Breaking new ground in Small Premium Utility
* We're flying over one of the more undulating sections of California's Pacific Coast Highway, chasing a Terra Bronze Pearl Volvo XC60 crossover in a Terra Bronze Pearl Volvo XC60 crossover of our very own. The guy in front is all over the road. Back and forth, up and down... clearly whoever it is has more faith in the vehicle than I might have in his driving skills. Silently I make a mental note to discover who this crazed individual is when we make our lunch stop 20 or 30 miles hence and avoid riding with him on future press events.
We're getting a little hoonish maybe, but having a pace car run through some of the sillier bits up ahead really lets you know how hard to push a car you've only been driving for, oh, maybe an hour. And I have to say, I'm impressed. The XC60 represents Volvo's first sally into the growing "Small Premium Utility" market segment--populated by cars like BMW's X3, Audi's new Q5 and Mercedes' new GLK, and a couple Japanese thingies I can't think of right now. And it appears as though the Swedes have actually injected a fair dose of sporting intention in with the utility.
Safety, however, is still the number-one priority, and true to form, Volvo has once again expanded on its ever-growing list of safety innovations. This time it's with a new feature called City Safety, the world's first system of its kind. City Safety is a driver support system intended to prevent low-speed collisions at or below 19 mph (which Volvo states constitute three quarters of all reported incidents). It uses a laser sensor embedded in the top of the windshield to scan the road ahead and actively bring the vehicle to a stop if it determines a collision with another vehicle is imminent. It works with Volvo's existing Collision Warning, which offers an audible alert, and the Auto Brake function that activates independently of the driver if contact is unavoidable. Prior to the drive we were given the chance to test the new system in a low-speed obstacle course. It works. Standard equipment on the XC60, it's probably safe to assume this system will shortly become such on the rest of Volvo's passenger car range.
And not only is it safe and sporty, it looks damn good. The XC60 is the latest development in Volvo's Dramatic New Approach (DNA) design philosophy that was aimed, and has been largely successful, at banishing the traditional stodginess historically associated with Volvo design of old. "This car is charged with more emotive form and far more energy than any previous Volvo model," says the company's design director, Steve Mattin. He could be right. Even sitting still it looks like it's in motion--or at least, like it wants to be in motion. A strong shoulder line with a slight upward angle as it approaches the rear and its "coupe-like" greenhouse make it a fairly stunning offering in the safe and staid design mantra of the SUV/crossover segments. Likewise, the contours of the headlamps and trapezoidal grille follow the rearward flow of the fenders and emphasize the hood's V-shaped profile, giving the front end a strong wedge-shaped stance, adding to that slippery sense of motion.
Just one drivetrain configuration will be offered on the American-bound XC60, a transversely mounted, turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed "Geartronic" automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. You'll likely find it more than adequate, as its max torque of 295 lb-ft is available at just 1500 rpm. The transmission also offers the driver the capability of shifting on his or her own or holding a specific gear at higher rpm for sportier automatic driving.
As we found on that especially devious section of PCH, the XC60 holds the road rather well on all but maybe the tightest twisty bits, which is inevitable given its slightly higher center of gravity compared with, say, an S40 or S60. But on long, sweeping downhill sections it feels well planted, even at higher speeds. In case you find yourself having a little too much fun, standard equipment also includes Volvo Roll Stability Control (RSC), an active stability enhancement system that assesses any imminent risk of rollover and reduces engine torque accordingly, as well as directing braking power to one or more wheels to try and counter any adverse oscillations.
The interior is inviting and typically Scandinavian in its simplicity and the intuitiveness of design. One nice feature is a rear seat that can be folded flat according to a 40/20/40 split, allowing you to enhance the utility of the rear cargo bay, which is, incidentally, quite spacious. And there's the signature "waterfall" center stack. Once ergonomically nightmarish, Volvo dash arrays have evolved into perhaps the cleanest and most attractive in the industry.
A range of useful options is also available, including Hill Descent Control, a laminated panoramic moonroof, integrated child booster seats, in-dash navigation, and Dynaudio premium sound. If you've never experienced premium Volvo audio, we've always found it to kick butt.
North American sales should begin right about now. If you're an upwardly motivated young urban professional looking for a good mix of style, utility and sport, or looking to start a family, the XC60 could be a beautiful thing.
2010 Volvo XC60
Transverse front engine, all-wheel drive
3.0-liter I6, dohc, 24-valve, turbocharged and intercooled
Six-speed Geartronic automatic
MacPherson strut front, multilink rear
Four-channel system with ABS and Hydraulic Brake Assist
Wheelbase: 109.2 in.
Curb Weight: 4,174 lb
Peak Power: 281 hp @ 5600 rpm
Peak Torque: 295 lb-ft @ 1500 rpm
0-60 mph: 7.1 sec.
Top Speed: 130 mph (limited)