The fact that Volvo's main reputation was built on safety is now common knowledge to pretty much everyone, and it's also a bit of an understatement. Almost each person who hasn't been living under a rock for the last 50 years can most categorically say that “car safety” equals “Volvo”. Because of this, when the Swedish launch their newest model with the tagline “The safest Volvo in history”, you're kind of bound to expect that car to be as safe as a Kryptonite suit during a Superman-gone-bad attack.
The newly-launched XC60 compact SUV
/crossover is based on the Volvo P24/Ford EUCD platform, the same one that can be found under another Swedish crossover, the XC70. So, a higher, wider but shorter XC70 that isn't quite a station wagon on stilts. Volvo themselves say that it “shares some technology” with other products from the Swedish car brand, which is another way of saying that once you “peel” an XC60 you're bound to find a smaller (or a bigger, in our case) car underneath.
Them saying that the XC60 is the safest Volvo in history is of course raising some obvious question marks. Taking into account it uses almost the same safety features that are to be found on almost any other modern Volvo, what does it have to make it so special? Well, they call it the “City Safety” concept.
Considering Volvo=car safety in most languages, the Swedish manufacturer somewhat lagged behind in the development of safety features involving laser or radar-based crash sensors a la Mercedes-Benz's Pre-Safe or Lexus' Pre-Crash System. With the launch of the XC60 crossover they've reduced that lag to a more acceptable level by adding the “City Safety” feature as standard.
Not to be taken exactly as it's being advertised, the system uses three lasers mounted on the windshield just in front of the interior rearview mirror to scan the road ahead and inform both you and the brakes if a collision is imminent with the vehicle ahead. Well, contrary to what the commercials might have made us to believe, the system doesn't quite makes the car brake by itself in those advertised situations. But more on that later, in the safety chapter of our test drive.
We drove the Volvo XC60 D5 with the Summum trim level specifications, minus some not-so-vital features such as the front passenger seat with electric adjustment. Apart from the ragged-ol' horse dynamics of the diesel engine, this seems to be a pretty good buying choice in the premium crossover market.
The beige-brick-on-wheels look of the 1970s and 1980s Volvo station wagons has been taken outside and shot if we take just the XC60 as a point of reference for more modern Volvos. Sure, the “bricka-bracka firecracka” look still has some shadows left on the car but the new lines are very much trying to make you forget it.
Since the Peter Horbury-designed “shoulders” in the late 1990s, everything has changed at Volvo, and the XC60 is here to prove it. While still preserving the Volvo design legacy, it manages to adopt more aggressive “bio” lines without interfering in its familiar nature too much.
The lateral swooping line manages to give the car a lot of character, especially considering the huge height difference between the front and the rear. Although it's quite a bit shorter than its XC70 and XC90 stablemates, the XC60 looks much more planted and somewhat angrier.
The “angry” look is in part possible thanks to the new daylight driving LED lights which follow the V-line of the hood and sit right between the normal headlights. The L-shaped LED rear lights also give a menacing attitude to whomever watches the car from behind.
Taking into account the XC60 has just about the same off-road capability as the XC70 or XC90, it looks much less utilitarian and much more user-friendly. Keep in mind that by “user” we mean new generation yuppies and by “friendly” we mean a very platonic, heterosexual relationship.
The whole package looks like it was especially designed to appeal to metrosexual young urban professionals who are single, enjoy soy-milk lattes and have an inexplicable good taste in designer shoes. The way it achieves this and still not escape that “soccer mom look of older Volvos it's beyond us, also considering this is actually one of the most good-looking SUV/crossovers out there.
Comparing this to the dreadful Tonka-toy design of a Mercedes-Benz GLK or the downright ugliness of the BMW X3 is like comparing a Thanksgiving turkey dinner to a raw dish made out of live frogs.
Inside the XC60 we found the now-familiar and Volvo-trademarked floating center console, but in a more S60-like driver oriented fashion. The Swedish premium feel from almost any other modern Volvo is also still there, but the whole ambiance is somewhat sportier and less IKEA furniture-like.
