Volvo's XC60 crossover SUV is stylish, but. . .

Volvo has reconfigured its line of crossover SUVs, leaving the XC90 as the only one with three rows of seats and adding the new XC60 as its smallest, lowest-price entry.

Volvo also cut XC90 prices 8% (about $3,250) this month.

Despite it's "60" designation, the $38,000-and-up XC60 is based on the larger chassis used for the XC70, V70 and XC90, not on the S60 sedan chassis.

Short take: looks good and works quite nicely around the suburbs. Not as pleasing on the highway.

The features (all optional) that make it exceptional:

•Built-in booster seats ($495). Two positions fit taller, heavier kids and shorter, lighter ones. Safety belts automatically take the proper height and angle. When not in use and articulated into the rear seat, the boosters are invisible to eye and rump.

•Cold-weather package. For $1,000, you get heated seats front and rear, headlight washers, heated windshield-washer nozzles, rain-sensing wipers — useful features, even if you don't live in Fargo, N.D.

Three standard items enhanced the XC60's appeal: all-wheel drive, free satellite radio for six months and City Safety, a system that can automatically brake before you tail-end the car ahead in low-speed traffic.

Designed to compensate for distracted drivers, City Safety judges distance and hits the binders at speeds from 2 to 9 mph. Doesn't activate slower than 2 mph or if the driver is turning, accelerating, braking (even resting a foot on the brake pedal).

A 500-mile Virginia-to-Manhattan round trip for the New York auto show provided other insights. Northbound on Interstate 95 and the New Jersey Turnpike were fast and furious. The return was literally stop-and-go, punctuated by short, high-speed opportunities.


•Styling's great. Second glances at rest stops. Enough like Volvo's other XCs for a family resemblance. Enough different for an attitude.

•Navigation system's a dud. Insisted several times that you turn around and get back on the route before it realized you'd changed your mind, then calculated a new route.

Besides being stubborn, Navi Girl (or a Boy, if you choose), was an airhead, rerouting off the interstate for mysterious traffic-related reasons and smack into a one-lane funnel for major construction. If the real-time traffic feature can track traffic-flow changes and give you supposedly better routes, shouldn't it also know about significant construction projects on major roads?

•Seats weren't perfect. Big letdown. Volvo's been tops for years. The test-car chairs weren't bad but weren't superb.

•Drivetrain needs work. Power's there, all right. The turbocharged six-cylinder is rated 281 horsepower, 295 pounds-feet. But nail the gas to squirt into a hole in traffic and you get a delay, then a slam-bam downshift. Puttering though slow/stop/go traffic delivered upshifts followed immediately by downshifts in a jitterbug spiced with what felt like the occasional straddle of two gears at once and sometimes what felt like no gear.

•Interior's sweet. Classy materials, nice controls, easy-to-use gauges.

•Optional safety gadgetswere a mixed blessing. The best part is the "off" switch. Otherwise, you get scolding beeps when you change lanes without signaling, and an explosion of noise and red light from the dash top if you get too close to the car in front, followed by automatic panic braking from the car's save-your-keister system.

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