When you hear "Volvo," what do you think? A quick and unscientific email poll of several of my mom peers revealed a gradient of thoughts, including safe, sturdy, solid, reliable, family-friendly, first-class, long-lasting, expensive, tree-hugging, boxy, square, boring and gutless, as well as a few straggling remarks about the female anatomy.

That's exactly what Volvo's going for; maybe not the boring and gutless part, but safety for sure. Whether it's the challenge of making an SUV with three rows the safest one on the road or launching the newest member of its family (the hardtop, anything-but-boring C70 convertible; review coming soon), you may think Volvo has been diagnosed with dual personality disorder.

The common thread that binds them, however, is safety. "Explore the beauty of safety" is the phrase that greets visitors to Volvo's consumer website.

Every safety feature available is standard equipment on each Volvo, and the XC90 is no exception. I may not be disciplined enough to choose side curtain airbags over the extra cash that would otherwise stay in my pocket (or be used to indulge in that fabulous new pair of shoes I've been eyeballing), so I'm grateful that Volvo makes the right choice for me.

The 2006 XC90 is loaded with all the obvious safety stuff, such as airbags all around, but it also stands out as a pioneer with other innovative features. Volvo's rollover protection system (developed jointly by Volvo and Ford Motor Company) uses gyroscopic sensors to detect when a rollover may happen. The system responds by reducing the engine's power and braking one or more wheels as necessary until the car understeers and stability is regained, according to Volvo.

If this system doesn't do the trick and a rollover still happens, boron steel (five times stronger than regular steel) reinforces the roof structure. Side curtain airbags help protect the outboard passengers' heads and also help prevent ejection from the vehicle. Ejection is the most preventable cause of death in SUV rollovers.

Although the third row in the XC90 was developed to safely seat adults, it's the kids who always migrate to the back. As a matter of fact, when my father brought home our family's first car with three rows when I was young, the "way back" was where we sat to spread nasty pre-teen girly gossip without being reprimanded. Today, there's concern over how safe the third row really is for child passengers. What happens if the car is rear-ended? A combination of boron and high strength steel in the XC90 keeps other vehicles from intruding too far into this space during an impact.

If I'm starting to sound like Charlie Brown's teacher with all this safety talk - wah wah wah wah - don't worry, I'm moving right on to something more fun. Can we talk about cool features and options? The XC90 is loaded with great ones, such as an integrated sliding booster seat in the second row for children 33 to 80 pounds, four years of Volvo On Call Roadside Assistance, grocery bag holders, 12 cupholders, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, a separate rear audio system with headphone outlets and a dual-screen DVD system mounted in the back of the head restraints (not obstructing the driver's rearward view, as do ones mounted on the ceiling).

I do have a few gripes about the 2006 XC90. I would prefer a slightly lower step-in height to make entry and exit easier for my fiercely independent little ones. I'm also bothered by the blind spot, which is exacerbated by the size and position of the driver's-side head restraint. And in all of Volvo's pride of innovative safety features, the Latch connectors are still a pain to get to. Hey, Volvo, why don't you have a little talk with BMW, Mercedes or even Toyota and ask to borrow their Latch connector design? Then you'll be on to something.

I know safety isn't the most entertaining thing to tell you about, but Volvo's got it down pat. And, after all, aren't we just looking to feel better about what we drive our families around in? Because of all the XC90's niceties, we no longer have to settle for boxy and square (translate: boring). We can have safe, sharp, fun and luxurious, too.

*For more information on the Volvo XC90 and its safety features, visit www.cars.com. For questions or comments regarding this review, write to MotherProof@msn.com.

LET'S TALK NUMBERS LATCH Connectors: 2 Seating Capacity (includes driver): 7

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample

SENSE AND STYLE Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Excellent Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Good Times-GrooveOn