The yellow/black leather contributed to a very funky atmosphere, albeit a bit non-premium looking, but the overall interior lines were to blame for the elevated Grand Touring feel of the car.
We haven't actually measured it, but the interior room looks to be just as much as in its longer brother, the XC70, with a small minus for the rear headroom, which appears to be slightly smaller.
The number of interior storage spaces are exactly what we would find in a station wagon, while the trunk space is a bit smaller than in the XC70, with “only” 17.5 cubic feet (495 liters). This can of course be enhanced via the 40/20/40 foldable rear seats, which can create a flat surface from the front seats to the rear hatch.
Speaking of the rear hatch and considering this is trying to pass as a premium crossover/SUV, there is no “magic button” like in the XC90 or XC70 to close it electrically, you have to go through the horror of actually pull it down with your bare hand!
Other than that, the center navigation display is no longer a pull-up/pull-down one like in the XC70 and sits a little bit lower than the driver's line of sight for some reason. The odious navigation system controls are still specifically made for persons who can read Braille and can only be operated if you reach on the other part of the steering wheel.
We couldn't get a hold of any weight figures for our test car but we kind of suspect they're a bit lower than the other Volvo XC-stamped brothers. Why do we say this, you ask? Well, first of all, the XC60 D5 is a bit faster than the Volvo station wagon on stilts we tested the last time, while the fuel consumption in the city was quite a bit lower.
Considering we're talking about the same engine and identical engine and transmission specifications, we can safely assume that the 10.5-11 liters per 100 km (around 22 US mpg) we got from strictly a busy city driving is more than OK.
Although the Swedish have shaved quite a bit from the length of the XC70 platform to create the XC60, the city parking has been very much influenced by the designers. The car is shorter and higher, has huge lateral rear view mirrors AND a rear view parking camera with visual guidance lines to make parking as easy as taking candy from a baby.
Well, it became obvious to us that Volvo designers have never tried taking candy from a baby (it's really hard, really) and have designer the rear windows just according to beauty, not function.
The nice-looking lateral shoulder line goes so much higher towards the rear that it has literally transformed the rear lateral windows in no more than submarine portholes. The ginormous rear pillars don't do any good for visibility either.
In other words, if it wasn't for the really high ground clearance (23 centimeters or 9.1 inches), huge rear view mirrors and the non-snob-like rear view camera, parking would have been a nightmare for us.
Although it's a bit – and by a bit we mean a tiny one – faster than the XC70 and XC90 equipped with the same engine and transmission, the XC60 D5 still isn't quite at home on the highway. Sure, it's a bit more aerodynamic than the aforementioned stable mates and carries a few less pounds, but it's still about as underpowered as someone entering a knife fight while carrying a nail clipper.
Apart from being a little noisier than other more modern engines, the 2.4 liter D5 oil burner has a great quality, very good fuel consumption no matter on what car it's put on. Also, the noise it makes isn't very tractor-like, but closer to a carbureted gas inline six. As odd as it may sound, the XC60 D5 almost sounds like a 1980s 630i from the inside.
Its pulling power is greatly overestimated to be put on such a big car though, and it can really give you a scare or two while trying to pass someone on the highway. Also, although it sounds too nice to be a diesel, at low revs it vibrates so much that it makes the steering wheel jiggle in your hands just like in a John Deer tractor from circa 1985.
Off the road though you can find the true qualities of the XC60. With a best-in-class ground clearance of 2300 millimeters (9.1 inches) and the Instant Traction
all wheel drive based on a Haldex system, the car actually excels in low level off-road-ing operations. In normal, driving conditions the system directs about 95% of the engine power to the front wheels, while on slippery or certain low-grip conditions it can re-direct up to 50% to the rear wheels.
Yes, this doesn't exactly means it can pass G-Klasses or Defenders on the off-road trail but it sure beats the credentials of the bigger XC90 and XC70, which benefit from a similar traction system but lower ground clearance and attack and/or departure angles. The Hill Descent Control system is the same as the one found in its siblings, with both front and reverse capabilities.