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 gadgets were 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.

Sure, you always should signal and keep your distance from the car ahead. But on a packed I-95, no matter how careful you are, you can't eliminate the random behavior of other drivers. Guy tucks in front of you, and the car slams on the brakes. Unnerving.

Switched off, no problem.

The adaptive cruise control, however, can be left on when other nannylike features are off. In light traffic, it held the set speed. In heavier traffic, it slowed the XC and maintained a safe following distance, then accelerated to the set speed when possible.

If you just don't like intrusive gadgets, don't spend $1,695 for the "technology package."

• Optional stereo's good. Solid bass; not boomy. Crisp highs; not shrill. Typical of good factory systems, though, you couldn't turn it up enough. Rockin' down a big road, windows down, max volume didn't cut it.

• Suspension underwhelms. Around town, good ride, nice agility. But hustling down a tightening-spiral exit ramp, the front pushed hard to the outside of the corner. All-wheel-drive utilities, no surprise, are less agile than a sportier vehicle. But they shouldn't require unusual steering input.

XC60 beckons with its engaging styling, ravishing interior and useful options. But a sometimes-jerky drivetrain is a turnoff.

2010 VOLVO XC60

• What? Volvo's least-expensive, smallest crossover-utility vehicle; four-door, five-passenger, all-wheel drive.

• When? On sale since mid-March.

• Where? Built at Ghent, Belgium.

• Why? A hot segment in a cold market.

• How? Trim, stylish body on a platform similar to that used for the bigger XC70, XC90 crossovers.

• How much? $38,025 with $825 shipping; high $40s decked to the nines.

• How powerful? More than adequate: 3-liter, six-cylinder, turbocharged engine rated 281 horsepower at 5,600 rpm, 295 pounds-feet of torque at 1,500 rpm, mated to six-speed automatic transmission. Haldex all-wheel drive operates in front-drive mode until wheels slip, then sends up to 50% of power to rears.

• How well-equipped? Satisfyingly and tastefully so — it's a Volvo, after all.

Unique standard feature: City Safety. At 2 to 9 mph, it slams on the brakes if you fail to so you don't smack the car ahead. At 10 to 18 mph, it brakes hard to minimize the crash force (but can't prevent contact).

• How big? 5 inches shorter than rival Lexus RX 350, otherwise similar. XC60 is 182.2 inches long, 74.4 in. wide, 67.4 in. tall on a 109.2-in. wheelbase. Weighs 4,174 lbs. Carries 1,194 lbs., tows 3,300 lbs. Hauls 30.8 cubic feet of cargo behind back seat or 67.4 cu. ft. when seat's folded flat.

Turning circle: 38.4 ft.

• How thirsty? Rated 16 miles per gallon in town, 22 highway, 18 combined (5.56 gallons per 100 miles). Test-car trip computer showed 20.2 mpg (4.95 gal./100 mi.) in fast 250-mile highway run and lurch-and-languish return on same roads.

Uses regular, holds 18.5 gallons.

• Overall:Neat machine undercut by jerky drivetrain.