choice options. That would keep the price well under $30,000. Want more? If you have about $40,000 to burn, there's always the new 270-hp W8. It might be overkill, but you'd certainly have the meanest wagon on the block.

Stereo Evaluation - 2002 Volkswagen Passat Wagon

Ranking in Stereo Test: First

System Score: 8

Components: The Monsoon audio system comes standard on the GLX and is optional on the GLS (for less than $400). It includes upgraded speakers in the top and bottom of each door and an eight-channel 200-watt amplifier sending strong, clean and customized signals to each driver. All Passat wagons get a tape player and a single-CD player in the dash (a dealer-installed six-disc changer for the trunk is optional). Steering wheel-mounted controls come with the GLX or the Leather Package on the other trims.

Performance: Hands down, the Passat has the best-sounding system of the three wagons tested. The woofers are powerful and refined and the well-placed tweeters don't crack under pressure. A Tribe Called Quest brought forth a Love Movement from the speakers by way of warm and loud acoustic bass and tested the tweets with digital high hats. The Grateful Dead proved chaotic live vocals are no chore to the Monsoon system, and the calisthenics of Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother illuminated the precise soundstage (in the front and back seats!). A bright red-on-blue color scheme beams from the display at night and is complemented by information in between the speedometer and tach. The only bummer is the slow reaction of the controls.

Best Feature: Speakers and amp to rival the aftermarket.

Worst Feature: Slow-motion operation.

Conclusion: A great sound system for the GLX and a recommended upgrade for the GLS. — Trevor Reed

Conclusion

Not every family requires the high-riding style of an SUV or the expansive quarters of a minivan. In place of these vehicles, a midsize wagon offers greater maneuverability, fuel economy and even style, while still providing comfortable accommodation for four or five and enough cargo space for a summer road trip.

We assembled a field of three for this test — the Mercury Sable, Subaru Legacy and Volkswagen Passat. Of course, the Saturn L-Series wagon is another option in this segment, and we intend to take up its case at a later date. And within a year, a new competitor, the 2003 Mazda 6 Wagon, will arrive.

In this test, the Mercury Sable was our least favorite wagon. Alongside the others, sloppy handling, marginal cabin accommodations, cheap interior materials and sub par build quality undermined the relatively low price of our LS Premium model. This doesn't mean the Sable and its more popular twin, the Taurus, would be a bad choice for everyone. If the availability of seatbelts for seven or eight is your top priority in purchasing a wagon, you should know that the Sable and Taurus are the only non-luxury wagons available with a rear-facing third-row seat and a front bench seat.

But most people shopping for wagons only want seating for four or five, and the Subaru Legacy and Volkswagen Passat are better choices overall. Our (non-Outback) Legacy GT had the lowest price of the group, but it also had the fewest available amenities — four-cylinder engine, cloth interior and no side airbags. Moreover, its small backseat was really better suited for two people rather than three. Yet, the Legacy finished only three points behind the Passat, because it was the best-handling wagon of the group and provided a comfortable, solidly constructed cabin. When you consider that it also has an excellent reliability record, it becomes even more appealing.

As much as some of us liked the Legacy, the Passat is really the best all-around midsize wagon. It has no serious faults and offers the most comfortable ride, most luxurious interior, most extensive equipment list (even in base GLS trim) and the best crash test scores of the group. As such, it's our top recommendation to anyone shopping for a midsize wagon.

