Preview Drive: 2010 Volvo XC60

New premium crossover, offered only in T6 AWD trim, joins current XC70 wagon and XC90 SUV, but aims at younger customers

by James M. Flammang

2010 Volvo XC60

SAUSALITO, California - An "XC" prefix is nothing new at Volvo. The Swedish automaker uses those two letters to designate its midsize sport-utility vehicle (XC90), as well as a series of models that blend the characteristics of station wagons and SUVs. Serving as a counterpart to the traditional-type V70 wagon is an XC70 edition, with greater ground clearance and at least moderate offroad capabilities.

Now, for 2010, Volvo is introducing a brand-new crossover wagon with comparable distinctions. The XC60 enters a relatively small but growing segment: the premium crossover. In 2007, only two were on sale: the Acura RDX and BMW X3. A year later came the Infiniti EX. Now, for 2009, Mercedes-Benz has joined the group with its GLK350, and Audi will become a contender in the spring.

Volvo clearly takes pride in Scandinavian design, which serves as a true inspiration for its vehicles. Developers of the XC60 were "interested in the way people respond to nature," said exterior designer Doug Frasher, who works at the Volvo Monitoring and Concept Center (VMCC). They favor a "holistic interpration" that steers clear of "disparate elements.... It should all come together as a whole."

Details include a "much more confident use of the Volvo emblem," along with angled "DNA lights" alongside the grille. Taken together, all of the elements aim to "represent this all-wheel-drive character" of the XC60. Similar thinking continues inside, Frasher added, with an "asy to use and easy to understand interface to control the car."

As project director Lars Blenwall puts it, "design makes the XC60 the boldest crossover in its segment." In his view, the new model is "as sporty and exciting" as Volvo's compact C30 hatchback, "but far more capable."

Made in Ghent, Belgium. the XC60 targets young families and singles. promising handling that's "sporty and agile" but also "predictable and controllabe," operating with "class-leading stability." All XC60s sold in the U.S. will be T6 editions, with a turbocharged inline 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine that develops 281 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque (available from as low as 1500 rpm). Haldex all-wheel drive is standard.

Estimated fuel economy, according to Volvo, is 16 mpg in city driving and 22 mpg on the highway. Ground clearance is 9.1 inches. To compensate for the added height, the basic chassis has been stiffened.

Built on a 109.2-inch wheelbase, the XC60 is 182.2 inches long overall, 74.4 inches wide, and stands 67.4 inches tall. Volvo claims the wagon tops its segment in rear head and leg space. An XC60 can tow up to 3,300 pounds.

A Panoramic moonroof is standard, and it differs from those found on other vehicles. Both the fixed rear panel and the open-up front panel are laminated. Leather upholstery also is standard, with Accent Leather a no-charge option. In standard trim, the XC60's center stack features aluminum inlay; but Modem Wood is optional. Also standard are HD radio, Sirius satellite reception, USB/AUX connectors, and Bluetooth connectivity. Factory maintenance is complimentary.

New Volvo City Safety system eases rear-end collisions

Volvo has long been known for safety, and the XC60 enhances that reputation with a new safety aid. Half of rear-end collisions are with stationary vehicles, according to Volvo. Three-fourths of road collisions occur at below 30 kilometers per hour (under 19 mph). Volvo has taken action to minimize such impacts, by installing a new City Safety system in the XC60. Operating with laser-based infra-red technology, it's meant to help in low-speed traffic conditions.

Between 9 and 18 mph, City Safety helps reduce the degree and effects of a collision. Between 2 and 9 mph, the system may help avoid a collision in the first place. When you approach a vehicle ahead too rapidly, red indicators in the windshield serve as a first warning. As you get perilously close to the vehicle, whether it's moving or standing still, City Safety applies brakes at about 50 percent of available force.

Because it happens so fast, and the brakes are applied so abruptly, there's no visual or audible warning of what's happening. In simulated testing, however, the system performed exactly as promised, bringing the XC60 to an abrupt halt just inches from the vehicle ahead. The system does not react to objects smaller than cars, but Volvo claims it could reduce whiplash injuries by 50 percent. The City Safety system can be shut off manually, or overridden by aggressive steering.

