Volvo's XC60 a show-stopper


by By TOM VOELK / Special to

Posted on February 26, 2009 at 1:28 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 23 at 3:06 PM

Video: Driving Northwest: Volvo's showstopper

Selling cars these days is brutal. Put the economy aside for a moment. Style, utility and high quality don't impress like before because everyone builds great product. Vehicles last longer than ever. More and more brands have appeared. They're competing for fewer buyers because, well, put the economy back into the equation. Today, to get noticed a vehicle has to shine, and shine brightly. Volvo's new XC60 crossover is one bright star. It will hit Volvo dealers in mid to late March.   

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By definition crossovers are vehicles with SUV type bodies that ride on car-like chassis. Some in this class like the Mercedes GLK350 and BMW X3 look like sport utes. Others such as Infiniti EX35, Acura RDX and Audi Q5 have slipped into more urban sheetmetal. XC60 is the swoopiest of them all, as curvy as a Swedish swimsuit supermodel. From some angles it looks like Buick Enclave's baby brother (a compliment by the way). A bold Volvo badge fills the grille. Elegant LED tailamps glow with a sensual liquid quality, making a great looking vehicle a head turner at night. 

If you read just one paragraph, this is it

XC60 has lots of nice stuff: a panoramic roof made exclusively of laminated safety glass, orthopedic designed leather seats and Volvo's signature thin center console. Starting at 38 grand these things are all standard. So is all-wheel drive, a 6-speed automatic transmission with manual control and a torque-rich turbocharged 3.0-liter 6-cylinder that pumps out 281 horsepower. With 0-60 times in the 7 to 7.5 second range XC60 is quick, soothingly quiet, and handles twisty back roads with poise. All this makes the 60 a very appealing package. Oh, I lied about the one paragraph. The next one is what you really want to read. Seriously.

Stop!  In the name of distraction?

XC60 has a trump card and it's called City Safety. Volvo could have easily named it Game Changer. At speeds between 2 and 9 miles an hour the system can eliminate rear end collisions, braking the XC60 all by itself if it senses the driver isn't paying attention. It's standard equipment on all XC60s. City Safety dazzles those who try it.

It's done with the help of a windshield mounted laser. City Safety will not detect people, animals or brick walls, it needs the metallic mass of an automobile and its reflective license plate to work its techno magic. It also doesn't like heavy fog, rain or snow. Between 9 and 18 miles an hour it is supposed to slow the XC60 enough to avoid significant damage to both cars. Let's just hope the driver behind you is paying attention.   

Imagine this scenario: In heavy downtown traffic your toddler in the rear seat is having a meltdown. You try to hand some Cheerios back there, fumbling to relieve the shrieking. Sound familiar, parents? While you're looking back at sweet little Chernobyl, the car in front of yours stops. The lasers size up the situation and slam on the brakes (and I do mean slam) if you're in danger of a bumper bash. There's even a message in the gauge cluster that crows your front end - and your hiney - have been saved by technology.     

What happens if you look forward in time to react? If City Safety determines you've begun to steer around the stopped car and that you can avoid it, the lasers and microchips defer to human driving skill and bow out. I tried it a dozen times or so (check out the streaming video) and it works flawlessly and transparently. An assault on Volvo's metallic trimmed inflatable car at 12 MPH still resulted in no contact. Want to try it yourself? Dealers are encouraged to demo it.

Big Brother, in a good way

A message to hard core enthusiasts: Please hold the e-mails describing the evils of succumbing to the dark side of computerized driving aids. Just as electronic stability control has its place, so does City Safety. Not everyone is Kyle Petty and even if you are it can be turned off. I did my best to get CS to hiccup but the algorithm Volvo programs in worked flawlessly (unlike a certain highly touted self-parking system). If this tech eliminates just one accident, it saves lots of time, money and embarrassment. 

To keep owners from becoming lazy and reliant on it, City Safety stops are very abrupt and uncomfortable. Volvo hopes insurance companies will see the merit and offer discounts to XC60 drivers. So far, Geico and the likes are unenlightened. The safety Swedes are working on getting CS to eventually recognize pedestrians, bicyclists and animals. Obviously they are not fans of Death Race 2000.