Evaluation - Drive
Evaluation - Ride
Evaluation - Design
Evaluation - Cargo/Passenger Space

Evaluation - Drive

Engine Performance
Vehicle Score Rank
Volkswagen Passat Wagon 8.3 1
Mercury Sable Wagon 7.3 2
Subaru Legacy Wagon 6.0 3
Transmission
Vehicle Score Rank
Volkswagen Passat Wagon 8.7 1
Subaru Legacy Wagon 7.0 2
Mercury Sable Wagon 4.0 3
Braking
Vehicle Score Rank
Subaru Legacy Wagon 9.0 1
Volkswagen Passat Wagon 7.3 2
Mercury Sable Wagon 4.0 3
Suspension
Vehicle Score Rank
Subaru Legacy Wagon 8.7 1
Volkswagen Passat Wagon 8.0 2
Mercury Sable Wagon 4.6 3
Tires
Vehicle Score Rank
Subaru Legacy Wagon 6.7 1
Volkswagen Passat Wagon 6.0 2
Mercury Sable Wagon 3.3 3
Steering
Vehicle Score Rank
Subaru Legacy Wagon 8.7 1
Volkswagen Passat Wagon 8.0 2
Mercury Sable Wagon 4.6 3
Visibility
Vehicle Score Rank
Volkswagen Passat Wagon 7.7 1
Mercury Sable Wagon 7.3 2
Subaru Legacy Wagon 7.0 3
Fun to Drive
Vehicle Score Rank
Subaru Legacy Wagon 8.3 1
Volkswagen Passat Wagon 8.0 2
Mercury Sable Wagon 3.0 3

Evaluation - Ride

Seat Comfort Front
Vehicle Score Rank
Volkswagen Passat Wagon 8.3 1
Subaru Legacy Wagon 8.0 2
Mercury Sable Wagon 5.7 3
Seat Comfort Rear
Vehicle Score Rank
Volkswagen Passat Wagon 9.3 1
Mercury Sable Wagon 7.0 2(t)
Subaru Legacy Wagon 7.0 2(t)
Wind & Road Noise
Vehicle Score Rank
Volkswagen Passat Wagon 8.7 1
Mercury Sable Wagon 6.0 2
Subaru Legacy Wagon 5.7 3
Rattles & Squeaks
Vehicle Score Rank
Volkswagen Passat Wagon 10.0 1
Subaru Legacy Wagon 9.7 2
Mercury Sable Wagon 5.7 3
Evaluation - Design
Interior Design
Vehicle Score Rank
Volkswagen Passat Wagon 9.7 1
Subaru Legacy Wagon 6.7 2
Mercury Sable Wagon 3.7 3
Interior Materials
Vehicle Score Rank
Volkswagen Passat Wagon 10.0 1
Subaru Legacy Wagon 6.7 2
Mercury Sable Wagon 3.7 3
Climate Control Design/Operation
Vehicle Score Rank
Volkswagen Passat Wagon 7.7 1
Subaru Legacy Wagon 7.0 2
Mercury Sable Wagon 5.0 3
Audio System Design/Operation
Vehicle Score Rank
Volkswagen Passat Wagon 8.0 1
Mercury Sable Wagon 6.0 2
Subaru Legacy Wagon 5.0 3
Secondary Control Design/Operation
Vehicle Score Rank
Volkswagen Passat Wagon 9.7 1
Mercury Sable Wagon 6.3 2
Subaru Legacy Wagon 6.0 3
Exterior Design
Vehicle Score Rank
Volkswagen Passat Wagon 9.0 1
Subaru Legacy Wagon 7.7 2
Mercury Sable Wagon 3.7 3
Headlight Illumination
Vehicle Score Rank
Subaru Legacy Wagon 7.5 1
Mercury Sable Wagon 6.5 2
Volkswagen Passat Wagon 6.0 3
Overall Build Quality
Vehicle Score Rank
Volkswagen Passat Wagon 9.0 1
Subaru Legacy Wagon 7.7 2
Mercury Sable Wagon 3.0 3