Six airbags are standard in the XC60. An additional array of safety features is available, most of them included in an optional Collision Avoidance Package. Each is represented by an acronym: Collision Warning with Auto Brake (CWAB), Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), Distance Alert (DA), Driver Alert Control (DAC), Lane Departure Warning (LDW), and the separately optional Blind Spot Information System (BLIS). Dynamic Stability Control and Roll Stability Control are standard. So are Hill Descent Control and Trailer Stability Assist.

In the XC60, Dynamic Stability and Traction Control registers the roll rate in addition to its other duties. Volvo's Drowsy-Driver Alert issues an audible signal plus a coffee cup icon on the instrument panel.

Along Pacific coast north of San Francisco, the XC60 displays handling talents that reac beyond its category

With a suspension that qualifies as relatively tight, the XC60 yields a pleasantly smooth ride - at least on good pavement. For the first few miles, the ride actually felt somewhat harsh when rolling over a series of bumps. Eventually, however, ride comfort seemed to improve markedly.

Ride quality isn't the XC60's strong point, though. Handling is. Not only does this wagon remain impressively stable and upright through tight curves, it responds to the driver's requests with clarity and certainty. Even through a long series of narrow switchbacks on two-lane mountain roads, the XC60 reacted in a way that more closely resembled a sports car than a utility wagon. Considering Volvo's lengthy reputation for building safe but rather staid vehicles, that's quite a welcome impression.

Though it's not exactly a storm-the-barricades powerhouse, the XC60's engine responds amoothly and effectively, making passing and merging trouble-free. The automatic transmission reacts so easily that its presence is barely noticed.

Seats are visually distinctive with the available two-toning, but they're not the most comfortable-feeling. In fact, they feel just a trifle hard, and the leather upholsltery conveys a slightly slippery sensation. On the other hand, several hours of driving turned out to be surprisingly non-taxing, inducing little fatigue. Side bolsters on the front seat are gently adequate, but hard curves can send the occupant pushing against the bolster's surface and perhaps a bit beyond. Thus, passengers should expect to slide back and forth a little bit, if the driver is making assertive moves on curvy pavement.

Front-seat space is ample, though some drivers' knees might contact the center console at times. In the backseat, knee space is adequate, headroom good (though hardly massive). Foot space is satisfactory, too. Visibility is trouble-free in all directions.

Controls look a little complicated at first glance, but they make more sense when studied a bit. It pays to consult the manual not only to determine what the controls do, but what the periodic beeping signals mean. Three beeps, for instance, indicates that the Lane Departure Warning has detected some straying toward one side or the other.

Distinctive appearance of the gauges does not detract from readability. A modest-size glovebox sits behind a large door - a common configuration these days. The available navigation system has a clear but tiny screen.

Quiet running is the rule, apart from a mild (yet rather hearty) snarl that's heard during hard acceleration. Also, odd rubbery sounds may emanate from the tires when turning on certain pavement surfaces.

Sales begin in March 2009, and U.S. dealerships can expect 10,000 to 15,000 XC60s per year. Sticker price is $38,025, including an $825 destination charge. Options include a $2,700 Technology Package (including navigation and rear park assist), a $1,695 Collision Avoidance Package (ACC, CWAB, DA, DAC, and LDW), and a Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) for $695.

Will there ever be a diesel-engine XC60? Doug Speck, head of Volvo in the U.S., stated that it's possible. Volvo announced at the Paris Motor last October that it intends to make hybrid-powertrain vehicles available in 2011.

A year from now, Volvo expects to have the next generation of Auto Brake technology. Able to detect pedestrians (at speeds below 20 kilometers per hour), that system also will evaluate whether they're in a dangerous position. Volvo notes that the principle is related to locusts. Thousands of the insects can fly together, without ever touching each other.

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© All contents copyright 2009 by Tirekicking Today
Text and photos by James M. Flammang
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