A safer way to get there without hogging the road: Volvo's XC 90

Writers continue to hail the end of the supersized SUV, but the bigs keep rolling out. Some owners are wedded to the indomitable feeling they (sometimes falsely) impart. Reviewers don't often recite the drawbacks for other drivers, including total eclipse of the road.

One safe, broad-shouldered alternative: The mid-size Volvo XC 90, which debuted in 2003 and steadily evolved, adding, for example, a faster-reacting traction system. The XC 90 is just a few inches longer than Volvo's venerable V70 wagon, but with a third row of seats. It offers 92.3 cubic feet of cargo space with all passenger seats laid flat. And it has muscle: 310 h.p. in the (new for '06) 4.4-liter V-8 version we tested. A gentler version - sufficient for most drivers - comes with Volvo's sprightly inline 2.5-liter, 5-cylinder turbo. EPA numbers for the V-8: 15 m.p.g. city, 21 highway. We managed 16.8 in a week of mixed use. This car-based SUV is tight, but not hard-riding - an effortless accelerator. Ergonomics are Volvo perfect.

The XC 90 - base price runs from $35,000 to $45,000 - cradles occupants like eggs with its "torso side" and side-curtain airbags. It also minimizes the likelihood that they'll be needed. Its (standard) roll-stability control system uses gyroscopic sensors to calculate the angle at which rollover is imminent, and corrects. Load-leveling suspension is an option.

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