This is a city of traps. Any one of them could spoil a journey, especially if the trip is by passenger vehicle. Careful planning is required.

For example, size matters here. Bigger is not better, even if the primary purpose of your trip is to haul stuff. The streets are too narrow, too congested for dent-free, rage-free, police-free maneuvering of your minivan or sport-utility vehicle. It's better to bring something more manageable. I drove the 2002 Volvo Cross Country wagon, one of the rare Ocean Race editions.

The Cross Country has certain advantages other station wagons lack.

First, it's a luxury-class Volvo. That means it's inherently intimidating. There's something about these cars that says "I will sue."

As a result, people tend to leave you alone.

Second, the Cross Country is, well, a Volvo. Any Volvo car or wagon, regardless of class, signals that the driver is more interested in safety than in conventional notions of automotive performance. That may not be the case, of course. But the perception offers the Volvo driver two benefits: Aggressive drivers steer clear of you. And police often leave you alone, even when you're the aggressive driver.

Practically, the Cross Country can do almost anything a mid-size or full-size SUV can do on the road, and it can do a number of things no ordinary station wagon can do, on the road or off.

Take the matter of hauling. Collapsing the wagon's three-part (40/20/40) rear seat creates 71.4 cubic feet of cargo space. I was able to put one full-size trunk and two mid-size trunks in that area, along with a portable television, a six-part sound system, various wall hangings and other items carried from extended adolescence into gainfully employed adulthood.

Ah, and parking was a breeze. The pickup point was a shabby graduate-student apartment building on West 99th Street near Riverside Drive. West 99th is a busy but miserably narrow urban artery. Only someone spoiling for a fight or a traffic ticket will try parking a van or SUV there. But the Cross Country -- 186.3 inches long, 73.2 inches wide, 61.5 inches high -- fit perfectly into the available on-street parking space.

The Cross Country was welcomed into the city's higher-end garages, too. Why "higher-end"? All garages in Manhattan are not created, or operated, equally. You get what you pay for. You want more protection for your vehicle and its contents? Pay a higher price and park at a garage that gives you what you want. By the way, many of those garages will charge you extra bucks for a van or SUV, if they accept them at all.

Finally, the Cross Country can scoot, and it can scoot in all kinds of weather, thanks to its all-wheel-drive system. The wagon also rides higher (8.2-inch ground clearance) and offers a more sophisticated suspension system (four-wheel independent, front and rear stabilizer bar) than many wagons. That means it isn't afraid of driving off-road, or even on what passes for New York's paved streets.