Over the years I’ve given TrustedReviews a pretty broad remit, with the site covering many areas of technology from PC components, to MP3 players, to TVs, to mobile phones etc. TR also covers a large amount of technology that’s used in the car – gear like satellite navigation, FM transmitters and Bluetooth hands free kits – and with the amount of technology squeezed into cars increasing all the time, I felt that it was time to expand on our automotive coverage. As such, I decided that TR should begin to cover cars themselves, and all the technology that’s built into them, rather than just third party devices.
Rather fortuitously, while I was considering this expansion of TR’s content, I received an invitation to a launch event for the new Volvo XC60. This was lucky for a couple of reasons – first and foremost, it gave me something new and exciting to kick things off with, and second, Volvo has stuffed the XC60 full of technology that makes it a perfect fit for TrustedReviews. Obviously there’s more to the XC60 than the technological toys inside it, but my main focus will be on that technology. That said, it’s still important to give you some background data on the car first.
The XC60 falls into the Crossover category, which means that it’s a four wheel drive vehicle, but it looks more like a car than a full-on SUV. Looks wise, the XC60 is pretty successful, and it’s a million miles away from the square and boxy cars of yore that many still associate with Volvo. In fact the rake of the windscreen and sloping bonnet wouldn’t look out of place on a coupe, let alone a 4WD crossover. The good looks continue inside, with a modern and bright cockpit, that’s focused towards the driver. There are a lot of toys scattered around the centre console, steering wheel and dash, but I’ll come to all that later.
Volvo is offering the XC60 with three engine variants – two five cylinder diesel units and one straight six petrol engine. The Diesel 2.4D and the Diesel D5 produce 163ps and 185ps respectively, while the petrol engine turns out a very healthy (well not environmentally healthy obviously) 285ps. Unsurprisingly, Volvo expects the vast majority of XC60s sold to be diesel versions.
But the big news with the XC60 isn’t the choice of engines, or even the fetching design. You see the XC60 has a rather interesting party piece that’s sure to enhance Volvo’s already solid (pun intended) reputation for safety…
Pretty much everyone associates Volvo with safety, a position that was carved out back in 1944 when the company created the Safety Cage. The Safety Cage was designed to protect the occupants of the vehicle at a time where driver and occupant safety was of little concern to most car manufacturers and buyers. Over the years Volvo has continued to enhance the safety of its vehicles, while also helping make safety a key concern for both consumers and other manufacturers. Features like crumple zones and side impact protection are common place now, but back in 1966 and 1991 respectively, they were revolutionary.
Now Volvo is moving the safety game on again by making its City Safety system a standard feature on the XC60. But what is City Safety? Well, according to Volvo 75 per cent of reported accidents occur at speed up to 19mph – in other words in slow moving traffic. You know how it is, you’re sitting in traffic, it moves, you move, it stops, you, err, don’t! In fact I know first hand exactly what Volvo is talking about, after finding myself rear ended while sitting in traffic on the A40. There I was, completely stationary, when BANG, a Mercedes CLK drove into the back of me, and then BANG, as he did it a second time. And what was the excuse from the other driver? “I was looking out of the window and didn’t realise that you’d stopped” – he hit me the second time because he panicked after hitting me the first time!
City Safety will ensure that issues like my unfortunate incident above never happen. Put simply, City Safety takes human error out of the equation and ensures that no matter how distracted the driver may be, he/she won’t trundle mindlessly into the car in front. Basically, if the driver “forgets” to brake when travelling at low speed towards a stationary object, the XC60 will brake by itself, thus avoiding an accident.
”’(centre)The laser sensor mounted in the windscreen measures distance in front of the car.(/centre)”’
The key to City Safety is a laser sensor that’s mounted at the top of the windscreen, behind the rear view mirror. The sensor scans approximately six metres in front of the vehicle, looking out for stationary traffic or obstructions. The laser sensor feeds back information to the City Safety system, which then calculates exactly how much brake force is needed to bring the XC60 to a safe stop, without causing an accident.
Obviously Volvo is well aware of the potential for whiplash in situations where the driver and passengers are not expecting to be brought to a halt, so City Safety will only exert up to 50 per cent of maximum brake force. Of course this could mean that impact still occurs – depending on how close the other car is, and how fast the XC60 is travelling – but even if there is contact, damage will be significantly reduced due to the automatic braking.
I had the opportunity to try City Safety out for myself, and I have to say that I was very impressed. Jumping into an XC60 I drove it directly towards a stationary (albeit inflatable) vehicle at a speed of around 10mph, which is about what you’d be doing in slow moving traffic. As soon as I got close to the stationary car, the XC60 employed its brakes and brought us to a halt. Even when I upped the speed close to the 19mph limit of the system, the car still managed to call time before I hit anything.
The strange thing about testing a system like this is how unnatural it feels to drive towards an impending accident, consciously ensuring that I took no measures to avoid it. This wasn’t lost on the my passenger from Volvo who advised me to look out of the side window, so I didn’t notice the accident that was about to happen. How ironic, considering that’s the exact excuse I was given by the guy who drove into the back of me!
The other area where City Safety will be a serious boon, is when you’re queuing up at a roundabout. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been waiting behind someone at a roundabout and watching the flow of traffic – when a large gap in the traffic appears, I often assume that the car in front has moved off onto the roundabout, only to realise that they’re still stationary. Luckily I’ve never driven into anyone at a roundabout, but I know plenty who have, and quite simply, those accidents wouldn’t have happened with a system like this in place.
