If you're Volvo, and you are stuck with a station wagon when the world seems to want sport utility vehicles, what do you do?

You raise one of those wagons farther off the ground, add some larger tires and plastic fender flares, make it all-wheel-drive, and suddenly you have a vehicle that will compete. Call it a lesson from Subaru, because that's the philosophy behind the super-successful Outback.

Actually, this is selling the Volvo V70 Cross Country short. It's an exceptionally nice all-purpose vehicle, assuming your purpose is not to ford rivers, climb mountains and tow horse trailers. The Cross Country may be no match for a Range Rover off-road, but a tiny percentage of owners take their Range Rovers - or most any sport ute, for that matter - off-road regularly. But allowing for the slim possibility of off-roading, most SUV manufacturers are forced to compromise on road manners by giving their sport utes loud, aggressively treaded tires and a high center of gravity.

The Cross Country is a sure-footed, on-pavement vehicle, and although it is capable of occasional dirt-trail drama, its all-wheel-drive is mostly for bad weather.

Front leather-clad bucket seats are supportive, and there's room for three adults in the back seat. The Cross Country is, after all, based on the Volvo S80 sedan. Instruments and controls are well-placed, and standard stuff includes full power-operated features, a glass sunroof and a good stereo with steering wheel-mounted controls.

Under the hood is a reasonably smooth turbocharged five-cylinder engine, nicely matched to a five-speed automatic transmission. Its 197 horsepower gets the job done, but with an overall vehicle weight of 3,700 lbs., another 20 horsepower would be nice. Fuel mileage, EPA-rated at 19 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway, is above average.

The ride is taut but never punishing, and the Cross Country is surprisingly nimble on winding roads. As you would expect from a Volvo, the Cross Country is loaded with safety features, including anti-lock disc brakes; front, side and side-curtain air bags, a whiplash protection system; and, of course, all-wheel-drive, an underrated safety benefit.

The Cross Country starts at $36,500, and with a couple of options packages and shipping fees, the bottom line is $39,925. Not cheap, but competitive.

The Cross Country is a practical, safe, fun-to-drive alternative to SUVs. If you want most of the advantages of a sport ute, but don't want to risk losing of your Sierra Club membership, it's worth consideration.

Base price: $36,500

Price as tested: $39,925

EPA-rated fuel mileage: 19 mpg city, 25 mpg highway

Details: All-wheel-drive station wagon powered by a turbocharged 197-horsepower five-cylinder with a five-speed automatic transmission.