Interior styling is less dramatic and more a nod to smart Scandinavian design. Signature Volvo styling cues are everywhere, from the elegant floating center console and HVAC controls to the comfortable seats covered in soft leather. Our test model was particularly handsome; the exterior metallic brown paint (Terra Bronze Pearl) matched well with the combination of smooth cream and black pebbled leather and large-grain, dark-brown vinyl on the doors, dash, and seats.

Rear seat head and legroom are on the generous side for this class, though cargo-carrying capacity runs only middle of the pack at 30.8 cu ft behind the second row, and 67.4 cu ft with 40/20/40 seats folded down.

Though other markets will see a range of gas and diesel engines, and front- as well as all-wheel-drive models, there will be only one model offered for the U.S. market at launch, the XC60 T6 AWD. This AWD model is powered by a turbocharged 3.0L I-6 that spools out 281 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque.

This transversely mounted engine powers all four wheels via All Wheel Drive with Instant Traction, essentially Volvo's name for the Haldex IV all-wheel drive. Under normal driving conditions, this front-drive-biased system usually sends 90% of torque to the front wheels. However, under hard acceleration or situations of limited traction, as much as 65% of torque can be sent to the rear wheels.

Such launches are impressively quick. Volvo claims its 4200-lb five-seater will accelerate to 60 mph in just over 7 sec, though from the pilot's chair, such straightline dashes feel quicker. The throttle responds eagerly when nudged and delivers a pleasing growl when crushed. Upshifts in normal driving mode are smooth, though more crisp when the gearshift is slotted to the right. Manually toggling the six-speed automatic gearbox is fun, but nowhere near quick as some of the fancier transmissions on the market.

Canyon-carving sessions are surprisingly rewarding given Volvo's priority on safety. Clearly its engineers took a different tack with the XC60 and gave on-road performance a high position on the agenda. Despite the class-leading ground clearance, the XC60 doesn't feel tall or unstable. Credit its firm and responsive MacPherson-strut front and multilink rear suspension that minimizes body roll through corners. Though you can never turn them completely off, Volvo's traction and stability-control systems (DTSC, RSC) don't kill the fun too quickly; the XC60 will slide and squeal more than expected before throttle is cut and brakes are gently applied. Too bad the comfortable seats don't cope with this chassis tuning: Though great for highway cruising, they lack the lateral support for spirited country-road cornering.