As a Swedish brand, Volvo has always moved against the grain. Ford's Scandinavian unit is a proud export from the land that brings forth sobering stares from its countrymen, (not to mention impossibly beautiful looks from its women) the jumpy music of ABBA, affordable design from Ikea and lutefisk* (don't ask), Volvo has also long been at the forefront of safety technology - and now accident mitigation.
Staffed with their own accident investigation team, Volvo has gone to new lengths to help avoid accidents in the first place or, if crunch time is inevitable, at least assist in reducing the overall effect of the contact that is about to take place. This takes us to the 2010 Volvo XC60. The results are impressive, but do these features help to make this the perfect Volvo, much less the perfect car?
What is it?
A five-seater crossover, the new XC60 borrows from the past while casting a glance toward the future. Utilizing a new teardrop-shaped, cross-sectioned design, the XC60 looks like few Volvos since the P1800 and its modern hatchback counterpart, the C30.
All this and it even watches to see if you are nodding off during the time you are behind the wheel, sounding alerts and showing the dashboard light that depicts the universal symbol for driver alertness, the coffee cup.
What's it up against?
Immediately, the Mercedes-Benz GLK comes to mind. From the standpoint of money, figure in the BMW X3, Ford Edge, Land Rover LR2, Nissan Murano, Volkswagen Tiguan and the recently announced Audi Q5.
Once again, Volvo brings forth new features that emphasize vehicle and driver safety that will most likely will trickle down into other vehicles in current parent company Ford's product portfolio - assuming Ford holds onto Volvo long enough to do so.
These items include the new City Safety program, which has forward facing sensors that literally keep an eye on traffic directly in front of you to pre-charge the brakes to bring the car to a complete halt without making contact with the vehicle in front of you. If your speed is too high and a crash seems inevitable, the program cinches up the seat belts, pre-charges the brakes, and hopefully minimizes the effects that contact with another vehicle will bring. The City Safety function can be turned off, but will be re-engaged the next time the car is started.
How does it look?
Reminding us of Volvos past, the XC60 has many of the classic design cues from the iconic P1800 of the early 1960s, including the v-like, boat hull shape, bold shoulders, side strakes, and the largish glass panel at the rear. A stylized gaping-mouth grille leads off with a new version of the Volvo iron mark logo holding court in the very front. Below resides a large silvertoned portion of the front bumper giving the appearance of an off-road skid plate, but even with over nine-inches of ground clearance, reality dictates that this vehicle ain't gonna be off-roading any time soon.
Overall, we think the quirkiness that has always attracted us to Scandinavian design is what makes the XC60 more interesting to us than the Lexus RX or Land Rover LR2.
According to Volvo Design Director Steve Mattin, this is the new look the company will be headed for in the future. Silver colored rocker panels help to add visual interest along the sides while the now-familiar sky-high Volvo tail lamps, which help to anchor down both sides of the XC60's "D"ť-panels. The silvered rocker panels lead to the faux rear skid plate, where they sit below what appears to be a piece of "frameless"ť rear glass that is part of the rear hatch assembly. Really, though, they cover up the frames, which are hidden by privacy glass in the rear portion of the car.
Volvo's interior design runs hot and cold. The duo-toned leather seating left us, uh, warm. Don't get me wrong. We like the feel of Volvo's seating, especially after being confined to them for four hours at a stretch during our test drive through San Francisco and up the Pacific Coast Highway. But we are happy to see that the seats will also be offered in other colors.
The XC60 seats five, with three of the passengers sharing the 40-20-40 seat split in the second row. The front-passenger seat also folds down for extra long objects that can be stored diagonally from front to back.
A very clean dash is not too busy with an optional navigation screen that is tilted slightly in favor of the driver. Floating gauges reside in a binnacle directly behind the steering wheel, which is covered by Volvo's now familiar polished leather. In the past few years, Volvo has been using Dynaudio sound systems and the XC60 is no exception to that rule. But what is it with the standard HD Radio capability? We have still never had a chance to hear what all the excitement is about - to us, it just seems like more stations playing, well, more of the same.
There are enough buttons on the center stack to amuse even the lamest of techno-geeks, but, curiously, there was no reaction on the monitor when pushing the dashboard mounted controller buttons. It turns out that they are operated by buttons slightly outside the normal reach of most fingers on the rear of the steering wheel or via the remote control that is usually found inside the under-elbow storage bin. On the other end of the detail spectrum, though, kudos go to Volvo's design team for finding some gorgeous oak to cover the center stack's face.
But does it go?
With a snarling growl, yes!
Using the same 3.0-liter turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine that ships as standard in the S80 flagship sedan, the six's 281-horses and 295 lb-ft of torque emit a snarl that will make any audio- or autophile happy.
A six-speed Geartronic (with slam-it-yourself capability) automatic transmission is coupled with Volvo's all-wheel-drive system. The setup displayed great handling and traction during our jaunts up and down vineyard and ranch roads on the way to the Pacific Coast Highway. The ride was what we felt to be compliant, meaning not too stiff, and not too wallowy in its nature. Comprised of MacPherson struts in front and a multilink setup in rear, it made you want to test the cornering limits of the XC. Just in case, though, they have made Roll Stability Control standard throughout the line.
Volvo smartly dipped into the Land Rover parts bin before they left the building for India, and pulled out the company's Hill Descent Control for optional availability in the XC60. Though off-roaders won't flock to the XC60, we can see those who live in snowy climates taking advantage of the system.
But boasting a curb weight of 4,174 lbs., which is right in line with its competitors, we think they all need either a severe mileage increase, or a smaller engine. As it is, the XC60 hits the marks of 16 mpg city / and 22 mpg highway. As this review is going online, fuel prices are hovering just below $2-dollars, which could mean Volvo is in Fat City for the time being. With the past as prologue, though, it is inevitable that prices will go upward once again, and all these great small utility vehicles will possibly become liabilities on the dealer's lot.
Why you would buy it:
With the kids out of the house, you won't be needing that Excursion anymore. With the XC60, you can appear smart and worldly in one-fell-swoop.
Why you wouldn't:
You were never a fan of Swedish cars - and besides, this one's built in Belgium.
*Lutefisk: Filleted and air dried Cod, which is cured in lye for up to three days. According to some, it takes on the fragrance of a dumpster.
2010 Volvo XC60 base price, $37,900.
Words and photos by Mark Elias.