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2013 Volvo XC60 review: Collision prevention comes standard

Volvo's standard City Safety feature does more than mitigate collisions, it actually prevents them.

Wayne Cunningham Managing Editor / Roadshow
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
8 min read

If the 2013 Volvo XC60 is any indication, the Swedish automaker's first five years under the thumb of the Chinese company Geely has not changed a thing where it comes to product. The XC60, a midsize SUV, retains the styling and technology course began under previous owner Ford.

2013 Volvo XC60

2013 Volvo XC60

The Good

City Safety collision prevention comes standard in the 2013 Volvo XC60. The stereo delivers quality sound and includes a five-band equalizer. Navigation includes lane guidance.

The Bad

The cabin tech interface is not particularly intuitive, and there are no connected features.

The Bottom Line

The 2013 Volvo XC60 is a comfortable and uncomplicated driving SUV with a very advanced standard safety feature, but data-driven technology is absent from the cabin.

Both owners have let Volvo be Volvo, which means building premium-quality, safety-conscious vehicles.

The exit of Ford may, however, have caused the stagnation of Volvo's cabin electronics, which have not progressed much in the last five years. Although the XC60 does a solid job with the basics, such as navigation and Bluetooth phone support, connected features are limited to traffic data integrated with the navigation system.

Volvo just announced it is partnering with Parrot to offer an Android-based head unit, but we have yet to see how well that integration will work out.

Where Volvo has pushed the envelope is in driver assistance technology, most effectively demonstrated by the XC60's standard City Safety feature. This system relies on cameras to identify vehicles and pedestrians, and will slam on the brakes if it senses an imminent collision. City Safety actually prevents collisions at speeds under 20 mph; at higher speeds it will still brake, mitigating the damage.

As a safety technology, it's a good one, as it can prevent pedestrian deaths and costly vehicle repairs.

Volvo also offers driver assistance features such as adaptive cruise control and a blind spot monitor, but they were not optioned on the XC60 T6 Platinum trim car delivered to CNET.

The T6 appellation on this XC60 meant it came with a turbocharged 3-liter, six-cylinder engine, a step up from the base model with its naturally aspirated 3.2-liter six-cylinder. The really interesting things about this powerplant are that it is an inline six-cylinder, and that it mounts transversely under the hood.

That configuration supports the car's front-wheel-drive platform, although all T6 models come standard with all-wheel-drive. This all-wheel-drive system offers no driver controls, such as a differential lock, instead automatically shifting torque between front and rear depending on which wheels have grip.

2013 Volvo XC60 combines comfort and safety (pictures)

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Clever but confusing
The Platinum trim on this car brought in Volvo's cabin electronics suite, including navigation and an upgraded audio system. The navigation system maps look good, with a nice, clean design. Stored in flash memory, the maps render quickly on the small LCD, and I never noticed the system having a problem locating the car's position, even among urban towers or in the woods.

However, figuring out how to enter addresses, use the stereo, or make phone calls will cause some trouble. Volvo has a very baffling cabin electronics interface.

2013 Volvo XC60

This interface is not the most intuitive to use, but actually works pretty well.

Josh Miller/CNET

The center panel holds a keypad, function buttons, and traditional volume and tuning dials. The tuning dial includes buttons labeled OK/Menu and Exit.

With the radio screen on the LCD, the tuning dial works traditionally, changing stations. But with the map on the screen, the tuning dial turns into a zoom function. Tapping the OK/Menu button brings up a destination entry screen, where the tuning dial selects entry fields.

Volvo cleverly uses the one dial for many functions, but it can be confusing, at least initially.

Choosing the street address destination option led me to the alphanumeric input for street and city names, using a rotary paradigm on the screen, again controlled by the tuning dial. Rotary inputs are particularly tedious when entering long names, but Volvo offers a couple of shortcuts. I found I could tap the keypad, which would bring up each button's three associated letters, kind of like texting using a non-smartphone.

Voice command proved even easier, although I had to speak each part of the address, such as street and number, separately. The system also tended to give me multiple choices for each voice input, adding steps to the process.

2013 Volvo XC60

This rotary interface makes entering letters very tedious.

Josh Miller/CNET

The system's route guidance delivered clear turn-by-turn directions, and even showed lane guidance on the LCD in easy-to-read graphics. At one point, when I got off route, it took a surprisingly long time to recalculate, but most times it worked just fine.

Traffic comes courtesy of an FM radio broadcast, so does not require a satellite radio subscription, as some other systems do. I was pleased to see the system pop up notices advising me of traffic problems on my route and giving me the option to detour. This navigation system also includes a learning function, which should make it choose the roads you normally take when under route guidance. Given my short time with the car, I was not able to test this function.

Voice command also controls the Bluetooth phone system, but not the stereo. Similar to most modern cars, the XC60 copied my contact list when I paired my phone, then let me place calls by name with voice command, or look up contacts on the LCD, scrolling with the ever-useful tuning dial. The car's keypad came in very handy for entering phone numbers.

2013 Volvo XC60

The audio interface displays music from a USB drive in a folder and file format, rather than a music library.

