If I told you to drive at 15km/h towards the slower moving car in front of you, and not to brake if you see the car stop, you would have me committed for psychiatric evaluation before being confined to a padded cell.
Well that’s precisely what we did this week on a closed track under instructions from a senior Volvo technician. He even told me to look at him and not the road, as I drove Volvo’s new XC60 towards the bright orange blow up car.
Miraculously, the XC60 came to a dead stop albeit suddenly, and way beyond my comfort zone some 40 centimetres or less, from the blow up car.
This same scenario can happen to anyone driving in stop/star peak hour traffic. A millisecond lapse in concentration. The car in front slams on its brakes …
But if you’re lucky enough to be driving a Volvo XC60 at around 15km/h give or take, and not watching the road ahead as the car in front stops suddenly, chances are you won’t crash.
A few years ago this was pure science fiction, not any more. It’s a world first for Volvo and it’s called “City Safety”. Equally impressive, is the fact that it’s a standard feature across the entire XC60 line up.
Its quite ingenious, there’s a laser sensor integrated into the top of the windscreen that can sense if a vehicle within 6-8 metres in front is moving slower or at a standstill. If the speed differential between two cars is less than 16km/h, then “City Safety” will brake the XC60 to a standstill, thus avoiding a nasty shunt.
If the speed differential is greater than 15km/h the system may not stop the car fully, but will at least reduce the speed and therefore, the severity of the impact.
We tried this at just over 20km/h as we drove towards a giant airbag attached to a boom on a moving vehicle and again, with my foot on the accelerator “City Safety” braked the car and avoided a crash.
The New South Wales motorist’s organisation, the NRMA, is impressed too, with premiums for XC60 said to be up to 20 percent cheaper than it would be if it didn’t have the technology.
My test car was armed with every bit of high-tech safety wizardry that Volvo could squeeze into this mid-size crossover, but none impressed me more than their Lane Departure Warning (LDW). This piece of technology could save you and your passenger’s lives.
You’re punting along at speeds over 65km/h and for whatever reason; the car starts to wander into the lane next to you, its happened to all of us at one time or another.
Volvo’s system uses a digital camera to monitor lane markings and the car’s position on the road. If your car strays out of its lane, three audible beeps will alert you before a potential incident occurs. It’s a brilliant system, which works exactly as described.
If someone mentions ‘safety’ and ‘car’ in the same sentence, you think Volvo; they own automotive safety, outright, but with the XC60 – they may well have made a clean sweep for the best-styled, mid-size SUV too.
Coupe-like in appearance, and very close to the stunning XC60 Concept car it was based upon, it’s the first Volvo penned by British born Steve Mattin, who’s achievements include the original Mercedes-Benz A-Class and the first version of the current Mercedes-Benz SL.
It’s an impressive looking vehicle with its sweptback design, muscular stance and low roofline.
It was another Brit, Peter Horbury, who dragged Volvo away from the “boxy” look with cars such as the V70, S80 and more recently, the stylish C30.
Mr Mattin has done a superb job with the XC60, which pushes the design envelope beyond that of Volvo’s brand evolution, while there’s absolutely no mistaking it for, well, a Volvo.
I have no doubt that the overall styling of the XC60 will be equally as important to the buyer as it’s class-leading collision avoidance systems. I’ll go out on a limb here and say that this new Crossover will become Volvo’s biggest selling model in a very short time.
It drives well too, as we clocked up over 500 kilometres on the launch program, with equal time spent in both the diesel powered D5 and the high performance turbocharged petrol engine T6.
I can’t say that Volvo’s five-cylinder, 20-valve, turbocharged, diesel is a class leader in terms of refinement and torque curve, but it more than gets the job done with 136kW and 400Nm. The problem being, peak torque is only available between 2000-2750rpm, so it sort of runs out steam a little too early for my liking.
But it’s relatively quiet and for a vehicle that weighs a hefty 1880kg, fuel consumption over a 190 kilometre run, at the speed limit, was a reasonably frugal 9.0-litres per 100 kilometres.
Volvo quote ADR combined fuel consumption for the 2.4-litre D5 at 8.3-L/100km, and I’m quite sure that would be achievable during a normal weekly driving pattern. We were pushing the XC60 quite hard at times and weren’t overly concerned with economy.
