Volvo XC90

A Swedish Steel

A sport utility vehicle's dirty little secret is that it's prone to tipping when speed and cornering are carelessly combined. Volvo's viable solution: Roll Stability Control (RSC). The XC90-Volvo's first SUV-has an RSC system that monitors your driving and automatically taps the brakes if it deems that you're going too fast around the bends. When the vehicle corners hard enough to verge on roll over, power is cut and the outside brakes are applied to stabilize your path. We didn't quite give this system a rollover test, but we did rush a few bends quickly enough to feel automatic brake activation.

The 2.5-liter, in-line-5 engine is an oddity in a niche ruled by V-8s, but it's energetic thanks to a turbocharger. It's also smooth at idle. An optional 2.9-liter twin-turbo-charged six-cylinder engine provides an extra 60 hp. To check the intestinal fortitude of the XC90's five-cylinder engine, we hitched up a Ski Nautique on a single-axle trailer. We reached 60 mph in 17.7 seconds with the 4,120-pound payload attached and 9.4 seconds running bareback. The downside with this power approach is a coarse growl when the throttle is down and the engine is straining. However, the five-speed automatic transmission shifted smoothly. The XC90's all-wheel drive mostly relies on the front wheels. At the launch ramp, we noticed some slippage-whether the Dynamic Stability Traction Control button was switched on or off. In spite of a lack of low range, the XC90's low-rpm torque and gear ratio provided ample tugging for towing the rated 5,000 pounds.

Around town or on the highway, the XC90 shows its car roots by taking excellent care of its occupants. A high-strength steel body and six air bags provide crash protection. Wind noise is nonexistent. The controlled ride has no trace of harshness. The Michelin mud and snow radials provided impressive adhesion during panic-braking tests. The rear seat splits and folds flat in three sections and a third row is an option.

Last Word. The XC90, Volvo's first SUV, drives like a car and works like a truck.