CROSSOVER HIT | Volvo’s luxury interior design, below, perfectly suits its sexy new profile.

CASEY WILLIAMS  | Auto Reviewer

Safe. First of all, a Volvo must be safe. It doesn’t matter if the subject of the safety wand is a big sedan, compact wagon or mid-size crossover, which the XC60 is. Now gripped in Chinese automaker Geely’s chopsticks, the very-Swedish Volvo proves it has the spice and comfy rice that today’s youthful upscalers demand.

When Lexus, Acura and others began introducing luxury crossovers, cautious Volvo wasn’t too eager to hurry into anything. Its cars still looked like the boxes they came in, and the company was happy producing the turbocharged station wagons for which it was renowned.

Eventually, a jacked up V70 wagon became the Cross Country, the company’s first machine that could accomplish some semi-challenging off-roading (I once blitzed a power easement with aplomb). The XC90 three-row crossover, based on its large car platform, showed forevermore that Volvo could build crossovers without losing what made it a Volvo.

On a little smaller scale is the XC60. My partner nearly dribbled his dungarees and dropped his drawers when he saw the voluptuous Passion Red R-Design XC60 roll into our driveway.

That wasn’t because he was all a-gunk over its side curtain airbags — its mug and shoulders identify itself immediately as one of the Volvo pack, but dressed up with 20-in. alloy wheels, gray ground affects and taillamps that follow body curves from roof to bumper look as ready for the track or Manhattan club as a convention of corporate health and safety managers.

Some of Volvo’s classic design cues were melted for modern, but one can still recognize the XC60’s lineage from a continent away. For a couple of homos trying to adopt a baby, the red sleigh would be perfect.

Interior design continues themes set by the S40 and S80 — that is to say, very Swedish. Major controls are wrapped around the driver, a thin center control stack clears room behind it for small items, and the climate control can be adjusted with a clever “seated human” chrome accent. The 12-speaker Dolby audio system with 910-watts of drenching noise thumped the Glee version of “Teenage Dream” until my partner threatened to ban the show in our home. Navigation, USB iPod input, Bluetooth phone connectivity and stunningly beautiful blue analog gauges made travels easy; a full array of airbags also make them safe.

Mother Mary herself must have invented Volvo’s seats. Soft as Martha Stewart’s down pillows, they perfectly support the contours of your back while plushing your plushier regions.

They’re also designed to protect you in an accident with whiplash-reducing headrests. Heated cushions (front and rear) soothe in autumn and winter chills.

There’s also safety in performance. In our R-Design, the six-cylinder turbo engine stamps at the ground ready to storm off in a huff, only held back by the driver’s desire to avoid expensive paper from law enforcement. With the aid of a twin-scroll turbo, the powerplant generates 300-HP and 325 lb.-ft. of torque, enabling a 0–60 mph tear in 7.1 seconds on the way to a 130-MPH top speed.

A six-speed automatic transmission and torque-shifting all-wheel-drive put all of that energy straight to the pavement. Using all of the powertrain’s mighty force will yield somewhat less than the stated 16/21-MPG city/hwy.

In a crossover the size of the XC60, three centuries of equestrian gallop is more than adequate to get your heart pumping. Speed-sensitive steering, sport-tuned suspension and large disc brakes ensure the rest of the vehicle is up to the challenge laid down by its engine. At interstate speeds, the turbo is in its happy place, generating torque and thrust like the Fed prints IOUs.

Fort Knox probably has a patent on the super-thick Volvo doors, but it feels like a stinger missile wouldn’t faze the XC60 from the moment they close. Working to prevent accidents are blind spot warnings, rotating headlamps to follow curves, rearview camera, front and rear parking sensors, adaptive radar-enabled cruise control and electronic stability control. Volvo’s new City Safe crash avoidance technology uses a laser to detect slow moving traffic. Up to 19 MPH, the brakes are pre-charged when danger rears, and if you don’t respond the vehicle brakes automatically. Your mama loves you no more.

Though built by a Chinese-owned automaker, the XC60 is every inch a Volvo, ready for a more youthful and style-setting driver. And safe — don’t forget safe.

Price as tested came to a touch over $48,000, making it competitive with the Mercedes GLK, BMW X3, Cadillac SRX and Lincoln MKX.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 15, 2011.