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Peugeot wagon: a workhorse packed with comfort, convenience

So what if it's cold outside and your car's been sitting in the driveway all night. If it happens to be the new Peugeot 505-S station wagon equipped with automatic seat warmers, sit back and relax.

Start the engine, punch a button in the midsection of the dashboard, and in a few minutes the heat begins to penetrate your clothing.

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An extension of the 505 sedan, the Peugeot 505 station wagon does many things well, not just get the driver in the right mood for an early-morning trip.

For one, it carries five people in sumptuous comfort, plus an abundance of luggage, trash barrels, or other items that its owner may want to move. And with the back seat folded all the way forward, the wagon boasts nearly 80 square feet of cargo space, more than any other similar vehicle built in either Western Europe or Japan.

Besides, it's a heavy-duty vehicle and will carry up to 1,125 pounds of cargo , a significant payload for any station wagon today. Also, it's no slouch on the road in either handling or performance.

Designed by Pininfarina, as all Peugeots have been for the past 25 years, the 505 wagon is responsive to driver input and couched in the kind of luxury that even a highly demanding motorist might enjoy.

The intention behind the new 505 wagon was to combine the virtues of a workhorse with the comfort and convenience of a sedan. Also, the wagon must step out sufficiently fast when the driver hits the fuel pedal. While I haven't yet sat behind the wheel of the station-wagon diesel, the gas engine meets the criteria.

Unloaded, the 5-speed, gas-engine wagon tips the scales at 3,230 pounds; add another 200 pounds for the diesel. And while it may not be a tire-burner on pickup, the Peugeot 505 wagon is nonetheless surprisingly agile when put to the test.

The wagon comes in GL and S versions with two power plant options: a 2-liter, 97-horsepower, gasoline-fueled engine with electronic fuel-injection and ignition and a 2.3-liter turbocharged diesel. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) credits the 5-speed-manual gasoline engine with 22 miles per gallon in the city and 31 on the highway. As usual, I fell a few miles below these figures.

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With automatic transmission, the figures are 21 and 25. The diesel, equipped with an automatic transmission, produces 80 hp. and delivers 27 m.p.g. in the city and 32 on the highway, again according to the EPA. A manual stick shift is not available with the diesel.

Unlike the sedan (which has 4-wheel disc brakes and independent rear suspension), the wagon uses drum brakes and a double-coil-suspended live axle in the rear.

With a base price just under $12,000, it is packed with comfort-promoting details, not to mention those big seats. The heavily loaded S version nicks the wallet for $16,095, plus $635 for the leather-bound seats.

Among other S-version features are air conditioning, cruise control, power windows, a central locking system, alloy wheels, leather-covered steering wheel, and a high-level, six-speaker sound system.

For the economy-minded, the S-wagon Econoscope tells the driver when he's using too much fuel as he sails down the road. To return to the green light from either amber or red, simply ease the pressure on the accelerator pedal.

Overall, I like the car, although I still find the liberal use of stick figures confusing in identifying the numerous settings on the comfort-control portion of the panel. The speedometer needle quivers on the dial.

Further, with such a superbly equipped interior, it seems out of place to have such a clacky automatic door lock. Can't the lock emit a more genteel sound than the finality of the snap that now ensues?

But oh! That glove box. It must be as big as a half dozen boxes combined in most cars these days.

The large, thick-rimmed steering wheel is delightful to grip, but with my hands in a 10 and 2 position on the rim, the high-beam light was effectively covered up at night.

Yet to drive the Peugeot 505 wagon, especially with all those high-level niceties on board, is to roll down the road in regal comfort.

The new wagon is clearly built to last, designed as it is for sale in any part of the world. Yet it is right here in the United States that Peugeot is trying to score.

Peugeot, a major builder of taxicabs and small commercial vehicles for Africa and Western Europe, has never achieved what it believes to be its potential in the United States. It has watched its global competitors - Volvo, especially - develop a significant market in this country, while Peugeot has shuffled along in lower gear.

The new 505 wagon, plus new products coming up, including a turbocharged gas-engine 505 next fall, should help it build up speed.

The French carmaker, which bought Chrysler's European operations as well as the financially embattled Citroen empire a few years ago, says it knows something about building a station wagon, asserting that it produced the first one in 1894, a woody.

Chrysler, by the way, has a 10 percent stake in the Peugeot automotive subsidiary.

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