Evaluation - Cargo/Passenger Space

Entry/Exit
Vehicle Score Rank
Volkswagen Passat Wagon 8.7 1
Subaru Legacy Wagon 5.7 2
Mercury Sable Wagon 4.3 3
Expanding/Loading Cargo
Vehicle Score Rank
Mercury Sable Wagon 9.3 1
Volkswagen Passat Wagon 8.0 2
Subaru Legacy Wagon 7.0 3
Storage Space
Vehicle Score Rank
Mercury Sable Wagon 7.7 1(t)
Volkswagen Passat Wagon 7.7 1(t)
Subaru Legacy Wagon 5.3 3
Cupholders
Vehicle Score Rank
Mercury Sable Wagon 8.7 1
Subaru Legacy Wagon 7.7 2
Volkswagen Passat Wagon 6.3 3
Dimensions
Engine & Transmission Specifications
Performance
Warranty Information

Dimensions

Exterior Dimensions & Capacities
  Mercury Sable LS Premium Wagon Subaru Legacy GT Wagon Volkswagen Passat GLX 4Motion Wagon
Length, in. 197.8 187.4 185.2
Width, in. 73.0 68.7 68.7
Height, in. 57.8 59.6 57.6
Wheelbase, in. 108.5 104.3 106.4
Curb weight, lbs. 3,484 3,450 3,644
Turning circle, ft. 39.7 35.4 37.4
Max. payload, lbs. 1,437* 900 1,074
* The maximum gross vehicle weight rating (base vehicle curb weight + passengers and cargo) listed in the Sable's owner's manual was 4,921 pounds. Subtracting the wagon's curb weight (3,484) should theoretically give us the maximum allowable payload. However, 1,437 pounds is a lot of weight for a midsize wagon to carry (and is more in line with ratings for full-size trucks) -- we recommend limiting your loads to 1,100 lbs.
Interior Dimensions
  Mercury Sable LS Premium Wagon Subaru Legacy GT Wagon Volkswagen Passat GLX 4Motion Wagon
Front headroom, in. 39.4 38.5 37.8
Front hip room, in. 54.4 N/A N/A
Front legroom, in. 42.2 43.3 41.5
Front shoulder room, in. 57.3 53.9 55.8
Rear headroom, in. 38.9 37.2 37.9
Rear hip room, in. 55.4 N/A N/A
Rear legroom, in. 38.5 34.3 35.3
Rear shoulder room, in. 56.6 53.6 54.6
Cargo volume -- rear seat up, cubic ft. 38.8 34.3 36.0
Cargo volume -- rear seat down, cubic ft. 81.3 68.6 54.6
Minimum cargo bay height, in. 27.0 31.0 33.0
Minimum cargo bay length, in. 41.0 33.5 34.3
Minimum cargo bay width, in. 38.3 42.0 39.0
Hatch opening width, in. 42.3 42.3 40.0
Lift-over height, in. 21.8 21.0 21.0
Engine &

Transmission Specifications

Engine & Transmission
  Mercury Sable LS Premium Wagon Subaru Legacy GT Wagon Volkswagen Passat GLX 4Motion Wagon
Engine type 24-valve DOHC V6 16-valve SOHC horizontally opposed 4-cylinder 30-valve DOHC V6
Displacement, liters 3.0 2.5 2.8
Horsepower (SAE) @ rpm 200 @ 5,650 165 @ 5,600 190 @ 6,000
Max. Torque, lb-ft @ rpm 200 @ 4,400 166 @ 4,400 206 @ 3,200
Transmission 4-speed automatic 5-speed manual 5-speed automatic
Observed Fuel Economy Combined, mpg 20.3 22.4 16.8
EPA Fuel Economy City/Hwy, mpg 19/26 21/27 17/24
Octane requirement 87 87 91 recommended

Performance

Performance
  Mercury Sable LS Premium Wagon Subaru Legacy GT Wagon Volkswagen Passat GLX 4Motion Wagon
Zero-to-60-mph acceleration, sec. 9.0 9.3 9.5
Quarter-mile acceleration, sec. 16.8 17.0 17.2
Quarter-mile speed, mph 83.3 80.9 82.2
60-to-0-mph braking, feet 134 121 127
600-ft slalom, mph 60.3 62.4 63.3