The safety features keep on coming 

Being a Volvo there's too little space to describe other safety stuff like high-strength steel roll cage, intelligent airbags, electronic stability and traction control plus seats that protect against whiplash. All five seating positions get a seatbelt warning indicator, not just the fronts. Integrated child booster seats can be ordered for the back row. 

Want more? There's an optional collision warning system that works at higher speeds than City Safety. The $1,695 package includes radar adaptive cruise control and a lane-departure warning tone that eerily knows when XC60 is drifting over the centerline or just changing lanes without signaling. A towing stability system works using the electronic stability program. Finally BLIS (a poor acronym of Blind Spot Information System) uses a warning light on the side mirrors to indicate a car may be lurking where a driver can't easily see.

The inside story

XC60's cabin is a nice place to see the world from. The instrument panel uses high quality soft touch materials, door panels get chunky metallic trim and nicely grained leather inserts. An easy to use menu lets an owner easily customize their car - things like how long the lights stay on after engine shut down and how many doors unlock with one push of the fob. The climate control uses a pictogram, making it very intuitive. 

Four average adults will be comfortable in this crossover, five a smidge snug. The very supportive rear seats don't slide fore and aft to max out legroom or cargo space but they fold down 40/20/40 and can be heated if the $1,000 Climate Package is checked. In addition, the front passenger seat folds flat, giving the XC60 great flexibility to carry any combination of people and long stuff. Nice that the shapely body doesn't sacrifice style for utility. This Swede keeps its work ethic intact. No Costco Toilet Paper Test this week since I'm reviewing this rig on a press event.  Because of minimal intrusion from wheel wells and suspension strut towers, it appears to be a useful space.

Off road? In a crossover?

XC60 has 9.1 inches of ground clearance, more than some truck-based SUVs. Even riding high, cornering is very capable with little head toss. Direct steering is never twitchy. The ride is Euro firm, comfortable really, with just a hint of harshness when the roads turn rough.  

Being a pretty boy crossover, the assumption would be that XC60 doesn't like to get its standard 18-inch wheels dusty. That would be wrong. I'm taking Volvo's word that the 60 is supremely rugged since the drive route was strictly an on-road affair but there's reason for trust. Built on the same rugged chassis as Volvo's XC70, the 60 get sophisticated next-gen Haldex AWD hardware, more advanced than the one in XC70. That said, I've beaten the snot out of an XC70 over 180 miles of forest service roads and walked away without feeling at all tired. With Hill Decent Control the 70 easily tackled more than most owners would ever dare. So the XC60 should do you fine. Just don't plan on traversing the Rubicon Trail.

A few gripes

Not all is perfect. Drinking premium fuel, the EPA rated average of 19 miles per gallon is on the thirsty side. When it comes to nav systems, I prefer touch screen interfaces to the nubby joystick controller that's mounted on the back of the steering wheel. Volvo says this is a safety consideration so the driver keeps their hand on the wheel. The elegant upward flow of the rear greenhouse limits rearward vision. Make sure to check the nav system option box for a rearview camera. 

Finally, a fob-like key has to be slipped into a slot THEN you push a button for ignition. One too many steps for me. There's nothing a little cash won't fix though. For $550, keyless ignition is optional and the "key" can tell you if you locked the car even if you're halfway around the world. It can also rat out a burglar hiding in the back seat via an in-vehicle heartbeat monitor. I kid you not.

Summing up 

38 large for a car is not something people take lightly, especially these days. Compare it to the others in class though and XC60 is a very good value. In addition to AWD, big glass roof, leather chairs, and City Safety, other standard stuff includes Sirius satellite radio, HD radio, USB iPod input and Bluetooth handsfree phone connection. World wide, Volvo plans on selling 50,000 copies. In a normal economy I'd say they should crank up production. Considering design, comfort, performance, and the highly marketable City Safety, this crossover is a formidable package. Volvo XC60 is a show stopper.