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|First Drive: 2010 Volvo XC60|
|Written by Rich Truesdell|
|Friday, 06 February 2009 05:26|
With all the horrific news on the sales front, Volvo couldn't have possibly picked a worse time to launch an important new model, in this case the 2010 XC60. It competes in what Volvo calls the "Small Premium Utility" segment which is populated by the established BMW X3, the Acura RDX, the Infiniti EX35, the recently-introduced Lexus RX350 and Mercedes-Benz GLK, and the upcoming Audi Q5. The question is simple: Does it have the goods to compete? And the answer, as usual, is very complicated.
Think "Volvo" and what first comes to mind? Safety, of course, and with its City Safety package, standard on all XC60s, Volvo is charting new territory in the area of preventing and mitigating low speed, under-20-miles-per-hour mishaps. (City Safety will spread to other Volvo models--the upcoming S60 sedan which was previewed in concept form last month at the North American International Automobile Show will likely get it next--as they are refreshed or replaced.)
City Safety utilizes a closing-velocity sensor mounted behind the rear view mirror to help determine whether a collision is likely. Depending on the closing speed, City Safety will either pre-charge the brakes or automatically brake the XC60 to help avoid a rear-end collision or lessen its impact. In a participation demonstration using inflatable cars before we headed out on our drive up California 1 north, the system operated flawlessly. City Safety in tandem with the recently-introduced Collision Warning with Auto Brake gives Volvo drivers auto-braking at all speeds. Volvo's video provides the best explanation of the system.
The biggest surprise was the bold styling of the XC60, clearly a continuing evolution of the design first seen on the larger XC90. It's bolder than previous Volvos, with a very pronounced kick up in the rear shoulders, giving the XC60 a muscular look. With some saying that Volvo clearly targeted women in the past when styling their cars, this attempt to give the cars--dare I say it--a more masculine look, will be appreciated by soccer dads from coast-to-coast.
Following a theme established with the C30, around back the rear lift gate is flanked by LED tail lamps that illuminate the full shape of the shoulder line. The overall result is well integrated with the coupe-like profile aft of the C-pillar. Of all the vehicles in this evolving small premium utility class, the XC60 presents, subjectively, the best integrated exterior design styling package.
Inside, the cabin continues the exterior themes, dominated by a driver-centric, ultra-thin center console that is finished in a textured light wood that reflects its Scandinavian design heritage. Its furniture-quality look is upscale and combined with the two-toned leather seating surfaces, the overall look is high-end. Definitely not Ikea, not that there's anything wrong with Ikea. The sense of openness is enhanced by light-colored primary seating surfaces and trim combined with the optional panoramic moonroof, the first in any Volvo product.
The XC60 is the first Volvo to offer HD Radio as standard equipment, updating radio to digital quality. Sirius satellite radio with a complimentary six-month subscription and Bluetooth hands-free phone interface are also standard. Sharing the car with autospies.com's Donald Buffamanti, between his iPod and my flash drive, we each had fun playing DJ while the other drove. Donald plugged his iPod into the AUX-input while I hooked up my $9 4GB flash drive into the USB input, both thoughtfully provided in the center console. (The USB input provides title, track, and artist info for tagged tracks for my flash drive.) The optional 12-speaker, 650-watt Dynaudio Premium Sound System provided exceptional sound staging and all the volume we could stand before our eardrums began to bleed. When the optional technology package is specified, Sirius provides integrated real-time traffic data for the DVD-based navigation system.
To simplify ordering, the X660 is sold as a single, all-wheel-drive, well-equipped model with just four major option packages, six standalone options and eight color choices. (Ours was the attractive Terra Bronze Pearl.) Under the hood you'll find Volvo's proven 3.0-liter T6 turbocharged six-cylinder engine that produces 281-horsepower and 295-lb.-ft of torque. The six-speed "Geartronic" automatic transmission is mated to Volvo's Instant Traction all-wheel-drive system.
