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Not Your Mother's Station Wagon

If you're looking for a sporty alternative to a gas-guzzling SUV, the newest crop of station wagons might be for you.

Although, they're no longer called that; instead, manufacturers are calling them "sport wagons" or "crossover vehicles" or "car-based SUVs." It all means the same thing: it's a vehicle that's built on the same platform as a car, but is a little taller than a sedan and has all-wheel drive (AWD).

David Champion, senior director of Consumer Report's Auto Test Center, tells The Early Show these cars have become popular. Sales have increased over 500 percent in the past five years. The reason? People are tired of paying so much to fill up their SUVs. They still want the passenger and cargo space of an SUV, but they need a fuel-efficient option. Also, the new crop of wagons handle much better than any SUV.

Here are his favorite cars on the market now:

Ford Freestyle ($25,720 to $32,890)
According to Champion, it "bridges the gap between old and new wagons." It looks traditional, but it does have AWD. Any wagon with AWD is designed to help drivers in inclement weather, not to drive over shrubs and rocks.

The Ford has three full rows of seats to seat seven. The third row is not terribly easy for adults to access, but it's perfect for kids. Also, the price range makes it a good option for many families.

Dodge Magnum R/T ($23,000 to $40,870)
This is a "high-styled performance vehicle," Champion says. It's low to the ground to appeal to a young demographic, but doesn't have a lot of cargo space. The car has even made some appearances in music videos.

Mercedes R-Class ($48,000 to $70,000)
This is the most luxurious car of the bunch. There's room for six adults, and each seat is an individual captain's chair. There are two big sunroofs, one in the front and one in the back. Champion says this car is all about comfort, not necessarily about utility and space. The model is brand new, and won't be available until late September or early October.

Toyota Highlander Hybrid ($33,00 to $39,300)
This car is marketed as an SUV, but it is built on the same platform as the Toyota Camry and has AWD. Since it is a hybrid vehicle, it gets four miles per gallon better than average but it costs about $3,000 to $4,000 more than a regular car. You would have to own the car for 10 years to get your money's worth in gas savings. However, if you're concerned about the environment, dependence on foreign oil, etc., then the hybrid can still be a good choice for you.