Josh Miller/CNET

The XC60 handled most modern digital audio sources, including a USB port for iOS devices and USB drives, Bluetooth streaming, and HD radio. With an iOS device plugged into the USB port, the system shows a full music library in the interface, with album, artist, and genre categories. For USB drives, it is a little more primitive, merely showing a folder and file structure.

And once again, the tuning dial comes into play when selecting music. With a track playing from a USB drive, I twisted the dial, and the screen changed to a list of the songs in the folder. To see a list of folders, I then had to hit the Exit button. It works well, once you figure it out.

Unlike many other automakers, Volvo does not have an audio partner for the stereo system in the XC60. This system merely has a Volvo Premium Sound logo on its center speaker. But with 12 speakers and a 650-watt amp, the system reproduces music with well-above-average quality. The sound came through with excellent balance, not too much bass or overly bright highs.

However, its Sound Stage setting let me focus the sound only on the driver, the front seat, or the rear seat, but not on the entire cabin. Along with standard bass, treble, balance, and fader controls, Volvo also includes a five-band equalizer, if you really want to fine-tune the audio.

Manic Sport mode
The well-insulated cabin of the XC60 made it easy to hear music, showing its premium car construction. Even from the outside, the 3-liter engine barely made a sound when the car was idling. The engine may seem a little small for a car weighing in at 4,225 pounds, but the turbo makes all the difference. Horsepower comes up to 300, while torque rates at 325 pound-feet.

When a turbocharged engine puts out more torque than horsepower, it can be prone to lunge and deliver uneven acceleration, but Volvo has it dialed in right with the XC60. It drove well, allowing easy modulation of the gas pedal. In heavy traffic around San Francisco, I found no difficulty restraining the car, or taking advantage of an opening between cars.

That is, until I found the Sport mode. The six-speed automatic transmission includes a slot in the gate marked with a plus/minus on the shift pattern. I thought that would merely let me shift manually, but when I threw the shifter over, it put the XC60 into Sport mode, indicated by an S appearing on the instrument cluster.

The XC60 became a far different car when that S showed up. I did not change the accelerator angle at all, but the car surged forward. The throttle became more sensitive and the transmission downshifted at the drop of a hat. Forget nice, even acceleration; this SUV wanted to run.

2013 Volvo XC60

The shifter has an odd, transparent piece over the pattern.

Josh Miller/CNET

Being an enthusiast, I found it much more enjoyable to drive while in Sport, but I also had to be careful, as the XC60 would leap forward unexpectedly. At least it had the City Safety feature, which might keep me out of trouble. Sport mode did not, however, affect the suspension in any way.

As an SUV, the XC60 has a moderate ride height. There was also a lot of rubber around the optional 19-inch wheels, a high sidewall that contributed to ride comfort. Especially with the Platinum trim's smart key, I found the XC60 uncomplicated transportation, easy to get in and just go. For city maneuvering, the tight turning radius was a big help.

Stomping on the gas pedal kicked in the turbo and made the transmission hold a lower gear, leading to better acceleration than I would have expected, given the XC60's initial mild-mannered driving demeanor. However, when climbing hills I had to work the gas pedal a lot. And traveling at highway speeds, stepping on the gas did not have as much effect as I would have wanted. It made me hesitant to initiate passes on two-lane roads.

The SUV ride height also meant wobbly behavior in the turns. The suspension has more travel than in something like a sedan, and I could feel it rise and fall when going over small series of hills. In turns, it leaned down on the outer side, just enough to make a little cautious about my speed.

Wait for it
The 2013 Volvo XC60 makes for a very nice midsize SUV, a premium vehicle similar to the Mercedes-Benz GLK. The base model uses a naturally aspirated 3.2-liter engine, but the extra power in the T6 seems worth it. The driving character is nice and easy, although Sport mode shows a streak of insanity.

I think there is room in Volvo's lineup for an even smaller SUV, something like an XC30, because the XC60 is largish for urban living.

Volvo is not pushing the envelope with its cabin technology, but the navigation, phone, and stereo features are solid. Those interested in connected technologies might want to wait, as Volvo has just made some announcements for data-driven features that should be available by the next model year.

I am impressed that Volvo makes its City Safety feature standard on the XC60. Insurance companies should give discounts for these types of anticollision technologies. Adaptive cruise control and the available blind-spot monitor can also contribute to safety, one of Volvo's key propositions.

Tech specs
Model2013 Volvo XC60
TrimT6 AWD Platinum
PowertrainTurbocharged 3-liter inline six-cylinder engine, six-speed automatic transmission
EPA fuel economy17 mpg city/23 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy21.8 mpg
NavigationFlash memory-based with traffic data
Bluetooth phone supportStandard, with contact list integration
Digital audio sourcesiOS integration, USB drive, satellite radio, HD radio
Audio system650-watt 12-speaker system
Driver aidsRear-view camera
Base price$40,450
Price as tested$46,145
2013 Volvo XC60

2013 Volvo XC60

Score Breakdown

Cabin tech 7Performance tech 7Design 6


See full specs Trim levels T6Available Engine GasBody style SUV