Downside: The brakes were mushy. They need improvement. Also, it would be nice if the four-cylinder Passat GLS 4Motion wagon could get the EPA's 28 miles per gallon on the highway with a heavy load in the cargo bay.

Head-turning quotient: Conservative but elegant styling. It's just what the middle class ordered.

Ride, acceleration and handling: Excellent ride, competent highway acceleration and excellent overall handling and maneuverability, even with a heavy load.

Body style/layout/trim lines: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive, four-door wagon with rear hatch. There are five different trim levels for the Passat wagon. They include the base GL 1.8T, tested GLS 1.8T 4Motion, GLS V-6, GLX, and the really-ought-to-be-an-Audi $40,275 Passat W8 wagon.

Capacities: The Passat GLS 4Motion wagon has seating for up to five people. Cargo capacity is 39 cubic feet with the rear seats up and 54.6 cubic feet with rear seats down. Fuel capacity is 16.4 gallons of required premium unleaded gasoline.

Mileage: We averaged 23 miles per gallon in mostly highway driving carrying a heavy load.

Engine/transmission: The GLS 4Motion's 1.8-liter, turbocharged, 20-valve, 170-horsepower engine is linked to a standard five-speed automatic transmission that also can be shifted manually.

Safety: Loaded! Standard side and side-curtain, head-protection air bags. Standard traction control. Optional stability control.

Price: Base price on the tested 2004 Passat GLS 4Motion wagon is $27,205. Estimated dealer's invoice price on the base model is $25,129. Price as tested is $29,460, including $1,680 in options and a $575 destination charge. Estimated dealer's invoice price as tested is $26,000.

Purse-strings note: The Passat GLS 4Motion wagon offers good value for the dollar. Bargaining possible. Compare with the Audi A4 and A6 Avant, Mercedes-Benz E Class, Subaru Legacy and the all-wheel-drive version of the Dodge Magnum RT.