2009 Volvo XC60: Good car with plenty of gadgets!

It’s no secret, Volvo sales have plunged and their ranking among the top-selling vehicles dipped well before the recession hit the auto industry in 2008. But, to be fair, the Swedish manufacturer has managed to mitigate its decline with some fairly positive results over the last two months. And in Gothenburg, a lot of attention has been paid to the XC60, a crossover SUV that’s set to breathe some wind into this brand’s sails.

According to Volvo, the XC60 is just what the doctor ordered. Over the last three years, buyers haven’t expressed all that much interest in their sedans, while their wagons – Volvo’s traditional bread and butter – were less in demand than before. The fact that the company’s most popular model, the XC90, has not been revamped for years, has also caused sales to suffer. So, this XC60, which straddles the wagon and utility vehicle categories, should be the winning combination that will help Volvo recover its former sales numbers.

Pretty utility

I’ll start of by stating that I’ve decided to follow my colleague Marc Lachapelle’s example and not bother with terms like "crossover," "city crossover," or whatever other jargon used to describe utility vehicles, whether they’re 4X4s, AWD or something else. It’s an utility vehicle, period. This vehicle appeals to utility vehicle buyers with its practical yet aggressive style. And while our neighbors south of the border don’t seem to appreciate a hatch on sedans, they’re plenty fond of other models, like utility vehicles. And the designers at Volvo have proven once again that they’ve mastered this category, largely derived from wagons and not characterless sedans. This time, the typical Volvo grille has been downsized a little, and it seems even smaller with a beefed up Volvo insignia in the middle. This front rectangle serves as an anchor for the lines flowing toward the rear, which appears raised due to the way the beltline rises. But the real visual signatures on this vehicle are the vertical lights on either side of the back window that seem to melt down and to the side. The backup light is integrated in the widest section.

Just as the body designers were inspired, so were their colleagues in charge of the interior, which is both elegant and comfortable. The dash is simple and uncluttered with a display in the upper centre to display selected controls, the temperature and all other interior functions. I especially appreciated the air conditioning controls, as they are very intuitive. However, I found it sometimes difficult to read the information displayed in the centre of the indicator dials, particularly when there was bright sunlight. Other weak points include the fact that the screen for the navigation system is too small. But most irritating of all is the placement of the navigation system controls behind the steering wheel. There’s also a remote for this system.

From the seats to the cargo hold to the dash, the quality of the materials is very good, and everything is perfectly color-coordinated. The seats are covered in leather pieces of contrasting colors – very original and stylish. Plus, the seats are comfortable with excellent support for your sides and thighs. Relatively high front seats ensure a good driving position and optimize visibility, and they are adjustable in pretty much every direction. It’s also worth mentioning that the rear seats are comfortable too. The bench heats up nicely and the passengers can regulate the air flow from the side vent located behind the B-pillar. However, leg room is fairly modest. Other notable features include a sunroof that opens nice and wide, and a sizeable and relatively tall cargo hold.

And the gadgets!

With its 281-hp 3.0-litre six-cylinder engine coupled with a six-speed automatic transmission, the XC60’s performances are pretty good, almost sporty. And the Instant Traction AWD is as effective as it is transparent. When I first took it out for a spin on Quebec highways, I found the suspension firm, but not at the expense of comfort. Our vehicle  was equipped with an active 4-C chassis which allows you to choose from three suspension settings: Comfort, Sport and Advanced. I don’t have enough space here to go into detail about how it works, but suffice it to say that it does work.

On the highway, this Volvo performs quite nicely with precise steering, neutral handling on turns and just a touch of under steer. Overall, very good, though I must admit that the vast array of electronic driving aids are a little worrisome. This model comes with speed control, the Bliss blind spot info system, a lane departure system that tells you when you’ve crossed the white line, a backup camera, a sleep detection system and a Hill Descent Control system. These are in addition to the various safety systems, like the ABS brakes, the roll stability control and the electronic brake distribution system. Not to mention the City Safety mechanism, which is supposed to eradicate collisions at less than 30 km/h. Infra-red light is emitted from behind the inside rearview mirror and points out toward the road in front. If a signal is bounced back, there’s a vehicle nearby. And if you get too close (but remain below 30 km/h), the system will bring the vehicle to a stop. Volvo engineers have had some excellent test results with this system at speeds between 15.2 to 25 km/h.

All of the above is excellent and works splendidly, but I’d be curious to know if this electronic arsenal will actually turn out to be reliable. And I wish the best of luck to the mechanics who have to solve the problems with these systems. I’ll go further by saying that even if all these miracle accessories actually do work transparently, you always get the feeling that Big Brother is watching and is ready to intervene via the electronic systems if need be.

However, I must admit that by the time I finished taking the XC60 for a test drive, I had gotten quite used to having these electronic guardian angels around – and I even started to think of them as essential.

At the end of the day, this Swedish vehicle is very attractive, despite a price tag that skyrockets quickly once you start adding accessories. The model we tested, for example, had a starting price of $49,995, but ended up at $59,685 with all the options.

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