Downside: The Freestyle is equipped with a continuously variable automatic transmission, which uses two variable-size pulleys to draw power from the engine and transmit it to the drive wheels. The idea is to increase engine efficiency and fuel savings by eliminating power losses common to transmissions with traditional fixed gear ratios. It works, but it occasionally feels a bit rubbery.

Ride, acceleration and handling: Very good in all three categories.

Head-turning quotient: No big whoop for the exterior; but the interior gets high-fives for excellent ergonomics, quality materials and outstanding comfort.

Body style/layout: The Freestyle is a front-engine, tall wagon with four side doors and a rear hatch. It is available with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Trim levels include base SE, mid-line SEL and top-line Limited.

Engine/transmission: The Freestyle comes with a 3-liter, 24-valve V-6 engine that develops 203 horsepower at 5,750 revolutions per minute and 207 foot-pounds of torque at 4,500 rpm. The engine is linked to a continuously variable automatic transmission.

Cargo and fuel capacities: The Freestyle has standard seating for six people and optional seating for seven. Excellent legroom and headroom for adults in the center seats. Cargo capacity with rear seats up is 15.8 cubic feet; it's 85.2 cubic feet with those seats folded. Fuel capacity is 19 gallons of recommended regular unleaded gasoline. The Freestyle can be equipped to tow up to 2,000 pounds.

Mileage: I averaged 21 miles per gallon in city-highway driving.

Safety: Anti-lock brakes are standard. Head and side bags are optional. Buy them and forget about the dross, such as the power moon roof.

Price: Base price on the tested all-wheel-drive Freestyle SEL is $28,045. Dealer invoice on base model is $25,660. Price as tested, including $4,125 in options and a $650 destination charge, is $32,820. Dealer's invoice price with options and destination charge is $29,984. Pricing sources include Ford Motor Co. and

Purse-strings note: Beware of options. Otherwise, it's a buy.