are a number of "firsts" going on here in 2003 in the RTM's Most Versatile
category. First, this award usually goes to a traditional minivan or a station
wagon. And this year's worthy winner, the Volvo XC90,
is neither a minivan nor a station wagon, but rather a true sport-utility vehicle.
Remember, though, that one of Volvo's longtime strengths has been building safe,
secure station wagons, so it's only fitting that if an SUV is going to compete
in the Most Versatile category, then this Volvo isn't such a stretch after all.
Another first: this is the first time Volvo has ever developed an SUV.
After all, tippy, ponderous SUVs inherently have been somewhat at odds with Volvo's
well-known, safety-first mantra. So Volvo engineers had their work cut out for
them if there were going to make this truck happen.
The result is without
a doubt the safest SUV on the road, offering more protection for its driver and
up to six additional passengers than any SUV has offered before. How about curtain
air bag protection for all three rows of seats? How about a stability control
system that can actually predict and help prevent rollovers? How about world-class
brakes that can achieve stopping distances that rival some sports cars? Suddenly,
a Volvo SUV makes sense.
That said, the XC90 wouldn't have won this category
on safety alone. Other XC90 hallmarks are seating for up to seven passengers,
excellent ergonomics, tons of cargo space and Swedish flair inside and out. Power
comes from your choice of two engines: a 208-hp turbocharged five-cylinder that
is far from quick but that actually can claim highway fuel economy of 24 mpg,
or a stronger, 278-hp twin-turbocharged V-6 that can easily run with costlier
SUVs from BMW and Mercedes.
All in all, this is an SUV we can wholeheartedly
endorse for safety freaks. Yet another "first" indeed.