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Volvo XC60 stylish, luxurious

Upscale cabin, sporty performance, safety features greatly offset its thirst for gasoline

(VOLVO)
By Mike Hanley
Cars.Com / February 28, 2009
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Anyone who thinks you can have too much of a good thing isn't familiar with the car business. Volvo's good thing has been the XC90 midsize luxury crossover, which debuted as a 2003 model and quickly became the brand's best-selling model. Now, Volvo is repackaging the successful XC90 formula for the compact luxury crossover crowd with the new XC60. It hits dealerships in March.

Even though it's Volvo's first foray into this growing segment, the XC60 is well-executed overall. From its stylish design and upscale cabin to its sporty performance and numerous safety features, the XC60 impresses in all the right areas. Its gas mileage, however, may be a sticking point for some.

The new XC60 is one of the sleekest luxury crossovers available. The windshield flows smoothly into the roofline, and the back of the crossover is gracefully finished with a forward-swept D-pillar. The XC60 features tall, slender taillights, as do a number of Volvos - including the XC70 and C30 - but these are perhaps the most distinctive yet. They feature a slim line of LEDs that follow the outline of the roof pillar and are quite eye-catching.

The front of the XC60 likewise has strong styling, such as a large mesh grille and bulging hood. Volvo uses lighting to good effect here, too, with thin, slanted running lights on either side of the grille. Audi and BMW have shown how unique lighting can serve as a styling cue, and Volvo appears to be following suit. All XC60s have standard 18-inch alloy wheels, but 19-inch alloy rims are available through Volvo's vehicle accessory program.

The XC60's sole trim level is the T6, and it's powered by a turbocharged, 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder engine that makes 281 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. By the numbers, it's one of the more powerful base engines available in a compact luxury crossover, and it felt plenty strong on the hilly roads outside San Francisco where I tested it.

Helping matters on those hills was the engine's abundant torque at low rpm. Even with the engine spinning at only 2,400 rpm, pressing the gas pedal brings an immediate strong acceleration without a hint of turbo lag. The engine makes the XC60 one quick crossover when accelerating hard from a standstill, and it also feels strong at freeway speeds.

The turbo engine pairs with a six-speed automatic transmission that includes Sport and clutchless-manual modes. Most shifts are smooth and refined, but I experienced a couple of jerks during my drive. The Sport mode is less inclined to upshift, which keeps the engine revving higher, and it seemed best suited to the task of winding mountain roads; the engine never feels bogged down when accelerating out of a slow corner.

The XC60 has standard all-wheel drive. It's based on front-wheel drive, but it can apportion power to the rear wheels when necessary. The XC60 doesn't include any low-range gearing for serious off-road use, but it does have 9.1 inches of ground clearance. For a vehicle that doesn't look like it rides especially high off the ground and isn't difficult to step into, that's quite a bit of clearance.

Volvo expects the EPA to estimate the XC60's gas mileage at 16/22 city/highway, which puts it behind many of its competitors.

Volvo won't confirm the possibility of a less powerful, more efficient engine becoming available to attract value-oriented shoppers, but adding one at some point would make a lot of sense.

The XC60 offers sporty handling performance - the suspension keeps body roll nicely controlled. It must be noted, though, that the XC60 I drove was a European-spec model equipped with firmer suspension tuning than US models will have; Michael Cottone, XC60 product launch manager, said spring rates on US models will be 10 to 15 percent softer, and I think that's wise.

The interior features premium materials and some interesting two-tone color schemes, but the thing that really pulls the cabin together - and is one of the XC60's most eye-catching design cues - is the slim center control panel. When finished in optional Nordic Light Oak (aluminum trim is standard), it has an appearance that's unlike anything else in its class; it recalls high-end furniture.

Leather upholstery is standard, and it's available in a two-tone design for no extra charge. My test model had a beige and espresso interior that I found pretty appealing. More important if you're going to be spending a lot of time commuting in the XC60 is that the front bucket seats are supportive, though some people might find them a little too firm - especially the backrest. Both front seats have standard power adjustments, and the driver's seat includes a three-position memory feature.

The back seat is snug, but that's to be expected from a small crossover. Taller adults should be able to make the seat work for a short trip, but don't expect a lot of room to stretch your legs. The 40/20/40-split rear bench seat doesn't slide forward or backward, and the backrest doesn't recline. The backrest sections do, however, fold flat and flush with the cargo floor with little effort.

Volvo is well known for its vehicle-safety efforts, and the XC60 comes standard with a new feature called City Safety, which is designed to prevent or reduce the severity of rear-end collisions. City Safety is a laser-based system that monitors the roadway in front of the vehicle. If it detects the XC60 is closing on a car and the driver isn't making an effort to avoid a collision, it can automatically brake in an attempt to avoid a crash. Volvo says the system can prevent collisions when the closing speed is lower than 9 miles per hour and lessen their severity if the speed is between 9 and 19 miles per hour.

I had a chance to experience City Safety on a closed course, and it performed as advertised, aggressively braking the vehicle at the last second to avoid a collision with an inflatable "car." Volvo says it will have demonstration areas at dealerships.

It's worth noting that City Safety isn't advanced enough to detect smaller objects, like a child jumping in front of the XC60, but Volvo says it's developing a system with that level of capability.

Additional standard features include antilock brakes, side-impact airbags for the front seats, side curtain airbags to cover all door windows, and an electronic stability system. A number of optional safety features are available, too, like blind-spot and lane-departure warning systems, which are designed to monitor other cars near the XC60, and to alert the driver when the vehicle begins to drift into another lane, respectively.

Also optional is Collision Warning with Auto Brake, which uses radar technology to track the vehicle in front and alert the driver using visual and audible warnings when a collision may occur before automatically applying the brakes if necessary. Whereas City Safety is a low-speed crash-avoidance system, Collision Warning with Auto Brake functions at higher speeds.

The XC60's success hinges on being able to stand out from many other luxury crossovers. There are already capable competitors available, and new models, like the Mercedes GLK350 and Audi's Q5, are also joining the segment this year. Volvo has tried to distinguish its entry by positioning the XC60 as a safety-conscious choice, but it still offers things that engage luxury buyers, like modern but not overblown styling, ample performance, and a premium interior with unique design elements. With a base price of $37,200, Volvo won't be able to trumpet the XC60 as the most affordable small luxury crossover available, but given what it has to offer, the automaker shouldn't have to.

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