Volvos have traditionally been seen as the safest cars on the road, with midrange pricing and noted reliability. The company's transition into the luxury market has been a relatively recent one, with Volvo adding more upscale models to its line without leaving the middle-of-the-road buyer behind. Don't get us wrong, we are well aware that Volvos have often been more expensive than other competitive vehicles that are available, but as of late, the company has made value for the money a high priority, and Volvos have a lot more to offer than they once did. Not only are the vehicles intrinsically safe and well-built, but those that buy Volvos purchase vehicles that are competitive in style, comfort, and power with similarly priced German vehicles.

All of this led Volvo down an inevitable path: take all of the attributes that make Volvos popular, and put them to good use in a sport utility vehicle. This Volvo is often compared to the ML 320 and X5, but its competitors for this test were much more varied. The Volvo vied with American luxury, Japanese value, and English tradition, and held its own, with style.

Out of all of the SUVs that were tested, it was the arrival of this one that provided the most eager anticipation. Would it look as good in person as it did in photos? Would it feel like a station wagon? Could it compete? As soon as the XC90 was delivered to our offices, we observed that it looked just as good as the photos that Volvo sent us, and it had unique styling cues that endeared it to many of the testers. The XC90 comes with a choice of two powerplants, two transmissions, and either front-wheel or all-wheel drive. Our XC90 was equipped with the 268hp twin turbo inline-six, a four-speed automatic transmission, and all-wheel drive. Staying true to Volvo tradition, the XC90 has incredible safety features, including a boron steel-reinforced passenger area, side curtain airbags, a rollover protection system, and four-wheel ABS. Before any of us even started the engine, we knew it had good looks and smarts, a fantastic combo. Getting inside, the testers found an interior that was pleasing to the eye, well-designed, and well-suited to judges of all shapes and sizes.

The real test, though, was in the driving. The Volvo performed well on the highways in and around Los Angeles, showing off its taut suspension on canyon roads, and providing a very comfortable ride on straight streets and freeways. Some judges preferred the snarling horsepower of the American SUVs in the competition to the more subtle power of the Volvo, but the combination of the German-feeling suspension and shifting of the XC90 with the quiet strength of the engine made this SUV a personal favorite for some of the judges. The Volvo is not without its quirks, including some of the controls in the cabin and rather large taillights that took getting used to, but people that like the uniqueness of Volvo will not be disappointed with this vehicle.

By the time the competition was over, the judges were all impressed with Volvo's entry into the SUV market. The vehicle is confident, good-looking, and high-performance- and family-minded at the same time, a difficult thing to accomplish. With this vehicle, Volvo takes on the X5 and ML, and shows that it can definitely hold its own.

Base Price: $35,100
Price As Tested: $44,250 (est.)
Engine: 2.9L twin-turbo I-6
Horsepower: 268 hp at 5,100 rpm
Torque: 280 lb-ft at 5,000 rpm
Suspension: MacPherson strut-type, coil springs (front); multi-link independent, coil springs (rear)
Brakes: ABS disc (front & rear)
4WD/Transmission: Electronically controlled AWD, five-speed Driver-Adaptive automatic with Geartronic shifting
Wheelbase: 112.5 in
Length: 188.9 in
Width: 74.7 in
Height: 70.2 in
Curb Weight: 4,450 lb
Towing Capacity: 5,000 lb
Fuel Economy (city/highway): 15/20 mpg (est.)