Warranty Information

Warranty Information
  Mercury Sable LS Premium Wagon Subaru Legacy GT Wagon Volkswagen Passat GLX 4Motion Wagon
Basic Warranty 3 years/36,000 miles 3 years/36,000 miles 4 years/50,000 miles
Powertrain 3 years/36,000 miles 5 years/60,000 miles 5 years/60,000 miles
Roadside Assistance 3 years/36,000 miles N/A 4 years/50,000 miles
Corrosion Protection 5 years/unlimited mileage 5 years/unlimited mileage 12 years/unlimited mileage

When you're shopping for a family car, safety is typically an important factor in your final decision. To that end, we graded the wagons on their available safety features and crash test scores. Any safety feature that was standard equipment on all four vehicles was thrown out. Points were awarded based on whether each feature was standard or optional and whether our particular test vehicle was equipped with that feature.

For crash test scores, we used National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) results in six categories. In the frontal (driver and passenger) and side-impact crash (front and rear) categories, NHTSA awards stars on a scale of 1 to 5. (We did not include NHTSA's rollover scores, as not all of the wagons in this test have been evaluated for rollover potential at this time.) The IIHS uses a four-point scale in the 40-mph offset crash category and rates a vehicle Good, Acceptable, Marginal or Poor. In the bumper bash category, the IIHS again assigns the above ratings, this time based on the dollar amount of damage that results from four 5-mph crash tests (front-into-flat-barrier, rear-into-flat-barrier, front-into-angle-barrier and rear-into-pole). To arrive at a cumulative crashworthiness score for each wagon, we divided the points received by the total possible.

Safety Features

Safety Features
  Mercury Sable Wagon Subaru Legacy Wagon Volkswagen Passat Wagon
Active Safety Features      
Antilock brakes (ABS) O S S
Traction control or Electronic Differential Lock/Limited-Slip Differential O S S
       
Passive Safety Features      
Three-point seatbelts in all seating positions N/A S S
Approach lights on exterior mirrors S N/A N/A
Auto-dimming rearview mirror S O S
Head curtain airbags for front & rear passengers N/A N/A S
Side-impact airbags for front passengers O N/A S

Crash Test Scores

Crash Test Scores
  Mercury Sable Wagon Subaru Legacy Wagon Volkswagen Passat Wagon
NHTSA      
Frontal Crash -- Driver 5 stars 4 stars 5 stars
Frontal Crash -- Passenger 5 stars 4 stars 5 stars
Side Impact -- Front 3 stars 4 stars 4 stars
Side Impact -- Rear 3 stars 5 stars 4 stars
       
IIHS      
Offset Crash Good Good Good
Bumper Bash Acceptable Acceptable Good

In NHTSA's front crash test category:
1 star = 46 percent or better chance of life-threatening injury
2 stars = 36 to 45 percent chance of life-threatening injury
3 stars = 21 to 35 percent chance of life-threatening injury
4 stars = 11 to 20 percent chance of life-threatening injury
5 stars = 10 percent or less chance of life-threatening injury

In NHTSA's side-impact crash test category:
1 star = 26 percent or better chance of life-threatening injury
2 stars = 21 to 25 percent chance of life-threatening injury
3 stars = 11 to 20 percent chance of life-threatening injury
4 stars = 6 to 10 percent chance of life-threatening injury
5 stars = 5 percent or less chance of life-threatening injury

We asked the editors who participated in the test to pick the top 10 features that they would want if they were buying a midsize wagon for family use. Any feature that was standard equipment on all three vehicles was thrown out. Points were awarded based on whether each feature was standard or optional and whether our particular test vehicle was equipped with that feature.

