Volvo's emphasis on safety goes back deep into the last century, with innovations such as safety cages, child door locks, and the three-point seatbelt. That emphasis hasn't changed in the digital era--the 2010 Volvo XC60 takes advantage of electronics for high-tech safety solutions. Although it incorporates past safety technologies, such as Volvo's distance alert system, the XC60's signature technology is called City Safety, a feature that automatically jams on the brakes if a low-speed collision is imminent.
The XC60 is a new model from Volvo, a crossover that seats five people and has plenty of cargo room. The XC60's rounded edges and sporty style make it clear that the car was designed from the ground up to be a crossover, with no SUV DNA apparent. In fact, with its low nose, it owes some of its style to Volvo wagons. Volvo made the ascendancy to a premium brand over the last few decades, and luxury elements show in the XC60's interior, as well as its price.
A panoramic sunroof contributes to an airy feeling in the cabin of the XC60, as does the floating console, inlaid with blond wood, a recent Volvo signature piece. There is a nice attention to design in the cabin that even extends to the climate controls, with fan buttons in the silhouette of a seated person. But the inclusion of a navigation system seems to have baffled Volvo designers, as its interface is the most bizarre in the industry.
Volvo suffers from the same problem other automakers have faced: how to integrate an optional navigation system with the rest of the car's electronics. Volvo takes the easy route by not integrating it at all. A colorful LCD shows route guidance and maps with live traffic, while a monochrome display on top of the dashboard shows audio and phone information.
After getting into the car, we fumbled around with the buttons on the stack, trying to control the navigation system. After some fruitless minutes, we felt a set of controls on the back of the steering wheel's right spoke, consisting of two buttons and a joystick. Although we couldn't see these controls, they are simple enough that we quickly learned how to enter destinations and manipulate the navigation system's map. Volvo also provides a remote control with similar buttons so that passengers can also work with the navigation system.
Getting underway, we were pleased to see traffic flow and incident information displayed on the map. Some digging around in the navigation settings revealed an option to automatically avoid traffic problems, but only when under route guidance. Because of this feature, we found it a good idea to make use of the navigation system even for familiar destinations. Under route guidance, the system shows good graphics for upcoming turns, but doesn't read out street names.
A turbocharged 3-liter inline direct injection six-cylinder engine turning all four wheels through a six-speed-automatic transmission motivated our XC60. The car is also available with a naturally aspirated 3.2-liter inline six-cylinder engine. Given the size of the vehicle and the nature of the power train, we didn't expect much engagement with the driving experience. Similar to the we tested, the XC60 provides an almost boring driving experience. Just push the gas and it goes. But for this type of family wagon, that's not a bad thing.
Impressively, the XC60 displays no turbo lag, although the automatic transmission can take a moment to downshift when some quick speed is needed. With 281 horsepower and a big 295 pound-feet of torque, we never found the XC60 wanting for push. The transmission includes a manual mode, but automatic mode found the right gears often enough.
On city streets, its nimble handling made quick maneuvers easy. Although our test car wasn't equipped with it, Volvo makes an excellent blind spot warning system available for the XC60. This system turns on a warning light if another car is in the XC60's blind spot on either side, a real help in city and freeway traffic. The XC60's signature safety feature, City Safety, comes standard on the car. We didn't run into any inadvertent tests of this feature, but earlier experienced it under controlled conditions.
Besides the standard City Safety tech, our car came with the Technology package that brings in driver aid features more useful for faster roads. This package includes a lane departure warning system, which worked very well on the XC60. When we let the car drift over a lane line, or changed lanes without signaling, the system admonishes with a repeated beeping sound, loud enough to be noticeable. We were happy to find that crossing lane lines during hard cornering didn't activate the warning beep because of the amount of steering input we were giving the car.
Running the XC60 onto the freeway, its easily drivable demeanor didn't change at high speeds. Here we were able to try out the adaptive cruise control, another feature of the Technology package. This cruise control uses forward-facing radar to detect vehicles in the lane ahead, reducing the speed of the XC60 to match the other vehicles speed. Buttons on the steering wheel's left spoke let us turn on the system, set the speed, and determine the following distance. This system worked flawlessly, with the car occasionally braking hard when traffic ahead slowed quickly.