Those clever laser sensors aren’t only used for City Safety either. Another system that’s new on the XC60 is Pre-Prepared Restraints, which will get both the seatbelts and airbags ready for an impending impact, if the laser sensor detects one. So, seatbelts will tension and hold the passengers tighter against the seatbacks, thus ensuring that there is less chance of whiplash, while the specific airbags for the point of impact will be made ready before that impact occurs, again reducing the possibility of injury to the passengers.
Volvo has packed the XC60 full of other safety features too. The Blind Spot Information System is a neat little gadget that warns the driver of cars that may be hiding in the XC60’s blind spot. BLIS uses tiny cameras mounted beneath the wing mirrors, which monitor traffic that’s coming alongside the car. Whenever there’s a car adjacent to the XC60 a small red LED will illuminate on either the right or left side of the cabin, to indicate that it’s not safe to change lanes. Of course any good driver should be checking thoroughly before changing lanes, but it doesn’t hurt to have a clear warning without having to look over your shoulder, or angle your view of the wing mirror.
The Driver Alert Control analyses footage from front mounted cameras to ascertain the level of control that the driver has over the car. DAC will look at the road ahead and compare how well or erratically the XC60 is following the line. If DAC deems the driver’s control to be less than confidence inspiring, it will give both visual and audible warnings, and encourage the driver to take a break, and perhaps ingest some caffeine (not that I ever need to be told about the latter).
Then there’s the Lane Departure Warning, which rewards you with an annoying beep whenever you cross the white lines in the road. Again this is meant to determine whether or not you’re in full control of the vehicle and therefore the warning will not sound if you indicate before changing lane. Of course if you fancy a spirited drive across some winding roads, you may want to switch LDW off, since it can get frustrating having it beep at you every time you make use of the whole road – when it’s safe to do so of course.
Talking of a spirited drive, the XC60 will even try to work out just how high your level of concentration needs to be while driving. The Intelligent Driver Information System will monitor the inputs from the driver – be that throttle control, steering, brake application etc. – and determine the level of “distraction” that the driver can deal with. Hence, if you happen to be negotiating a particularly tricky set of switchbacks through a gorge in France and an incoming mobile phone call is detected, the IDIS will not put that call through, having determined that you could not safely deal with the call and the demands of the road. Is that a bit “nanny state”? Perhaps, but having seen how peoples’ driving concentration drops as soon as they start talking on the phone, I’d say that it’s not a bad thing.
Volvo has also thrown Adaptive Cruise Control into the XC60, which means that you can determine how great a gap is maintained between you and the car in front. This time using radar sensors as opposed to lasers, the XC60 is able to judge how close the vehicle in front is, and adapt your speed to maintain the desired distance.
As with normal cruise control, you can input the speed that you wish to travel, but you can also determine the interval between you and the car in front. In essence the system will keep you at your selected speed, but if you get too close to the car in front, it will adapt your speed to maintain the desired interval.
Even if you don’t want to use cruise control, the XC60 can still keep you safe on the motorway with Distance Alert. Again, Distance Alert uses the same radar sensors as ACC, and flashes up a red warning on the windscreen when you get too close to the vehicle in front. If you do get too close the Collision Warning buzzer sounds – something I experienced during the test drive, when the car in front of me decided he needed to turn left at the last minute and slammed his brakes on! And if the Collision Warning buzzer doesn’t get your foot off the throttle and onto the brakes, the Auto Brake system will attempt to slow the XC60 down and avoid the collision. Again, whether the collision is completely avoided will depend on your speed, but at the very least you will reduce the damage from impact.
So, the new Volvo XC60 is packed to the gills with cool technology to make every journey as safe as possible, but is it any good? Well, having spent the best part of 180 miles behind the wheel of an XC60 up in the hills of Scotland, I’d have to say yes.
This is the type of car that you’re likely to throw the family into and head off for the weekend, and for that, it performs very well indeed. After hours in the driver’s seat, I stepped out of the XC60 feeling fresh, rather than tired and battered – as someone who generally buys cars with rock hard sports suspension, that was quite a novelty for me.
The cockpit is well designed and thought out, with a lot of functionality squeezed onto the centre console and steering wheel. The in-built satellite navigation is a fine example, and didn’t put a foot wrong during my time north of the border. If I have one criticism of the sat-nav, it’s that I couldn’t find the “Enter” button that needs to be pressed before the system activates. There are enter buttons on both the steering wheel and the centre console, but these relate to the hands free mobile phone interface, not the sat-nav. Eventually I found the correct Enter button hiding behind the steering wheel – hardly obvious, but nothing that a good salesman wouldn’t cover during the handover process.
It was also good to see a completely different display for the stereo and that sat-nav. In my car the same screen is shared by the sat-nav and the stereo, which means flicking between the two when you need to make adjustments. The volume of the stereo also drops whenever a warning beep sounds, to make absolutely sure that you don’t miss it.
I drove both the 2.4D and the T6 petrol variants, and although the latter suited my particular style of driving far better, the former was in no way disappointing, and I can fully appreciate why Volvo is forecasting that the vast majority of sales will be in diesel form. Another interesting point is that the XC60 actually offers more ground clearance than its big brother, the XC90 – although since Volvo was honest enough to admit that only four per cent of SUV owners ever venture off road, the extra clearance will be of limited use to most.
On the whole I can see the XC60 doing very well for Volvo. It’s a million miles away from the square and boxy cars of old, but has even more safety technology in it than ever. In fact, I was told that Volvo’s mission going forward is to introduce a completely new safety technology for its cars each and every year. Build quality is also up there with the German competition, while design is different (or Swedish) enough to make it stand out from the crowd. The City Safety tech is just the icing on the cake, and something that I’d like to see on every car.
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