Volvo XC60 — A luxury crossover with safety and style

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

When you have a reputation to uphold, it takes special efforts and cutting-edge technology to stay ahead of worldwide automotive competition.

Volvo’s reputation for safety is legendary. It has been that way at the Swedish auto manufacturer for years. “Volvo” and “safety” are synonymous in the minds of most people. And Volvo wants to keep it that way.

We were reminded of this when the driver who brought us a 2010 Volvo XC60 drove us to a vacant parking lot across the street from our business. He was obliged to do this, he said, before handing over the key.

He planted three tall boards in anchors in front of the car, backed the Volvo up about 30 yards, slipped the transmission into drive and then sat back, foot off the brake. We were getting a hands-on demonstration of Volvo’s newest technology, designed as much to preserve expensive sheetmetal as protect the inhabitants of the Volvo. Of course the delivery driver didn’t know we had experienced this during the media introduction several months earlier…but we let him do his job.

The Volvo approached the obstacle at about 2-to-3 miles per hour, and just in time slammed on its brakes. It was and remains a very neat trick, indeed. Had that been a car in front of us the new technology would have saved perhaps thousands of dollars in repairs to the Volvo and the car in front.

The system will prevent or mitigate collisions up to 19 miles per hour. Volvo says in most cases it will prevent contact up to nine mph. If the Volvo cannot be stopped in time, the force of the crash will be significantly reduced perhaps preventing injury. The system uses an infrared laser sensor at the top of the windshield to detect a vehicle within 13 feet of the front bumper that is either stationary or moving in the same direction.

Slow-speed crashes, commonly known as fender-benders, have become expensive propositions. If they can be avoided or minimized by Volvo’s magic when the driver is distracted, the cost of the new technology will pay for itself many times over.

This system is called “City Safety” and is standard equipment on the compact crossover, which is available in two variants: as an all-wheel drive (AWD) T6 turbocharged 3-liter starting at $38,025 including destination charge or as a naturally aspirated 3.2-liter V6 starting at $33,245 with front-drive or $35, 245 with AWD. Our focus today is the AWD T6.

One thing to remember about “City Safety,” if you creep up too close to a car at a stop light, bam, the brakes engage. While we experienced this in the testing it can be a bit nerve racking on the street. You need to pay attention at all times. And you need not to become overly dependent on the system. As we see it driving demands that the driver remain in control, always.

For those who hate the idea of giving up control at any time and fear ‘big brother’s’ constant observance, the system can be cut off with the push of a dashboard button. Maybe not a good idea for most of us!

In addition to the ground-breaking City Safety feature, the XC60 — as you would expect — comes with the many layers of safety engineered by Volvo over the years including rollover-sensing stability control, whiplash-reducing front seats, antilock brakes with brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution, tire pressure monitoring and full airbag protection from front to back; along with the Volvo invented 3-point safety belts that we all take for granted, but probably do more to save lives than almost anything else in a car.

There is also a package of additional safety equipment that can be purchased as a $1,695 option. It includes adaptive cruise control with distance alert that automatically maintains and adjusts the driver-selected vehicle speed and distance to the vehicle ahead, collision warning that senses an impending collision and alerts the driver to help avoid or reduce the severity of a crash, driver alert control that alerts the driver when his or her concentration level is affected, a blind spot information system, and lane departure warning that alerts the driver when the car crosses road markings without obvious reason.

You make the decision — are these features worth an extra $1,695? We don’t care for the constant beeping intervention of co-called driver alert systems, and adaptive cruise is occasionally helpful, but a luxury to us. On the other hand, we have found the blind spot warning very helpful. One thing — if these systems are on your vehicle you can turn them off. But then why buy them?

Another thing — all wheel drive is standard on the T6, at least on the initial offerings in the U.S.

Volvo is indeed a safety leader and if that is paramount in your purchase decision, we applaud your choice. But this newest five-passenger Volvo — which competes in a crowded small luxury crossover segment against such stalwarts as the BMW X3, Acura RDX, Infiniti EX35 and Mercedes GLK 350 — has much more than safety going for it.

It is deliciously stylish inside and out. We think Volvo hit a home run with the exterior design, which successfully carries the XC theme, but with an attitude. We like how the hood rises above the fenders giving the new Volvo a sports car persona. The stylish projector beam headlight enclosures fit neatly into the fenders, and the brake lights sit up high flanking the rear hatch and flow into the curving roofline.

The interior may be Volvo’s best work yet. The elegant floating center console found in many Volvo models, sets off the overall look in the T6. The two-tone soft leather seats in our test vehicle drew praise from our passengers. Materials are first class throughout.

More importantly, perhaps, the powertrain was not overlooked. Ample and pleasing performance has been included in the package thanks to the muscular 3.0-liter turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. It makes 281 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. Volvo says the XC60 will accelerate from 0 to 60 in 7.1 seconds and we believe it. 

Hit the accelerator at any speed and you will be rewarded with a growl and solid forward momentum. A downside to the engine is its rather meager gas mileage ratings of 16 in the city and 22 out on the highway. On the plus side, unlike many turbocharged engines the inline 6 will run just fine on regular gas.

Despite a class-leading 9.1 inches of ground clearance, the XC60 felt stable during aggressive driving on twisting roads. And it is remarkably agile in slow-speed city driving and mall parking space hunting. Add to that the confidence of plowing over the hill and through the woods to grandma’s house with little effort was a real plus.

Rear passengers are rewarded with decent legroom and good headroom while cargo capacity behind the seats is a decent 30.8 cubic feet and when cargo carrying is the goal the seats can be folded to reveal 67 cubic feet of storage space.

We think the base price is rather steep, but when you figure in the exceptional amount of standard equipment, perhaps it is justified. 

This does not mean expensive options are not available. They are. Our test vehicle came with several including the aforementioned safety package and a multimedia package that included navigation and upgraded audio; a bundled technology-climate-child safety seat package; plus extra charges for the metallic paint and the wood inlay on the center stack.

The Panoramic Roof with glass panels and a power sunshade normally $1,200 was included at no charge. The bottom line was $44,265 including destination charges.

Volvo has created a very appealing as well as a uniquely safe vehicle. We give it two thumbs up for aggressively competing and holding its own in the small luxury crossover segment.

Base price: $38,025; as driven, $44,265
Engine: 3.0-liter turbocharged inline 6
Horsepower: 281 @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 295 foot-pounds @ 1,500 rpm
Drive: all-wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 109.2 inches
Length: 182.2 inchesThe Bad:
Curb weight: 4,174 pounds
Turning circle: 38.4 feet
Luggage capacity: 30.8 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 67 cubic feet
Towing capacity: 3,307 pounds
Fuel capacity: 18.5 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 22 mpg highway, 16 mpg city
0-60: 7.1 seconds (manufacturer)
Also consider: Acura RDX, BMW X3, Infiniti EX35, Mercedes-Benz GLK

The Good:
• Loaded with safety technology
• Cutting edge styling inside and out
• Strong turbocharged engine

The Bad:
• Fuel economy not up to segment standard

The Ugly:
• Steep base price