Top 10 Features

Top 10 Features
  Mercury Sable LS Premium Wagon Subaru Legacy GT Wagon Volkwagen Passat GLX 4Motion Wagon
Adjustable cross bar(s) on roof rack S O N/A
Adjustable pedals or telescoping steering wheel S N/A S
CD player O O S
Exterior liftgate latch S S N/A
Flip-up rear glass S N/A N/A
Full-size spare tire N/A N/A S
Grocery bag hooks N/A S N/A
Power point(s) in cargo bay N/A N/A S
Rear bumper scuff guard S O S
Rear headrests N/A S S

Key:
S: Standard
O: Optional
N/A: Not Available

Adjustable crossbar(s) on roof rack: When you're ready to pack up your gear for a road trip, it's more convenient if your wagon already has crossbars on its roof rails, so that you can easily install a luggage carrier. The Sable came standard with two crossbars, one of them adjustable. Crossbars are optional for the Legacy, while Passat owners can only purchase them as an accessory from VW.

Adjustable pedals or telescoping steering wheel: It's not always possible to find the ideal driving position with the usual seat adjustments and tilt steering wheel. When manufacturers provide either adjustable pedals (standard in the Sable) or a telescoping steering wheel (standard in the Passat), they go a long way toward making their wagons comfortable for people of all sizes.

CD player: By this point, most wagon buyers and their kids have made the transition to CDs, and it's always helpful when automakers realize this and provide at least a single-disc player. Only the Passat came standard with one of these, and as dedicated VW buyers know, this is a recent development. The Sable was equipped with an optional six-disc changer mounted in the center console, while the Legacy is available with a single player or a changer, but our test wagon had neither option.

Exterior liftgate latch: When you're holding groceries and/or a child, it's a lot easier if the liftgate has an outside latch, so that you don't have to fumble around with a keyless remote or a release lever in the cockpit. The Legacy and Sable provide this convenience, but oddly, the Passat does not.

Flip-up rear glass: A separate flip-up rear glass allows you to load shopping bags without opening the entire liftgate or carry long items that otherwise wouldn't fit with the liftgate closed. Only the Sable's liftgate has this feature.

Fullsize spare tire: In the event of flat tire, the availability of a fullsize spare gives you the option of changing the tire and continuing on to the state park, as opposed to putting on a temporary spare and driving to a tire store. Only the Passat came with a fullsize spare.

Grocery bag hooks: It's a lot easier to keep the contents of plastic grocery bags from spilling all over the cargo bay when you can attach them to hooks. The Legacy provided two of these.

Power point(s) in cargo bay: With power points in the cargo bay, hooking up multiple appliances at the campsite or your kids' soccer games is no problem. The Passat provides two.

Rear bumper scuff guard: Obviously wagons are designed for hauling, so they ought to include a scuff guard to protect their bumpers. This feature comes standard on the Passat and Sable, but Subaru makes you buy it as a $57 option for the Legacy, and our test wagon didn't have it.

Rear headrests: Headrests substantially improve the comfort of backseat passengers who don't ride in child seats, especially on long trips, when people are apt to go to sleep. The Legacy and Passat provide adjustable headrests in all three rear seating positions, the Sable doesn't come with any at all.

2002 Mercury Sable Wagon

Consumer Reviews

Good Value By SableGuy
Review: Just picked up our new Sable Wagon in the LS Premium trim. Fully loaded car with "secure" group, moon roof, etc. Had traded in a 95 Taurus wagon and the Sable is definitely a cut above. Fairly nice ride and good engine power. Audio system sounds good. Leather seats are nice but somewhat too firm for me. Gas mileage undetermined but I would expect in the low 20s. After 2 weeks, no glitches or problems other than the airbag light staying on occasionally. This car was alot cheaper and almost as functional as a mini-van. So far, good marks.

Amazing! By sanskrit
Review: Beautiful car, have it for one month so far and can't believe how smooth the engine is. Fantastic seats and quiet ride. Amazing sound system (I have the MACH). I know previous Taurus models have had reliability problems but I really believe most of these things have been worked out. After all, the engine design has been around for 15 years!! Plan on keeping this car at least 10 years.
Favorite Features: Quiet and Comfortable Ride, Smooth engine. Unbelievable value. Suggested Improvements: Fit and Finish is very good, but could be excellent.

