My first impression of the Subaru Outback 3.0R L.L.Bean is that it isn't my mama's station wagon. There's no pea-green paint elegantly inlaid with wood paneling. And much to my disappointment, there isn't a rear-facing jump seat in the cargo area (my favorite childhood spot for planning mischief). The 2005 Subaru Outback 3.0R is a souped-up version of the old station wagon with a modern (and socially acceptable) twist in style. You won't be ostracized by your fellow PTA members when you show up in this car.

When installing my youngest child's car seat, I'm struck by the odd design of the Latch connectors. They're hidden in tiny compartments behind a little removable cover. I can't help but wonder if I'll be able to find the covers again when I have to return the car.

Buckling my 4-year-old into her booster seat proves to be a challenge on a daily basis. I have to duck under the roofline and lean over my daughter to search for the seat belt receptor. It is slightly retracted into the seat crack, making it difficult to get to.

The new leather seats offered by Subaru are perforated. Now, I've always been an advocate for leather seats. They're durable, easy to clean and mostly kidproof. I take that all back when talking about perforated leather. If milk leaks on the seats, it fills in those little ventilation holes and won't come out for all the scrubbing in the world.

I'm not sure they do much ventilating, either. A friend recently complained that the seats made his butt sweaty. I'm glad I'm not sitting in his seat.

When adjusting the driver's seat, I note that the configurations are not programmable. Every time I drive after my husband I waste at least a minute reconfiguring my setting.

I really like the newly designed control panel. The sleek, streamlined knobs and buttons are clearly labeled and easy to use. The red nighttime illumination is sharp and caries over to the window buttons as well as the radio controls on the steering wheel. A great feature is the audio mute button on the steering wheel. I utilize it during a particularly weak moment when I catch myself saying "You two better quiet down back there or I'll turn this car around." When did I turn into such a mom?

Next I load up the cargo space. The cargo area of the Subaru Outback is fabulous. I can fit everything in it but the kitchen sink (as a matter of fact, I could fit the kitchen sink too, if I needed to). During a recent playroom remodeling session I crammed a plethora of items into this sport utility wagon: Eight large Tupperware bins, four beanbag chairs, two 4-foot by 6-foot area rugs, two children, one husband and a partridge in a pear tree.

Every Subaru comes generously equipped with all-wheel drive. In my climate, I often drive over dry pavement and black ice just on a trip to the grocery store. The AWD puts my mind at ease. This car drives beautifully around town and in the mountains.

The Subaru Outback 3.0R L.L.Bean Edition wagon may not be the best vehicle for those of you looking for carpooling space (I can't fit more than two car seats in it). But for a small family that doesn't need a lot of passenger room, it's pretty nice. As my husband (who, by the way, upgraded our cable service for July just to watch the Tour de France) recently stated, "If it's good enough for Lance Armstrong, it's good enough for us." I have higher standards than most, and I do admit it's a pleasure to drive.

Note: Crash-test results listed are based on the 2004 model year.

*For more information on the Subaru Outback and its safety features, visit