Volvo called the color "saffron" -- a metallic mixture of gold, tan and orange, a color that instantly separated the hip from the jive. Hip folks loved it. Jive people snickered.

There are lots of hip people in this city, where the saffron-draped 1998 Volvo V70 R AWD wagon was received warmly. There are many jive people in Washington, the origin of this week's run, where there were many questions about whether I was "embarrassed" to be seen in a car that color.

I wasn't the least bit embarrassed.

Any Volvo inspiring passion gets an "Amen" from me. And any station wagon that moves the way the V70 R AWD moved on the New Jersey Turnpike, putting many supposed sports coupes to shame, gets my blessing too.

My week in the V70 R AWD was the most fun I've ever had in a station wagon, parked or moving. And I almost threw away a chance to drive it.

There are 12 versions of the V70, and I'd already driven several of them, including the highly commendable V70 XC ("Cross Country") AWD. And, frankly, the notion of a "high-performance" station wagon -- a title to which the V70 R AWD lays claim -- struck me as silly, a motorized oxymoron for people with more money than common sense.

I was wrong. The V70 R AWD redefines the concept of wagon -- especially Volvo wagon -- which long has symbolized stability of the most depressing sort. By comparison the V70 R AWD is a rebel moving in life's faster lanes, flaunting its stuff and enjoying every second of its contact with the road.

Volvo brought about this wonderfully strange hybrid without sacrificing any of the things for which the company is famous -- notably safety and practicality.

The V70 R AWD comes with four air bags to protect the driver and front-seat passengers in frontal and side-impact crashes. It has one of the best-designed roll cages -- the framework around the passenger compartment -- in the business. That includes reinforced "B" pillars -- padded (on the interior portions) center pillars on the left and right sides of the wagon -- to help reduce the risk of severe chest and head injuries.

The steering column has been redesigned to collapse more quickly in frontal crashes, further reducing the chances of chest and facial injuries. The wagon also has an improved driver's-side knee guard, faster-retracting three-point seat belts, and head restraints for all five seating positions.

Cargo volume in the wagon is an ample 37.1 cubic feet with the rear seats up, and 67 cubic feet with the rear seats down -- enough to handle the carrying needs of most families.

But the V70 R AWD can haul . . . Well, suffice it to say that it runs as well as it carries, thanks to an in-line five-cylinder, double-overhead-cam, 20-valve engine designed to produce 236 horsepower at 5,100 rpm and 243 pound-feet of torque at 2,700 rpm.

There is a variable suspension system, adjustable at the push of a button to accommodate different road conditions. And the wagon comes equipped wi th 16-inch Michelin Pilot High Performance tires, designed to take sharp corners with aplomb on dry roads and to offer maximum traction in snow and other slippery stuff.

Which brings up another point: The V70 R is "all-wheel-drive," not "four-wheel-drive," which means there is no "four-wheel-low" gear in this one for mountain climbing or the other off-road things that most of us never do.

On dry roads, the all-wheel-drive system sends 95 percent of the drive power to the front wheels. On slippery roads, the system splits drive power, transferring up to 95 percent of power to the rear wheels when the front wheels start spinning.