According to Kelley Blue Book, the online pricing-information source, the 10 "most researched" station wagons on its Web site (kbb.com) are, in order: the Subaru Outback, Dodge Caliber, Toyota Matrix, Chrysler Pacifica, Chevrolet HHR, Dodge Magnum, Audi A3, Pontiac Vibe, Chrysler PT Cruiser and Volkswagen Passat.
I don't know about you, but there are only three vehicles on that list that fit the description of what I consider to be a station wagon: the Outback, the Magnum and the Passat. Most of the vehicles on the list are what I would consider a hatchback -- why Kelley Blue Book, and other such outlets, would consider the Volkswagen Rabbit a hatchback and the PT Cruiser a wagon, has never been explained to my satisfaction.
It sort of comes down to this: I may not know what a station wagon is, but I know one when I see one, and the 2007 BMW 530xi is a station wagon. But even it stretches the traditional definition: Station wagons are supposed to be more about carrying stuff than performance, and the 530xi splits the difference. There is 34 cubic feet of room in the rear -- not enormous for a wagon, but it's space that is usable and easy to access -- but it's the BMW-ness of the driving experience that sets the 530xi apart.
No manufacturer has nailed the happy medium between a smooth ride and handling like a sports car the way BMW has. The 530xi is perfectly happy cruising down the highway, but it seems even happier on winding backroads. Steering feel is just right, and despite the nearly 2-ton weight -- some of that because of the all-wheel-drive system -- it feels light on its feet. There is, as expected, a full complement of safety features.
The engine, though willing, is not as sporting as the rest of the car: It's a 3.0-liter six-cylinder, with 255 horsepower. The transmission in the test car was a six-speed automatic, but a manual is available. I like manual transmissions, but I'm not a fan of most BMW manuals, so I was happy with the automatic. Fuel mileage is EPA-rated at 20 miles per gallon city, 27 highway with this transmission, or 19/28 with the manual. Premium is preferred.
Inside, the leather-trimmed seats are very firm, in BMW fashion, but comfortable. Rear-seat room is more than adequate. Unfortunately, BMW continues with its "iDrive" system, a joysticklike device that controls most functions such as stereo and climate, but this one is more user-friendly than early iDrives. One of the most pleasant aspects of the 530xi is the huge (BMW calls it "panoramic") sunroof that extends even partly over the rear seat.
Aside from the price -- $57,565 with several options -- there's little downside to the 530xi wagon. It allows you to carry your cake and eat it, too.