As we roll inexorably toward the parked "car" in front of us at just over 20 km/h, every instinct I have screams out: "Hit the brakes!!" Habits deeply ingrained in a 40-year driving career are hard to break. But I’ve been told to keep my foot off the brake pedal, no matter what, and let the car handle everything. So onward we glide, with a low-speed impact seemingly a foregone conclusion. Hope the airbags work.
But at the last possible moment, less than a metre away from an imminent fender-bender, the brakes are applied automatically - and kind of abruptly - and the car stops itself in its tracks. No accident, no drama.
This is Volvo’s newest fail-safe feature - City Safety - in action, and the idea is to prevent or mitigate accidents occurring at speeds of 30 km/h or less. In a nutshell, a laser sensor located in the rearview mirror monitors the distance between you and the vehicle in front, and if you get too close, it will apply the brakes automatically. It can be disabled, but is otherwise in operating mode all the time. According to Volvo, 75 per cent of all collisions take place at or under this speed, and half of the time, the brakes aren’t applied at all, for various reasons....including driver distraction. However, it is important to understand that City Safety does not relieve the driver of the responsibility of maintaining a safe distance to avoid a collision, cautions Volvo’s manager of preventative safety, Jonas Ekmark. "The automatic braking function does not react until it considers that a collision is imminent."
Standard equipment in the new 2010 XC60, City Safety also works in concert with other protective features, including the airbags and seat belts, to further reduce the possibility of injury. It works equally well during the day or night (although the windscreen must be kept clear), and functions independently of Volvo’s Adaptive Cruise Control system, which is a sonar-based technology designed to keep a safe distance between you and the car in front during highway driving.
Needless to say, City Safety is just one of a myriad of protective features found in the XC60. Other reassurances include lane departure warning, rear park assist camera, collision warning, a blind spot information system, and my personal favourite, driver alert control. This last feature notifies the driver if he/she is straying from their lane or not paying attention on the highway, and sounds an audible warning as well as displaying a cute little coffee cup graphic on the information display monitor. All these items are in addition to other active safety features that include a traction control system, hill descent control, a vehicle stability system, brake fade support, and the usual roster of airbags and ABS. Sweden is obviously full of deranged drivers crashing into each other at every turn because Volvo has gone above and beyond in the pursuit of accident prevention, and is pretty much synonomous with safety these days. The XC60 must surely be the most driver-insulating SUV on the market.
The XC60 is powered by a 281-horsepower turbocharged in-line six cylinder engine and comes with one transmission: a six-speed automatic mated to a fourth-generation Haldex full-time all-wheel-drive system. Parts of this drivetrain and various other components are used elsewhere in Volvo’s line-up, including the S80 and V70, and it has 231 mm of ground clearance for those who may feel compelled to take this $50,000 ute into the boondocks.
Volvo is also hoping current owners of the diminutive C30 coupe will move upward into the XC60 and its competition includes the likes of the Mercedes GLK, Lexus RX350, and, especially, BMW’s X3. It is, in all respects, an upscale vehicle. Standard equipment includes leather interior, dual-zone climate control, heated outside mirrors, power seats, hands-free bluetooth interface, Sirius satellite radio, and a fold-flat rear floor area with 40/20/40 split rear seats. "Ideal for carrying Ikea boxes," quips project director, Lars Blenwall.
Effortless to drive too. On a 350-kilometre run up the Pacific Coat Highway and through California wine country, the XC60 handled the endless switchbacks and tight corners with aplomb and ease. You can actually adjust the power steering boost while you’re driving, and it’s sometimes easy to forget that you’re piloting a sport utility vehicle and not a sports sedan. Turbo boost, which can be an issue, is completely under control and virtually unobtrusive.
Designed at Volvo’s California studios and built in Ghent, Belgium, the XC60 features what exterior design chief, Doug Frasher, describes as a "holistic" body style. "When we got to work on the XC60, we were mindful of the Swedish love for the outdoors and wildlife. One of the big questions we asked ourselves was: ‘what kind of animal should it be?’" That question remains unanswered, but at least it wasn’t tagged as a bionic cheetah, as was the case with the Infiniti FX35.
The XC60 is expected to hit Canadian showrooms by April and will carry a projected base price in the high $40,000 to low $50,000 neighbourhood.
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