Town Hall Discussions

"Purchased a '00 Sable LS Wagon last year for Christmas. The wife wanted one of them $40K compact size Volvo Sportwagons. Not! I wanted something roomier than the '89 Taurus SHO.
We have 3 boys — 11, 7 and 4. The 11 year old is 5'-5". After a year, we couldn't be happier. No mechanical problems. 20 mpg. All 3 boys love the rear facing 3rd seat. Picked up 20 8' 2x4s yesterday at the Depot. Gets rubber anytime you want to. (Stock Contis suck; can't wait to replace'em.) And we're not bus drivers. All for $20K. And we couldn't care about resale; we'll drive it into the ground, like the SHO." — metamorfdzn, "Ford Taurus & Mercury Sable (Wagons)," #129 of 161, Dec. 13, 2001

"Just bought a Taurus Wagon.I looked at some minivans, and Honda is the best, but it's a bit expensive. With 3 kids, I felt that the wagon was big enough. If I had 4, I'd buy a van. That way you can seat everyone and still carry cargo/luggage. With the wagon, if you're using the 3rd row seat, you don't have any cargo area. And to me, that 3rd row seat is only for occasional use. As noted, there are no headrests, and I'm not sure how comfortable it would be for an extended trip. One of the reasons I bought the wagon was that a comparably equipped van cost a couple grand more, and the wagon was easier to drive for my wife. Also, I spend a lot of time in the vehicle by myself, or with one other person, and it seemed a waste to be driving a van all the time under those circumstances." — torodave, "Ford Taurus & Mercury Sable (Wagons)," #128 of 161, Dec. 13, 2001

"I've gotten my station wagon 18 months ago and so far knock on wood, no problems. When I park, it lurches forward a bit after I shut off the engine. Other than that I have very good pickup, passing power, and room inside. Gas mileage is 20 mpg city/highway. I forgot to add that the steering wheel vibrates a bit whenever I come to a stop. Don't know if this is a problem though." — danielj6, "Ford Taurus & Mercury Sable (Wagons)," #108 of 161, Oct. 9, 2001

2002 Subaru Legacy Wagon

Consumer Reviews

From Outback to GT By giddyap
Review: Through no fault of its own, a bad rollover accident in my Outback put us into the buyers market again. (lost our Outback, but we walked away) Went looking for another Subie of course! Test drove the 2002 Outback, Forrester and finally the GT. Hands down it was the GT!! With my daily commute of 90 miles (1/3 of the trip on mountain roads) I was glad to switch. The GT handles hair-pin curves and tight situations beautifully. Don't test drive a GT if you don't want to own one.
Favorite Features: Handling handling handling! Uphill acceleration is tops. Great sound system. The kids love the dual sunroofs.
Suggested Improvements: Yikes! The Euro-Trash front end design is heavy and the plastic-o mahong-anite is slightly tacky.

Fun, Functional, Safe and Inexpensive! By SubieFan
Review: Fun: Okay, there are other midsize cars with V6 engines. How many have stick shift available? How many have AWD available? The Subaru Legacy is fun and safe to drive on most road conditions. The standard manual transmission adds to the fun factor. Functional: Toyota and Honda want their family-oriented customers buy their minivans. What's wrong with a lower, more stable and more nimble station wagon? Granted you cannot fit 7 people in this station wagon, but it is easy to fit a small family and LOTS of stuff in the back. Safe: the Legacy receives the highest rank in its class (inexpensive midsize cars) when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration tested it. The standard four wheel antilock disc brakes and AWD help to avoid accidents (with safe driving style, of course). Furthermore, Subarus are among the less frequently stolen or carjacked brands. Inexpensive: the base L-model includes everything that I need. A/C, P/W, P/L, cassette, ABS and 4-wheel disc brakes are all included. All-wheel-drive is also included! Compare this to a Camry LE or Accord LX. Of course, nothing is perfect. The Legacy interior can be a little wider. Rear hiproom is only 52", versus 54" for Accords and Camries. In my opinion, this is a small price to pay for the unique goodies!

