When the XC90 hits North American dealerships in November 2002, it will be offered in two basic versions: the five-cylinder light-turbo 2.5T and six-cylinder twin-turbo T6. The 208-hp 2.5T all-wheel-drive model is well equipped with such niceties as dual-zone climate control, security system, wood inlay interior trim, and power driver's seat with lumbar support and memory for around $37K. Step up to the T6 model, and for around $44,500, upgrades include a 268-hp twin-turbo DOHC inline-six, leather seating, power glass moonroof, eight-way power front seats, Homelink, auto-dimming and memory rearview mirrors, six-disc in-dash CD player, and more aggressive 235/65R17 tires with alloy wheels. Both models are available in a choice of five- or seven-passenger configurations. Early in 2003, Volvo will introduce a price-leader front-drive version of the 2.5T in the mid-$30,000 range.

As a people mover, the XC90 seats two up front in oversized "business class" buckets, three in the 40/20/40-split second-row bench, and two more small adults or children in the third row (if so equipped) on another split bench. For cargo toting, both the second and third row can be folded down to form a flat load floor. The front passenger seat folds flat as well, affording load space for long objects such as extension ladders and surfboards. On seven-passenger XC90s, an optional child booster cushion can be fitted to the middle portion of the second-row seat. This bit slides forward independently of the outboard portions of the seat for impromptu parent-child conferences. Access to the cargo area is through a liftgate that's split 70/30 to form a small tailgate when open for loading items.

We recently sampled both AWD versions under urban, rural, and mixed highway driving conditions. In short, the driving experience was in keeping with what we've come to expect from Volvo--just upsized to SUV proportions. The XC90 structure is rock solid, with nary a squeak, rattle, or groan over the most checkered road surfaces. Huge one-foot-diameter vented disc brakes were a breeze to modulate and gave tremendous confidence in kamikaze commuter traffic and blind, off-camber mountain corners. And the oversized front seats managed to be La-Z-Boy-enveloping, yet orthopedically friendly during several hundred miles of drive time. Volvo core values remain intact.

The name Volvo may mean "I roll" in Latin, but Volvo has taken measures to tame one of the more nasty traits sometimes attributed to high center-of-gravity vehicles such as SUVs. One bit of new technology we tried out during a "moose" emergency-avoidance test was the XC90's Roll Stability Control. This is a logical expansion of Volvo's Dynamic Stability and Traction Control (DSTC) system, with gyroscopic sensors that report the car's roll angle and roll speed. If there's a risk of rollover, the DSTC will activate before the vehicle strays too far from shiny side up. The system will apply individual brakes or reduce throttle as needed to induce understeer and drop the vehicle below the roll threshold.

Should it cross the roll threshold, that's where the XC90's Boron-steel reinforced roof comes in--said to be 400-500 percent stronger than conventional mild steel. So confident is Volvo of the integrity of the passenger cell, it conducted a test where it snap-rolled an XC90 at 35 mph in a demonstration for the press. Upon completion of the automotive equivalent of a quadruple lutz, all four doors on the big Volvo still could be opened and closed and the family of crash-test dummies remained belted inside the passenger compartment.