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.
This remote control comes with the navigation system, letting passengers enter destinations.
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.
Brian Cooley demonstrates Volvo's new City Safety feature, which automatically stops the XC60 before a low-speed collision.
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.
This distance alert light remained on during most of our freeway driving, as there was too much traffic to follow at what it considered a safe distance.
Another safety technology called distance alert uses adaptive cruise control's radar to determine if the XC60 is at a safe following distance from the car ahead. Like the cruise control, it can be set between three following distances, and projects a red warning light on the windshield if the XC60 is following too close. In any area with moderate to heavy traffic, the shortest following distance is still too long to be practical, so we got used to seeing that red light constantly projected on the windshield.
Getting into our music possibilities while on the freeway, we had our choice of satellite radio, a single CD player that can read MP3s, and a USB port in the console that works with iPods. Early on, we were surprised to find that this iPod integration actually doesn't work with an iPhone. The interface for selecting channels from satellite radio, folders from an MP3 CD, or artists and albums from an iPod relies on a four-way switch surrounded by buttons labeled Enter, Exit, and Menu on the stack. With just a little trial and error, we were able to figure out how to use these buttons, but it's not the best interface. The monochrome display at the top of the dashboard is also a little small for easy music selection, and is an area where Volvo should have taken advantage of the navigation system's larger LCD.
Phone and audio information shows up on this monochrome display.
The navigation system actually comes in a package with a premium audio system, built by Dynaudio, Volvo's audio partner. This audio system uses 12 speakers and a 650-watt amplifier to create a very nice, well-balanced sound. Neither too bright nor too heavy, we found it created a distinct midrange, with sharp vocals. This system does really well with symphonic music. The major flaw we found was that, at high volumes, the speakers tended to produce hum.
As the stereo and phone system uses the same controls, we found it occasionally frustrating to move from one mode to the other. The fact they also use the same display makes it worse. We do like that this phone system let us download our phonebook to the car and dial by contact entry. But the small display hindered our ability to find contact names.
Where the XC60 really surprised us was on a long and twisty backcountry highway. Although at crossover height, the car took corners like a champ, showing no tendencies to wallow or roll. However, it's hardly a sports car, though it responded well as we pushed it through these maneuvers, the all-wheel-drive assisting by pushing the power to the wheels that needed it most. The big problem with cornering in the XC60 is the same problem shared with just about any car with an automatic transmission--it won't downshift quick enough to give the necessary power when coming through a turn.
The XC60 handled very well in the mountains, although fuel economy was poor.
The unpleasant surprise with the XC60 was the fuel economy. Although we like the idea of smaller engines getting boost from turbochargers as a means of saving gas, it doesn't really work out in the XC60. EPA economy is 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway. During our driving, we maxed out at 17 mpg with plenty of long freeway runs.
There's a lot we like about the 2010 Volvo XC60. It drives effortlessly while offering comfort with quality materials in the cabin, giving it a good luxury angle. All-wheel-drive and the electronic driving aids inspire confidence, and having traffic integrated with the navigation system is becoming a must-have feature. Where the XC60 let us down was the interface for its tech. Volvo should have taken advantage of the big color LCD screen to show audio and phone information, rather than going with the current button paradigm, which is truly bizarre.
|Model||2010 Volvo XC60|
|Power train||Turbocharged 3-liter direct injection inline six cylinder engine|
|EPA fuel economy||16 mpg city/22 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||17 mpg|
|Navigation||Optional DVD-based with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||Single CD, MP3 compatible|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||Satellite radio, USB drive|
|Audio system||Optional 12 speaker, 650-watt Dynaudio|
|Driver aids||Adaptive cruise control, City Safety collision prevention, distance alert, blind spot warning, lane departure warning, rearview camera|
|Price as tested||$44,240|