Town Hall Discussions

"I just turned 40k miles on my '00 Legacy L 5 sp wagon (Winestone). It has been completely trouble free and I still enjoy driving it, especially it's handling in turns and its peppy acceleration. I chose it over the Outback because I preferred the monotone paint (more of a sport wagon appearance, though the Outbacks look great too), and in nearly three years of driving have not needed that extra inch of clearance that the Outback offers. This car is definitely not a budget model as it is well equipped and is an overlooked gem in the lineup (I added the CD player, upgraded speakers, and it already had keyless entry). The only car that might tempt me away would be a hybrid Civic wagon as a means to appreciably improve gas mileage, though I know it would pale in driving, especially in winter." — hiker6, "Subaru Legacy/Outback (Station Wagons & SUVs Boards)," #5387 of 5449, May 5, 2002

"I have a 2001 GT wagon in Titanium pearl. I cannot comment on the manual trans as mine is auto, In canada you cannot get a GT wagon with manual trans. However in the GT you get a tauter, better handling car than the outback, the suspension is different and the 1 inch in ride height makes a big difference also. My GT also has the cloth upholstery, and it is a better quality in my opinion than what is in the outback. I absolutely love this car and the only thing I would I would be remotely tempted to trade it for would be a Legacy Blitzen; I drive it pretty aggressively, and have not come even close to getting into trouble with the handling. So take the trip, drive the car and fall in love with it." — hondafriek, "Subaru Legacy/Outback (Station Wagons & SUVs Boards)," #5299 of 5449, May 5, 2002

2002 Volkswagen Passat Wagon

Consumer Reviews

love this car By happy passat guy
Review: Best car I ever drove/owned. The wagon has so much room. Who needs a SUV with all this room? The price is thousands less than a BMW 5-series wagon, and the details are just as nice as my co-worker's Bimmer. In fact the leather seats seem better quality to me, and all the standard equipment that's extra on a BMW really impresses me.
Favorite Features: the blue/red dash lights, the cup holders, the manual holder below the steering wheel, map lights.
Suggested Improvements: Would love to see the GLX available with the sporty 1.8T engine. Kind of limited now... if I want a GLX, I have to go to the V6, which I don't really want.

Practical and fun to drive By austin
Review: I moved in to this car from a 1996 Infiniti I-30, primarily for the safety features. Very comfortable right, tight handling, all the features of a luxury vehicle. It stacks up against my brother's BMW wagon for much less money. It's the best wagon in its class.
Favorite Features: Transmission, cargo capacity, styling, safety
Suggested Improvements: Make the 1.8 turbo available with leather power seats!

Town Hall Discussions

"I live in Seattle, and I own a 1999 Colorado Red Passat Wagon 1.8T, 5-speed manual. The only option it came with was the leather package, but I immediately had them install a 6-disc CD changer, and then sometime later, I added alloy wheels. I've owned the car for almost 3 years now and it's been a great car. It just rolled over the 36000-mile mark a couple of weeks ago and it's been pretty much trouble free. I love driving this car. Even though the 1.8T engine only generates 150hp, the manual tranny makes the most of it. Outside of a little turbo lag in first gear, this car hustles quite nicely and provides plenty of power. My weekday commuting is short since I live and work in Seattle, but I often stretch this cars legs on weekend jaunts to my vacation home on Orcas Island (in the San Juans) about 100 miles away. I've also taken longer road trips to California and Sun Valley, Idaho. This car is great for road trips — very comfortable." — bswansea, "Volkswagen Owners-Meet the Members," #162 of 171, Jan. 23, 2002

