Some people live without compromise. They usually are rich, or impoverished. The rich have the wherewithal to buy or do almost anything. But some independent people are poor by design. They eschew acquisition in pursuit of freedom and couldn't care less about things such as the 2002 Audi S6 Avant wagon.

This column, then, is for the rich, be they permanently or temporarily endowed. They are the only people who can afford Audi's $60,000 wagon, which offers high performance and high utility in equal measure.

You might wonder why anyone would want such a vehicle -- a station wagon outfitted with a 340-horsepower V-8 engine, all-wheel drive and an interior so plush it could serve as a room at the Ritz.

Indeed, on initial inspection, the S6 Avant seems excessive. There are, after all, a number of station wagons that can carry as many people and haul as much stuff at a fraction of its cost.

But none of those lesser wagons has the S6 Avant's seductive appeal. None moves as fast -- 0 to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds. Nor do any of the just-a-wagon wagons handle as well, or provide as much comfort or peace of mind as the S6 Avant.

Peace of mind? Yes. One school of thought says it can't be bought, that it emanates from the soul, uncorrupted by externalities. I believe that. But when I'm driving through fog on a slippery road, I want something more tangible. I want superior traction and handling, maximum crash protection and an interior that feels like a well-crafted cocoon. I want the S6 Avant, or something very similar.

Such a desire, I suppose, is no different from wanting a better house, better education -- or, as I recently found, the best medical care that money can buy. Sometimes more trumps less, and in the case of the S6 Avant there is more of everything that makes a car work, that makes a car a car.

My mind goes back to that V-8 engine -- so smooth, so responsive, so quiet. You don't hear the power. There is no adolescent, whacked-tailpipe "varrooomm" or "zoom." You feel the power. Push the accelerator and the S6 Avant moves with a controlled leap, with supreme confidence.

The car's electronically controlled, dual-mode five-speed automatic transmission enhances that confidence. In normal mode, it shifts effortlessly. There is nothing notchy about it. Sport mode allows you to shift manually, albeit without a clutch. I once regarded this "manumatic" feature as a bauble. But on hills and around curves it makes perfect sense. It gives you a bit more control over the car where and when more control is needed.

Control, in fact, is what the S6 Avant is all about. All-wheel drive improves traction. Audi's Electronic Stability Program (ESP) helps to correct errant driver behavior that can put the car into a skid. Audi's BrakeAssist works with the car's anti-lock braking system to reduce stopping distance in panic situations. BrakeAssist could mean the differ ence between a collision and a near miss.

Should you manage to override those electronic guards, or, as often happens, should someone succeed in smashing you, the S6 Avant provides a rigid, fully galvanized (both sides of the metal) steel body to help absorb as much of the impact as possible before transmitting the remaining crash forces to the passenger cabin.

Standard dual front air bags, side bags and head bags are in place to limit shock crash in the cabin. Optional side bags are available for back-seat passengers.

It seems unfair that so much protection is provided in a car available to so few people. But I guess that's another manifestation of the income gap.