The 2010 Volvo XC60, a new war horse

Like many manufacturers, Volvo has seen a slowdown of late. Station wagons are less popular, the XC90 crossover SUV is getting old and their sedans are simply not selling. In fact, only the XC70 has seen its sales increase – but that vehicle alone is obviously not enough to generate big profits for Volvo Canada. With this in mind, Volvo determined it needed was a new model with a broader clientele. It had to be stylish and appeal to a segment of the market that may not necessarily own a Volvo already. And thus the XC60 was born. It’s an über-trendy crossover vehicle that rivals the BMW X3 and the Mercedes-Benz GLK.

This model has been a tremendous challenge for Volvo. Not only does the company hope it will become their most popular vehicle, they also want XC60 to project Volvo’s new image. Of course, safety is still a key concern, but now sex appeal and personality have been added to the mix. These qualities have not always been a priority for this brand.

Will it kill the XC70?

Volvo doesn’t think it will. While they seem aware that a small percentage of their clientele could be interested in both models, Volvo claims that potential XC70 buyers are markedly different from XC60 crowd. The way their brand managers tell it, the XC70 bunch tends to be extremely loyal and is unswayed by trends. As such, this group is not likely to gravitate toward a luxury compact SUV like the X3 or the GLK. Conversely, people who are interested in both these SUVs may also like the XC60, as might luxury sedan drivers (who are bound to like it for practical reasons). This reasoning has Volvo convinced it can draw new customers into dealerships.

Personally, I have to admit that after taking an XC60 for a 350-km road trip, I’m fairly convinced myself. I went in with some serious doubts, thinking that its road capabilities would not live up to the new German players (Q5 and GLK). I expected looser handling, like what you get from the XC70, and consequently I thought it would be a lot less dynamic. But I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Lexus flavour or a taste of BMW?

Not only is this vehicle solid and well-anchored to the ground, it’s got a firm suspension and is unusually enjoyable to drive for a Volvo. After just a few hundred meters at its wheel, I was pleasantly surprised, particularly by the firm steering and effective suspension. Obviously, equipping this vehicle with the luxury package (which includes an adjustable active suspension with three settings) allows you to personalize your driving. But what we found especially interesting was the fact that you can adjust the firmness of the steering. It ranges from as relaxed as a Lexus RX to as firm as a BMW. This feature is uncommon and oh-so appreciated. It’s a shame that Volvo has not made a point of highlighting it. We actually came upon this feature by chance while playing with the different settings on the on-board computer.

Speaking of gadgets, you must already know that Volvo has mastered the art of safety. In this regard, the XC60 breaks new ground with technology dubbed City Safety, which will automatically stop the vehicle (provided it is doing 15 km/hour or less) when an obstacle is detected, thus preventing collisions. When obstacles, including the car in front of you, are detected by a radar over the windshield, the system reacts – in case you didn’t. I put City Safety to the test and found it to be pretty neat. The XC60 can also be equipped with adaptive cruise control (a feature they’ve done particularly well) and the Blind Spot Information System.

The right choice under the hood

Good news: Volvo had the good sense not to equip the XC60 with the 3.2-litre 6-cylinder engine that powers several of their other models, as well as its rival, the Land Rover LR2. Instead, they were intelligent enough to equip it factory-standard with a 3.0-litre T6 producing 281 horsepower. With this engine, the XC60 is never out of breath, accelerates powerfully and offers smooth performance. The 6-speed automatic transmission that comes with it does a terrific job, despite the manual mode, which is only passably good. The Haldex AWD system, however, is extremely effective. Plus, Volvo claims that its off-road performance beats out the other vehicles in its category, thanks to its 9.1-inch ground clearance.

In terms of fuel consumption, you should definitely expect an average of about 13 litres/100 km. We recorded an average of 12.6 litres/100 km on our 380-km trip, but we enjoyed fairly favourable conditions. Keep in mind though that the XC60 requires 91 octane gas – which in everyday terms is premium gas. 

An important advantage

Volvo stylists describe the XC60 as the first vehicle to bear the brand’s new DNA. A plunging belt line, sleek lines, LED side marker lights, and a beefier logo on the front are all part of Volvo’s new image. We can expect the 2010 S60 sedan and the 2011 XC90 utility vehicle to be decked out similarly.

One thing’s for sure, the XC60’s style is a real success. And, in my opinion, these sharp looks will be largely responsible for the vehicle’s popularity. In fact, while clients may initially be attracted by the outside lines, the inside cabin is just as pleasing to the eyes. This will undoubtedly be a crucial determining factor for customers trying to decide whether or not to take a XC60 home. Not only does the inside feature superb fit and trim quality, but the dashboard design is also highly original. As is customary, the vehicle has inherited a floating console adorned with some very nice wood grain finish, but this time it’s angled toward the driver for optimum convenience. Add to that great colour combinations and materials, ultra-comfortable seats, plenty of storage and better payload capacity than average (thanks to the front passenger seat that folds down) – what else could consumers ask for?

The only thing left to consider is the price. Volvo has yet to unveil the price tag, but they suggest it should weigh in somewhere near $50,000. Could be a little more, could be a little less, they say. To be truly competitive, though, the XC60 would need to offer more standard equipment than its competitors and more appealing financing terms. Currently, Acura, Infiniti and Mercedes are offering rival products for just over $40,000, while BMX and Land Rover start theirs at roughly $45,000. And quite frankly, the XC60’s long list of options leads me to believe that its standard equipment will not be anything out of the ordinary. Time will tell.

I’ll end by mentioning that Volvo hopes to sell 1,500 XC60s in Canada this year and 10 times as many south of the border. These figures may seem a little conservative, but you have to consider the fact that these vehicles won’t roll into to dealerships until April. One thing you can be sure of though, the XC60 is a great product that’s bound to become one of Volvo’s most popular vehicles in North America.

Strengths

Its looks, inside and out
Its amazing performance on the road
Its numerous safety features
Its terrific comfort

Weaknesses

Its price, probably
Its numerous options
Its considerable fuel consumption

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