I've struggled with Sweden's twin stereotypes. How could a country that boasts the world's most beautiful women also be home to Volvo - the homeliest luxury carmaker on the planet?
Swedish lasses have been desired by men everywhere. Volvo's four-wheeled boxes have been coveted by bespectacled, granola-chewing nerds. Tiger Woods-ex Elin Nordegren looked as out of place in a Volvo as her golfer husband did in a Buick.
Well, scrap the caricature.
It's cool to covet Swedish blondes and Volvos. Even now I wager you're looking up from this page to follow a Nordic beauty in a stunning Volvo down the street. Perhaps she's in an S60 sedan. Or a V60 wagon.
Or today's focus, the XC60 – the prettiest small crossover on a very talented, very crowded small crossover stage.
My driveway has been besieged by new utes this year as every manufacturer from Detroit to Deutschland flogs its small crossover entry. The styles vary from Lincoln's ya-gotta-c MKC to Lexus's in-excess NX. But once ugly-duckling Volvo is an XC60 swan.
From the sculpted grille to the tapered hips to those signature boomerang taillights, the XC60 will turn James Bond's head faster than Britt Eckland in "Man with a Golden Gun." But would 007 use it as a getaway car?
It's no Aston DB5. But let's be real. In our post-sedan world, if Bond needs to hijack a passing vehicle, it's likely to be a ute. And as SUVs go, the XC is one sweet ride.
Which surprised me since – true to its caricature – the Volvo is a tank. At 4,277 pounds it tips the scales as one of the heaviest crossovers in class thanks to all-wheel-drive, a turbocharged V6, and enough safety systems to stop an incoming nuke. Someone's been snacking on Swedish meatballs and cream sauce. This sled is 600 pounds heavier than an Audi Q3. Wrestle the Big Swede into a corner and you feel the weight shift before. . . the magic kicks in.
A moment while I pull my motor-head brothers aside . . .
We didn't think this Chinese ownership thing would work, did we? When Ford off-loaded Volvo to Geely for a song in the depths of the Great Recession we thought it was the end, right? Lights out? Swedish homicide by a clueless, communist conglomerate?
Wrong. Volvo has thrived under Chinese ownership just as Jaguar – also cast off by Ford – has roared under India's Tata. The secret? The Chinese and Indian owners haven't micromanaged their talented, adopted children. They've let them do their thing. Thus the jaw-dropping Jaguar F-Type. Thus the elegant XC60.
"We're still headquartered in Sweden where the magic still happens," says Volvo spokesperson Laura Venezia.
"Geely certainly lets Volvo be Volvo," adds Tony Nicolosi, CEO of Volvo North America. Which means the big beast has paws aided by torque-vectoring all-wheel drive. The same kind of outer-wheel spinning, inner-wheel braking AWD magic that makes the Subaru WRX a rocket ship and turns the Volvo on a dime. Gripping the nicely-weighted, heated, leather steering wheel, I could rotate the XC60 into a corner with precision (ahem, for a SUV) then stampede out of the exit with 300 turbocharged horses.
Oh, the ladies love this hunk.
Including my gold-maned wife. Once inside, however, her concerns turned to more practical Volvo engineering touches like safety and child seats. For all its style and performance, the XC60 hasn't forgotten its roots.
The Swedish SUV is the only vehicle in class to offer standard crash prevention braking. No wonder it gets the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's highest score. Through the magic of radar and lasers, the Volvo will stop on its own under 30 mph if it detects a collision. It's also available with an array of safety features like adaptive cruise control, pedestrian detection, and blind-spot assist.
Got kiddies? The Volvo's lush, black-and-white stitched leather interior comes equipped with built-in rear booster seats.
Mrs. Payne even discovered the button (on the typically maddening European center console – OK, the Volvo ain't perfect) that flips down the rear headrests – THWACK! - thus waking up inattentive teens in the back. Though I told her I was sure that feature is for laying the seats flat for an extended trunk.
Whatever. The point is that the XC60 is the total package — a safety-first performance vehicle that hotties can line up to buy. This lux entry justifies its fully-loaded, $52k sticker. Myself? I would hold off a while longer. In a couple of years the AWD XC60 will bow with the brand's Drive-E, turbocharged and supercharged, 2.0-liter, 302 horsepower inline turbo 4 with eight-speed transmission.
And it will be cheaper and more fuel-efficient (Drive-E currently only comes in a front-wheel drive package). Magic.
Supercharging and turbocharging. Another pair of Swedes that look good together.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at email@example.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.
2015 Volvo XC60
Vehicle type: Front-engine, front and all-wheel-drive, five-passenger sport utility vehicle
Price: $36,675 base ($52,225 AWD, turbo-6 as tested)
Power plant: 2.0-liter, turbocharged in-line 4-cylinder; 3.2-liter in-line V6; 2.0-liter turbocharged "Drive-E" inline-4: 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6
Power: 240 horsepower, 258 pound-feet of torque (4-cyl.); 240 horsepower, 236 pound-feet of torque (3.2 inline-6); 302 horsepower, 295 pound-feet of torque (Drive-E turbo-4); 300 horsepower, 325 pound-feet of torque (turbo inline-6);
Transmission: Six or eight-speed automatic
Performance: 0-60 mph: 6.2 seconds (Edmunds.com)
Weight: 4,277 pounds (AWD turbo-6 as tested)
Fuel economy: EPA 24 city/31 highway/27 combined (2.0L turbo-4); 18 city/25 highway/20 combined (3.2L 6-cyl); 22 city/30 highway/25 combined (Drive-E turbo-4); 17 city/24 highway/20 combined (3.0L turbo-6)
Highs: Not the same ol' homely Volvo; Still the same ol' safety underneath
Lows: Thirsty 6-cyl engines; Quirky console