Whatever Volvo has learned from long winters spent in contemplation, it might be a hesitancy to rush into things. That may partly explain why, a dozen years after the Ford Explorer triggered a buyer stampede into sport/utility vehicles, Volvo is just now introducing its first SUV.

Few companies other than Volvo have such a clearly defined brand character, a result of decades of honing its skills bringing sensible, practical, and safe personal transport to market.

The contemplation is about to pay off, for Volvo and you, with the all-new XC90. It's the latest fruit of Volvo's large-car platform that previously bore the S80 luxury sedan, which means a transverse-engine, front-drive unit-body platform, in this case adaptable to all-wheel drive. This car/minivan-based configuration has worked well for the Acura MDX and Lexus RX 300. And it's a natural progression for Volvo, a marque that has virtually owned the Euro wagon market for decades.

The XC90 is more than just a wagon version of the S80. It casts a larger shadow (it's longer, wider, and loftier than the Mercedes-Benz M-Class or BMW X5), and it offers command-of-the-road seating for up to seven passengers. How high? The front seats have 6.5 in. in elevation over those of the Volvo XC70 wagon. Ground clearance and approach and departure angles, long the measures of a serious off-road SUV, nearly match those of the Ford Explorer. Converted from people- to cargo-carrying duty, the XC90 will swallow up to 93.2 cu ft of stuff, more than Toyota's Land Cruiser and nearly as much as the full-size Chevy Tahoe. Because it's a Volvo, the XC90 is packed with every safety feature, dynamic as well as passive, currently on company shelves. This includes the industry's first active rollover-protection system.

Never a slave to fashion, Volvo has been well served by its conservative bent. Still, a gentle transformation has been occurring under the direction of Peter Horbury, vice president and Volvo Cars chief designer. Volvo shapes have evolved from shipping-crate boxy and straightedge angular to somewhat organic and downright muscular, with a pronounced V-shaped frontal design. The new XC90 continues that trend. Clearly, this one comes from the car side of the ledger, though it boasts a decidedly in-your-face face. Volvo knows what a truck is, and you can see plenty of its big-rig 18-wheelers hauling hogs and hay over the interstates.