The once-revered Roadmaster name, not seen on a Buick in 33 years, now graces the flanks of one the largest and most expensive station wagons ever built by General Motors.

Usually the debut of a new station wagon is about as exciting as a pocketful of wet pancakes. But the Roadmaster, a two-ton family room on wheels, made headlines late last year, even before it went on sale."No patriotic American should buy that automobile," said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif.

But the 1991 Roadmaster Estate Wagon, to be joined later this year by the 1992 Roadmaster sedan, may be just the ticket for folks who still want a car that can haul a 5,000-pound trailer without fuss and be stylish enough for a night out.

The Roadmaster Estate wagon evaluated returned an average 21.7 mpg on the turnpike during a four-day trip covering about 1,600 miles, very respectable for a car weighing 4,415 pounds.

It is also well within the EPA rating of 16 city/25 mpg highway, and twice the mileage such cars attained during the late 1970s.

The Roadmaster Estate is spun from the same cloth as the Chevrolet Caprice and Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser eight-passenger wagons.

Buick's version is adorned with whitewall tires and woodgrain vinyl trim on its sides, both considered automotive anachronisms these days but are nonetheless attractive to some people.

The Roadmaster Estate's $21,445 base price includes a wide array of standard features: driver's air bag, air conditioning, AM-FM stereo, anti-lock brakes and power windows.

The test version had $3,742 worth of options, including a $2,172 package of power seats and door locks with keyless entry, automatic climate control, speed control, self-actuating headlights, even a compass in the rearview mirror.

Other options were leather seats ($490), compact disc player ($429), and a trailer towing package with automatic vehicle height control for heavy loads ($325).

After 1,600 miles, this writer was left with mixed impressions regarding the Roadmaster Estate in particular, and large wagons in general.

Although its 170 horsepower 5.0 liter V8 engine harks back to another era, it has been smartly updated. Now mated to a 4-speed automatic, it ran flawlessly and delivered more than ample power.

The Roadmaster is also a delight to drive on the open road. Its seats are plush and supportive, with no ill-effects felt after two 12-hour stints behind the wheel interrupted only by brief breaks.

The Roadmaster's tailgate either lowers or opens sideways to ease loading, and there are cavernous locking bins both beneath and beside the cargo floor to conceal valuables.

Unless one has very specific needs for a full-sized station wagon, 1,600 miles of family hauling have proved to this writer that minivans are the way to go. Maybe that's why Ford is no longer building full-size wagons.