New Car Reviews

2009 Volvo XC60

In March, the all new Volvo XC60 will go on sale in the United States. Launched this fall in Europe, the XC60 is Volvo’s entry in the “small premium utility segment,” where it will take on the likes of the , the , the Audi Q5, and the Infiniti EX35. Hoping to build on its “safety first” image, Volvo has added measure of performance and fun to its newest vehicle, emphasizing styling, high-tech content, and all-around capability.

The XC60 is the first production vehicle to reflect Volvo’s new design DNA. With a strong face featuring a larger logo and grille and a broader shoulder line, the XC60 has a more sporty, muscular stance than its Volvo brethren. Yet the XC60 is clearly a Volvo, an indication that the designers have successfully integrated traditional Volvo styling cues into its new design language.

Inside the cabin, the slim floating center stack, which debuted in the S40, is attractively finished in your choice of matte wood or brushed metal and is slightly canted toward the center to give the driver the feeling of being in a cockpit. The sculpted seats are upholstered in two-tone leather stitched in a pattern that Volvo calls its X-theme. “Cross County, Cross City, or Cross Over – choose the interpretation that suits you best,” says Jonathan Disley, head of interior design for the XC60. As with all Volvos, the seats themselves are pretty much the best in the business, being not only supportive but supremely comfortable.

The surfaces inside the cabin are nicely finished, with a visually interesting mix of contrasting materials, including leather, soft-touch plastics, brushed metal, and wood. Headroom is plentiful in all seating positions, and rear seat legroom is acceptable, especially if you’re less than six feet tall.

The XC60’s rear tailgate opening is the widest in the segment, according to Volvo. With the 40/20//40 second row folded flat, you should find room for just about anything you need to haul home from the mall or the garden center. Even with the second row upright, the XC60 olds a relatively generous 30.8 cubic feet of cargo.

The XC60 shares its basic architecture with the XC70 wagon and the S80 sedan. The XC60’s transversely mounted 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six (also available in the XC70 and the S80) produces 281 hp and is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with an available sport mode. With 295 lb-ft of torque on tap from 1500 rpm, power is plentiful throughout the rev range, and acceleration is smooth and seamless.

All-wheel drive will be standard on all XC60s sold in the United States, as is DTSC (Dynamic Traction and Stability Control). In the XC60, DTSC has been enhanced to detect skids at an even earlier stage, helping to provide a more stable and safer driving environment.

The XC60 is not a small vehicle, but on the narrow, twisty roads of Spain, the XC60 exhibited a nicely balanced ride that belied its hefty mass. The chassis is set up to minimize body roll, the steering is precise, and the braking performance is quite good.

Late in 2009, the XC60 will be available with what is called the Four-C option, an active chassis system that will enable to driver to choose from among three settings – Comfort, Advanced, and Sport – to adjust the chassis according to driving conditions and personal preference. The XC60 crossover is not as sporty or athletic as some of its competitors, but it is supremely comfortable to drive, with predictable handling and very good ride quality.

Studies indicate that 75 percent of all accidents occur at speeds of 19 mph or less, and, in fully half of those incidents, the driver never applied the brakes. Volvo‘s newest safety technology, City Safety, aims to avoid, or at least mitigate, those low-speed collisions. City Safety will be standard on all XC60s.

With City Safety, a laser sensor mounted at the top of the XC60s windshield detects vehicles and other objects up to 13 feet ahead of the front bumper. If it determines that a collision is likely, the system applies the brakes automatically. In theory, this might sound like Big Brother, but in practice the system is utterly transparent. We tested City Safety on a closed course, and even at the maximum speed of 19 mph, the XC60’s front bumper barely kissed the obstacle that we would otherwise have run into.

City Safety works well, but it does have its limitations. The laser sensor can be limited by weather conditions, such as fog, snow, or heavy rain, and the windshield needs to be kept free of snow, ice, and dirt so that the laser is unimpeded. Also, the sensor detects objects through reflections, so we don’t suggest testing City Safety by barreling up to your garage door.

Other safety systems, such as a collision warning system that works at higher speeds, a trailer-towing stability system, and lane-departure warning are also available on the XC60.

Volvo sees the XC60 as “the C30 owner’s next car” and expects to sell 50,000 per year worldwide, with the United States expected to account for 40 percent of the market. The XC60 is the entry-level car for Volve’s XC range, which also includes the XC70 wagon and the XC90 SUV/crossover. As such, the base price for an XC60 T6 AWD (the only model available at launch) should be about $36,000. Expect to pay $40,000 for an XC60 equipped with all the goodies, including navigation and a panoramic roof.

Unfortunately, the XC60 is expected to return only 15 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway. Look for a somewhat lighter front-wheel-drive model sometime later in the year, which should return better numbers.

Volvo XC60 SUV/crossover

Base price (estimated): $36,000

Engine: 1.6-liter turbocharged I-6, 281 hp, 295 lb-ft

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Drive: 4-wheel

Fuel economy: 15/22/ mpg (est.)

On sale: March 2009