I was playing the steering wheel, finger-tapping to "Cotton Pickin' Blues," driving to Gotham through heavy traffic along the New Jersey Turnpike.

I laughed at the irony. I hate those Mitsubishi television commercials featuring young people finger-popping and jitterbugging in the front seats of vehicles in motion. Those ads promote driving distractions, which can cause fatal crashes.

But here I was tapping the steering wheel and bobbing my head in rhythm with tunes by Alan Darby and Robert Johnson, including Darby's haunting "Voodoo Man." Maybe I just hate the music in the Mitsubishi ads.

But I love the blues, especially when played in a fine vehicle moving at speed; and I was in a fine vehicle, the 2002 Saab 9-5 Arc 3.0t SportWagon, better known as the Arc.

"SportWagon," of course, is a marketing euphemism for "station wagon," which is what the Arc is. It's a front-wheel-drive luxury station wagon, one of three wearing the Saab 9-5 badge. The others are the base Linear and the high-performance Aero. The Arc sits in the middle, combining the practicality of the Linear with some performance characteristics of the Aero.

It's a nice compromise in an industry where many marketers believe station wagons aren't cool, which is why auto marketers nowadays are always trying to call station wagons something else.

What the marketers don't understand is that "cool" is a state of mind influenced by the reality of the moment. If the moment is characterized by a smooth ride, crisp handling, superior seating comfort and good music -- as was the case during my 300-mile drive here in the Arc -- it matters not whether you're in a station wagon or a sports car. You're in a sublime state of "cool."

That might seem odd to people who think Saabs are eccentric, quirky automobiles. But people who still see Saab that way are as blind to the truth as are the marketers who are afraid to say "station wagon." Saab has changed, though it still does odd things such as putting the ignition switch on the floor console between the two front seats.

The new Saab is both cool and competitive. It's also expensive in the luxury 9-5 series, which includes sedans and wagons.

Automakers lately have been spending much time and money building two-in-one and three-in-one vehicles, family wagons that feel like sports cars, and pickup trucks that feel like sedans but can also be used as sport-utility models. In that context, the Arc is a hands-down winner. It offers sports-car excitement, provided by a 200-horsepower V-6 engine and standard, electronically operated handling control systems (traction control to reduce slips and skids, and stability control to reduce body yaw and lean in curves and emergency driving maneuvers).

Yet, the Arc's sportitude doesn't undermine the comfort and utility consumers expect to find in a station wagon. Five adults fit easily into its commodious cabin. Cargo capacity is a respectable 73 cubic feet with the rear seats down and 37 cubic feet with the rear seats up. There's also the option of equipping the cargo area with a slide-out tray, which reduces the strain of loading and unloading heavy objects.

The Arc looks pretty good, too, with its narrow front end and sloped rear, the combination of which saves it from the generic, workaday appearance of traditional station wagons.

In addition to traction and stability-control systems, other standard safety equipment includes Saab Active Head Restraint (SAHR) front seats that help to protect occupants from whiplash in rear-end hits; and there are head and torso side air bags for the driver and front-seat passenger. That's all good stuff. But the best piece of equipment, I think, is the standard Harmon/Kardon-tuned, 240-watt, eight-speaker audio system. After all, I don't drive to crash. I drive to be entertained; and there's nothing more entertaining than B.B. King or Alan Darby at highway speeds.