MANCHESTER, Vermont - In the rugged world of sport/utility vehicles Volvo Car Corp. says it can provide a much more civilized experience with its V70 Cross Country station wagon.

Absent is the truck feel and blind spots. Present is all-wheel drive, space, utility and bearable fuel economy. And this Volvo can handle fallen trees, mud puddles and primitive roads.

Volvo's '01 Cross Country hits dealerships in the U.S. this month and Europe in September. The vehicle is virtually all-new - in that it now is based on the Volvo "large car" platform that first spawned the S80 sedan - and looks beefier and more substantial then its predecessor, which debuted just three years ago.

To stand apart from the standard V70 wagon, Volvo adds new front fenders and side cladding, 2.9 extra inches (7.4 cm) of ground clearance and a 2.3-in. (5.8-cm) increase in track.

The Cross Country's 2.4L 197-hp. inline 5-cyl. light-pressure turbo engine comes from the corporate engine pool. There is a "high-pressure" version of the engine, but Volvo deemed its power characteristics weren't right for slogging through the bog.

While Volvo stresses this car is made for roads, the new Cross Country is the Swedish automaker's answer to the popular SUV. The vehicle has little trouble tackling this area's logging passes - which include primitive roads, mud-filled ruts and steep inclines.

Besides a higher ground clearance and wider track, Volvo prepared the vehicle with virtually the same viscous-coupled all-wheel-drive (AWD) system as its predecessor. The system drives the front wheels most of the time but transfers power to the rear axle when needed. And all the power can be distributed front or rear.

While outside the Cross Country is rugged and robust, inside the car is pure Volvo, with virtually the same interior as the V70 with a couple of extras - including a "grab bar" next to the passenger seat. This addition is done in the same matte chrome as the door handles, which soon will be standard across the Volvo line, says Jose Diaz de La Vega, chief designer, interior colors and trim.

This comfortable interior, along with a tough exterior and 4wd capabilities, makes the new Cross Country a very viable competitor in the SUV world. The Cross Country's MSRP - $34,900 - also makes it an attractive choice. That price is $1,200 less than the previous model, says Volvo.