Given the current state of the economy and the driving public's renewed interest in high-mileage cars, it may seem like an inauspicious time to launch a vehicle associated with the words "premium" and "SUV." Volvo apparently doesn't think so, as it has an all-new small, upmarket sport/ute hitting dealerships in the coming spring.

Volvo's XC60 is a late entry to an increasingly crowded SUV niche already occupied by the Acura RDX, BMW X3, Infiniti EX35, and newcomers Audi Q5 and Mercedes-Benz GLK. Does it have the right mix of style and substance to be a segment player? The eyeballs say yes.

"Historically, Volvo's interpretation of DNA signified 'Do Not Abandon' the design traditions," says Steve Mattin, Volvo Cars design director. "We have now expanded its significance to redefine DNA as taking a Dramatic New Approach."

Dramatic it is. Volvo says the XC60 is its first production vehicle to demonstrate this new design approach and, at first glance, you might think these Swedes have been smoking more than just salmon up in Gothenberg. For the XC60 is truly organically inspired: possibly the curviest Volvo ever, certainly more voluptuous than the former looker of the line, the C30. In fact, the XC60's curvaceous curb appeal may do Volvo more harm than good, as it instantly dates the current lineup, making some seem as stodgy and slabsided as your aunt's 240D.

While base architecture comes from the S80 sedan and is shared with LR2, the sheetmetal that covers this shortened chassis is all new. The XC60 starts wide, with standard 18-in. "Mantus" wheels and remains broad until just under the beltline, which gives it a powerful SUV stance. Set in atop this strong foundation is a greenhouse said to resemble a sport coupe in that way it peaks over the front two occupants before flowing back to the tail. What keeps this from looking simply like a tall wagon stretched below the door handles is a beltline that slopes slightly upward front to back. This gives the XC60 a subtly aggressive posture, like an animal ready to pounce.

The most handsome touches are reserved for the front and rear treatments. The XC60's face is set off by stylish projector-beam headlights, vertical DRL slashes, and a trapezoidal grille surrounding a bold take on the traditional Volvo logo. Volvo's signature curved brake lights flank a rear hatch that recalls the C30.

At 182.2 in. long, the XC60 is 8.3 in. shorter than the XC70, but right in the wheelhouse of other two-row, five-passenger premium SUVs. With an impressive 9.1 in. of ground clearance, the XC60 is ready for more cross-country wheelin' than are most crossovers. This kind of clearance not only puts the XC60 ahead of everyone in its class, but ahead of many larger body-on-frame SUVs, including the Toyota FJ Cruiser and Ford Expedition.