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I am trying to weigh the safety and convenience benefits...

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Dear Tom and Ray:



I am trying to weigh the safety and convenience benefits of the Volvo SUV versus the Volvo Cross Country versus a minivan like the Honda Odyssey. While the extra seating in the Volvo SUV is a very valuable feature -- as are the curtain air bags and steel frame -- I can't get a straight answer from anyone as to whether these benefits are irrelevant compared with the increased danger of rolling over in an SUV and its other downsides. Can you help me decide? -- Judy

TOM: Well, we'll give you as straight an answer as we can, Judy. You picked three good vehicles. The real question is: "What's most important to you?"

RAY: If you really need seating for seven people, then the Honda Odyssey is the clear choice. It's the only one of them that has seven truly usable seats. The Cross Country is available with a rear-facing third seat (a "puker seat," my kids call it), which is only for kids who don't get carsick easily. The XC90 SUV has a front-facing, folding third seat, but it can only be accessed by little kids, contortionists or Kentucky Derby jockeys.

TOM: So, if you're really going to carry six other people on a regular basis, then get a minivan.

RAY: If the extra seating is just "nice to have" rather than necessary, and your overriding concern is safety, then consider one of the Volvos. The Cross Country is certainly very safe. It's a solid car with a low center of gravity, all-wheel drive, and it has just about every safety feature currently known to man. It's also easy to get in and out of, it gets better gas mileage than Volvo's SUV and it handles better.

TOM: I'd say the Volvo SUV is a compromise between the two. While most SUVs are rollover candidates because of their high center of gravity, the Volvo XC90 comes with an anti-flip device called stability control, which prevents the XC90 from flipping over due to driver error. So, it's better than most SUVs in terms of safety. It also has that folding third seat, although as we say, no one who has to climb into those seats is going to be happy. Its other major disadvantages are: its lousy gas mileage, and that more people will hate you because you have an SUV.

RAY: So, I'd say if you need seating for seven, get the Odyssey. If your top priority is safety, get the Cross Country. And if you want extra seating and safety, and you have the hots for an SUV, get the XC90. How's that for a straight answer? I didn't think so.
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