To say that Volvo sales in North America could be better would be an understatement. In fact, in recent years, sales have regressed quite simply because what the manufacturer was offering did not respond to major market trends. But with the new XC60, Volvo thinks it has hit the target dead centre. Moreover, they are telling anyone who will listen that this is the safest Volvo ever made.
The Volvo style team went almost all out with the XC60 concept car, which was impressive but a little too daring for the current market. The “normal” version is still daring, but it remains contemporary. Naturally, the front of this model features the traditional rectangular grille crossed by an inclined chrome bar supporting a larger than usual Volvo insignia. The grille is set above an air intake and is flanked by almond-shaped headlights that wrap around the sides and, as with all Volvos, serve as a starting point for the side panels.
But this car’s true signature is the rear section where there are two lights on each side of the window that wrap around the lower part of the side panel. The backup light is integrated in the largest section. It would have been easy to overdo it here, but Volvo got it right. One final note about the external appearance, there will be the option to order brushed aluminium rocker panel trim, and front and back protective shields, which are virtual musts if you want to maximize the vehicle’s style. Without these accessories, it lacks a little pizzazz.
Audi passenger compartments are always of the highest quality, but Volvo offers quality on par with that of the German manufacturer, sometimes even surpassing Audi in terms of simplicity and sensibility. Like Audi, Volvo uses very high quality materials, and the colour scheme is flawless. This time, the leather seat upholstery is original and very aesthetic, at least for my tastes, and the comfortable seats offer excellent lateral support. The relatively high front seats make for a good driving position and promote visibility, and they can be adjusted every which way. The rear seats are equally comfortable, the bench is heated and the occupants can adjust the air flow from the side vent located behind the B-pillar. This rear heating console however, is offered on option, as is the sun roof, which is very large and in two sections. The front section opens, while the rear section is fixed. Finally, there is a good-sized luggage compartment.
The dash is simple, open and includes a control at the top of the central section that displays temperature settings and any other information about the passenger compartment functions that you choose. I also appreciated the very intuitive air conditioning settings. On the other hand, it is sometimes difficult to read the information displayed in the centre of the dial, especially when it’s sunny. The navigation system screen, which is a bit too small, is among the other complaints.
As for technical specifications, this crossover uses a platform derived from the XC70, itself developed from the S80. It uses the most advanced version of the Haldex all-wheel drive system that Volvo is already using on its XC70 and XC90, and its response time is faster. The engine selected for the Canadian market is the six cylinder in-line engine which features 281 horsepower and is paired with a six-speed manumatic transmission.
But this newcomer’s real trademark is the multitude of systems to improve safety. Protecting the vehicle’s occupants in the event of a collision is not enough for this manufacturer; Volvo aims to avoid collisions as often as possible. Thus, the XC60 comes equipped with speed control close at hand, BLIS technology to detect vehicles in the blind spot, a lane departure detector, rear radar and even a mechanism that detects falling asleep at the wheel. All that plus the “City Safety” feature, which aims to eradicate collisions that can occur at less than 30 km/h. An infrared transmitter is placed behind the inside rearview mirror to target vehicles located in front. A return signal indicates the proximity of the vehicle. If you get too close at speeds up to 30km/h, the system immobilizes the vehicle. A test in the company of Volvo engineers was very conclusive at speeds of 15, 20 and 25 km/h. This system will come standard on the XC60.
An excellent touring car
It is tough to find fault with the vehicle handling. Granted, the turning diameter is too large, the steering is over-assisted and the turbo has a slight delay in response time, but the rest is all positive. Accelerations are progressive and above average, handling is relatively neutral and there is almost no vehicle roll when turning. If I really wanted to split hairs, I could mention that the drive train is uncooperative and demonstrates a slight tendency to underturn, but nothing too serious. The XC60 comes with good sound-proofing, excellent visibility and is more fun to drive than the average vehicle in the category.
In closing, we should specify that the XC60 will hit the showrooms sometime before April 2009 at a price of around $50,000 and will compete with models like BMW X3, the Audi Q5 and the Mercedes-Benz GLK.