Volvo’s six-speed adaptive Geartronic is a smooth enough gearbox, although I find it to be rather slow shifting.
That may not be much of a concern in the future, as I have it on good authority that a dual-clutch sequential gearbox is under test and frankly, it can’t come soon enough.
Given much of the terrain on our drive was both winding and undulating, I favoured the manual shift option over much of the route, which allowed me to get more out of the engine by shifting higher up in the rev range than would normally occur in auto mode.
No such tactics were required behind the wheel of the XC60 T6, not with 210kW and 400Nm on tap across an exceptionally wide torque curve from 1500-4800rpm.
With almost no turbo lag when you punch it, the T6 will run down 0-100km/h in 7.5 seconds whereas the D5, while not exactly slow, needs 9.9 seconds for the same sprint.
It’s a 3.0-litre, in-line, six-cylinder with forced induction via a twin-scroll turbocharger that spools up under minimal exhaust gas pressure thereby improving throttle response at all revs.
Naturally, it’s thirstier than the D5, using up to 15L/100kms if driven with a moderately heavy right foot. That said it might well achieve the published 11.3L/100kms ( ADR combined) when engaged in light urban duties.
Both engines have a throaty engine note under load and comply with Euro 4 emission standards.
If the XC60’s performance can be considered good, the ride and handling package developed for the vehicle is outstanding.
More sports car than a mid-size SUV is how I would describe this vehicle’s ability to attack multiple bends and tight corners at considerable pace, without any discernible body roll.
You can feel the stiffness in this chassis, and that’s been the case with most of the Volvo range of the past few years, but the handling dynamics built into the XC60 have had some extra attention, with even higher levels of torsional rigidity and an almost perfect suspension calibration for the variable road conditions in Australia.
We covered a fair few kilometres on some hard packed and bone dry dirt roads, and it was just as stable on that surface.
Equally, it’s not like the D5 I drove was fitted with anything special in the wheel and tyre department. Shod with the standard package of 17-inch alloys and a set of 235/65 series tyres, which aren’t exactly low profile and yet, the grip under load through some snake like bends was mighty impressive.
With this level of roadholding you could be forgiven for expecting the XC60 to deliver a firm ride, but it’s quite the opposite. The chassis and suspension package eliminate any hint of harshness, making for a comfortable if not luxurious experience.
You can option 18-inch wheels with a set of 235/60 series tyres on the D5, they’re standard on the D5 LE and T6, and despite feeling slightly more planted on the road than the 17s, ride comfort did not appear to be compromised in any way.
I’ve heard some rumblings about Volvo steering systems being numb and not direct enough but then again, I’ve heard the same criticism about Audi too.
It’s mostly unfounded as far as I’m concerned, and the XC60 proves the point. There’s plenty of meaty feel through the steering wheel even from dead centre, and the electro-hydraulic set-up is quick to respond.
You can also opt for the speed-sensitive power steering across the XC60 line-up for $800, which provides various levels of power assistance dependant on your speed at any given time. Obviously the quicker you are travelling, the less assistance required.
Like all Volvo’s I’ve driven in recent years, which includes the S40, XC90, S80 and C30, the build quality surpasses one or two of the German marques.
It’s the same story with the interior styling, superb materials styled in an uncluttered manner with the piece de resistance being the floating console that is now angled towards the driver – it’s absolutely first class.
My only issue is the extremely comfortable Volvo seats, which never seem to have enough side bolster to hold you firmly in the seat when cornering at highway speeds. Whilst the leather is beautifully soft, I found myself sliding around too often.
Switchgear is well laid out and in easy reach of the driver, while materials and plastics are all high grade.
It’s always a pleasure to get back in a Volvo fitted with their Premium Sound System, comprising 12 high end Dynaudio speakers that produces an astonishing sound with full range clarity at any volume.
There’s also plenty of room for five adults with a massive load area when all other seats are folded flat, meaning you can fit your three metre Malibu inside the cabin.
“Steve Mattin’s first car at Volvo is a winner. The XC60 pushes the brand way beyond safety and onto the podium for class leading style, functionality and driveability”