Large 18-inch wheels (19 inches optional) along with 9.1 inches of ground clearance enable the XC60 to traverse terrain that would be impossible in a conventional passenger car. Enhanced Dynamic Stability and Traction Control (DSTC) is standard along with a new feature called Trailer Stability Assist (TSA) that helps provide more stable driving when towing.
On the Road
On the trip north up California 1 to the Sea Ranch Lodge south of Gualala, we made two stops. The first was in Tomales, where we were questioned about "all the Volvo station wagons driving up the coast for the last week"--we were in the last of four groups of journalists invited by Volvo for the XC60 launch program. The second stop was in Bodega and the school house where, in 1962, Alfred Hitchcock filmed the classic "The Birds" in which Tippi Hendren drove an Aston Martin DB2/4 drop-head coupe. For our quick pit stop we were treated to a soundtrack of some birds squealing. Very creepy.
We both felt that the suspension settings were a bit soft for our personal tastes, but Volvo is one step ahead of us and will offer a Four-C option later in 2009. Four-C is an advanced, self-regulating chassis system that uses a number of sensors to continuously monitor the car's behavior. The dampers are adjusted to suit the current driving conditions in mere fractions of a second.
Three chassis settings, Comfort, Advanced and Sport, will allow the driver to adapt the chassis to suit road conditions at the touch of a button. With the winding roads provided on the drive, especially the transition section going east to US 101 on the return drive, we would have appreciated the ability to stiffen up the suspension settings. In fairness to Volvo, most Americans will be quite satisfied with the stock settings. It's pesky journalists that like to drive the wheels off of evaluation cars and prefer things so stiff they loosen fillings who will find fault with the existing suspension calibrations.
Upon our return to the Bay Area, we had the opportunity to get some shots of the XC60 under the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge near our lodgings, the recently opened Cavallo Point Lodge at the Golden Gate. Looking south across the bay, I was reminded that a crucial scene from Hitchcock's 1958 thriller, "Vertigo" was filmed under the south side pier of the bridge. (If you're interested in Hitchcock's lifelong connection to the Bay Area, I can suggest the book Footsteps in the Fog: Alfred Hitchcock's San Francisco. It would be a great companion for a film-themed tour of the San Francisco region.)
Volvos traditionally excel in the area of interior refinement and style; the XC60 is no exception. The seats are excellent, adjustable to any physique with a steering wheel that can accommodate any driver, tall or short. The entire cockpit is executed with an air of elegant sophistication. An especially classy touch is the textured--rather than glossy - light oak center console trim.
This is a new market segment for Volvo, and it's no secret that the Swedish carmaker has a lot riding on its success. The XC60 is coming into a highly competitive market segment in the midst of the worst sales environment in more than a generation, so they have their work cut out for them. The BMW X3 has both established and dominated the category and is awaiting a refresh to remain competitive. We believe that as a package the XC60 stacks up very well against the rest of the players in the class, the Acura RDX, Infiniti EX35, Lexus RX350, and Mercedes-Benz GLK. We'll have to reserve judgment in comparing it to the Audi Q5 until we have some seat time in the Audi under our belt, but based on first impressions, the XC60 is class-competitive in most areas--although we were disappointed with the EPA city number of 16 MPG--and excels in some, especially in the area of occupant safety, long a Volvo calling card.
With its slick new set of clothes--especially all of the sculpted exterior elements--this is one Volvo that once-and-for-all puts to rest the memories of its boxy predecessors from the eighties. If it is the precursor for the style of Volvos in the pipeline, like the stunning S60 concept, then the road ahead for whoever ends up controlling or owning Volvo, holds much promise. With an announced starting price of $37,200--for a well-equipped version with an unmatched level of standard equipment, like City Safe--and in the mid $40,000s fully loaded with every available option, Volvo has positioned itself well in a category that is poised for growth--especially if fuel prices remain moderate--as soon as any of us can qualify again for financing.
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