"I own a 2001.5 New Passat GLX V6 4Motion Wagon. One thing I caution any of you about is that VW uses A LOT of plastic in their cars and as I am finding out daily, the car is full of creaks that I just have to live with. One thing I found our early on is if you put any amount of pressure on the arm rest (on both the passenger and drivers' sides) the door panels creak. I was told by the dealer that this is a fact of plastic on plastic. I have the automatic (tiptronic) and when I slide the center arm rest forward, to use the tiptronic, any pressure by my elbow — on the armrest — causes the plastic to creak. Perhaps my biggest bone of contention is the plastic cowling around the steering wheel. At about 8 months old, the steering wheel starting making a "creaking" in tempo with the car going over expansion joints or other bumps in the road. I have had the car in 4 times for this and they cannot fix it. Again it was explained as plastic on plastic. Interestingly, I had this same problem on a 1998 Jetta. I have also had issues with the power driver seat, it too creaks when the car changes direction — meaning when I speed up or slow down. I've also already had 2 dash vent units replaced because the indicator lights burned out...and I've had two occasions where the AC unit stopped working and then mysteriously started working again when I took the fuse panel off and pushed 'everything' inward. BUT, the 4 motion has been a life saver as we were caught in several snowstorms and the car went through like a trooper. And the stereo system is EXCELLENT! The car does handle well, too.... The Passat starts in the mid 20K's and at that price I can forgive creaks and rattles and other inconveniences...but at 33K there is no excuse for such poor construction."

Final Rankings

Final Rankings
  Mercury Sable Wagon Subaru Legacy Wagon Volkswagen Passat Wagon
Personal Rating (10% of score) 33.3 88.9 77.8
Recommended Rating (10% of score) 33.3 66.7 100.0
Evaluation Score (20% of score) 54.2 71.4 81.7
Feature Content (20% of score) 56.7 40.0 60.0
Performance Testing (10% of score) 88.6 92.0 89.7
Price (20% of score) 93.9 100.0 64.6
Safety Features (5% of score) 57.1 47.6 85.7
Crash Test Scores (5% of score) 82.1 85.7 92.9
       
Total Score 63.4 73.7 76.9
Final Ranking 3 2 1

Scoring Explanation:

Personal Rating: Purely subjective. After the test, each participating editor was asked to rank the wagons in order of preference based on which he or she would buy if money were no object.

Recommended Rating: After the test, each participating editor was asked to rank the wagons in order of preference based on which he or she thought would be best for the average consumer shopping in this segment.

23-Point Evaluation: Each participating editor ranked every wagon based on a comprehensive 23-point evaluation. The evaluation covered everything from exterior design to cupholders. Scoring was calculated on a point system, and the scores listed are averages based on all test participants' evaluations.

Feature Content: For this category, the editors picked the top 10 features they thought would be most beneficial to the consumer shopping in the midsize wagon segment. For each vehicle, the score was based on the amount of actual features it had versus the total possible (10). Standard and optional equipment were taken into consideration.

Performance Testing: Each wagon was subjected to a set of performance tests that measure acceleration, braking and handling through a 600-ft slalom course. Scores were calculated by giving the best vehicle in each category 100 percent. Subsequent vehicles were awarded points based on how close they came to the best-performing vehicle's score.

Price: The numbers listed were the result of a simple percentage calculation based on the least expensive vehicle in the comparison test. Using the "as tested" prices of the actual evaluation vehicles, the least expensive wagon received a score of 100, with the remaining vehicles receiving lesser scores based on how much each one costs.

Safety Features: For this category, we graded the wagons on their available safety features. For each vehicle, the score was based on the amount of actual features it had versus the total possible (in this case, seven). Standard and optional equipment were taken into consideration.

Crash Test Scores: For this category, we referred to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) results in six crash test categories. On the basis of the point systems used by NHTSA and the IIHS, we calculated a cumulative score based on the crash test scores each wagon received versus the best possible.

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