These three get better mileage than the V-8 wagons of the '60s and '70s, but, with fewer cylinders and modern computer-controlled fuel systems, that's no accomplishment. The VW Touareg scored at the low end of EPA fuel-mileage testing, with a 15/20-mpg city/highway rating, while the Volvo XC70 topped the trio at 19/24 mpg. The Volvo and VW drink premium unleaded, while 89-octane midgrade is recommended for the Chrysler.

The Chrysler doesn't quite have the Volvo's ride isolation, but it's close. And its steering has a light, accurate feel. The Pacifica did suffer some tire slap and suspension rumble over expansion joints, however. It's something you hear rather than feel as a roughness through the suspension.

VW's new baby rides and handles like a large European sedan. That's not by accident: The Touareg's upscale demeanor is meant to help prepare North American buyers for the next step up VW's lofty new status ladder, the $55,000-plus Phaeton sedan, designed to take on the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. In character with most other Volkswagens, the Touareg is soft at turn-in, but firms up the harder it bites into a corner. But there are forces working against the supple, progressive suspension. The 17-inch wheels and tires limit wheel travel, and their relatively high unsprung weight creates rumble and affects damping. The aggressive treads of the unidirectional Dunlop Grand Trek ST 8000 tires, while not as noisy as the Volvo's Scorpions, create a constant sizzle heard during highway cruising.

In the end, none among this trio is a serious corner-bender. Slalom speeds were on the low side, thanks to foul-weather tires, generous body roll, and ground clearance higher than what you'll find in a typical sedan.

With the possible exception of early '70s GM wagons, with their 455-cubic-inch V-8s, station wagons have never been quick cars. They've always been built to haul things and people, and they've usually weighed more than their sedan counterparts. Back in 1966, MT tested six American station wagons of varying size and status. The largest, a Chrysler Town & Country with a 325-horsepower/383-cubic-inch V-8, weighed 4920 pounds and clocked a leisurely 0-60-mph run of 13.4 seconds. The quickest was a Rambler Ambassador, with a 270-horse/ 327-cubic-inch V-8. It weighed 3920 pounds and sprinted to 60 in 11.8 seconds.

Our XC70 test car came without the optional rear-facing, two-passenger third-row seat. With rear seats folded, cargo capacity is about equal to its two taller competitors.