Volvo’s popular favorite gets muscular renewal

Consumers and industry observers aren’t the only ones who have been impatiently waiting for the all-new 2018 Volvo XC60 sport-utility vehicle. Volvo has been waiting equally impatiently to renew the vehicle that is one of its mainstays. But now it is here, and we were among the first journalists to drive it at an event centered in Barcelona, Spain.

Nine years is a long time in anyone’s life, but nine years is an eternity in the auto business, which is rife with innovation virtually every minute of the day. The fact that the outgoing Volvo XC60 not only survived but flourished in the cauldron of the marketplace for nine years is a testimony to how right it was in the first place, and now, at long last, it has been totally made over. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given its nearly decade-long success, the re-make bears a strong resemblance to the current Volvo XC60. But this newest iteration, on sale late in the summer, is a trimmer, fitter, more muscular version of the vehicle thousands of Americans have fallen in love with. In large part it keeps all that was good, adds some new luxurious fillips, and ditches the few things that weren’t quite up to today’s norms in the hot-selling small-luxury-SUV segment.

XC60 is critical to Volvo

The new XC60 is of immense importance to Volvo, because it is the straight-up replacement for what is arguably the Chinese-Swedish automaker’s most important model. Not only does the XC60 represent some 30 percent of Volvo’s total sales, it also vaulted to the top of Europe's premium mid-SUV segment, essentially keeping Volvo relevant on a global basis as the company transitioned from Swedish ownership to becoming a key brand in Chinese vehicle manufacturer Zhejiang Geely Holding’s stable. The new XC60 demonstrates quite convincingly that instead of sucking the Swedish sensibility out of the Volvo brand, Geely ownership has, if anything, enhanced it. In style, the XC60 delivers a Scandinavian aesthetic, while its engineering offers straightforward Swedish execution.

Also: Get your first look at the new and redesigned cars of 2018

Advancing Volvo’s safety leadership

After spending a day driving the vehicle as we did, it becomes immediately obvious that Volvo’s vaunted reputation for leadership in safety technology remains paramount under the still-new ownership. With its vast array of safety equipment one could make the assertion that the new XC60 will be the safest vehicle offered for sale in the world. The Volvo brand vision is that in the near-future, no one will die in a Volvo vehicle, and the new XC60 is the most recent and best example of how the company intends to get there.

Just a few years ago Volvo made history with the introduction of its City Safety system that initiated automatic braking to avoid or mitigate low- to medium-speed crashes of the kind that happen frequently in urban environments. On the XC60 this technology is enhanced by the addition of “Steer Assist” which enables the vehicle to steer itself away from an imminent collision in addition to automatic braking.

Similarly, Volvo’s Blind Spot Indication System (BLIS) is enhanced with Steer Assist functionality that will automatically guide the vehicle back into the open lane to prevent errant lane changing that could result in a collision. Contrary to the old phrase, in this case BLIS is anything but ignorant, since it can prevent you from maneuvering into a lane that is currently occupied by a vehicle in your human blind spot.

Preventing head-on collisions

Another of the XC60’s array of safety technologies is designed to avoid often-deadly head-on collisions. If the car drifts over lane markings potentially heading into oncoming traffic and the driver takes no immediate action to correct the situation, the system automatically steers the car back into the correct lane. Active at speeds between 37 and 87 miles per hour, the system signals the driver via an audible warning as the vehicle begins its maneuver back into its safer path, and a message appears in the instrument panel display after the automatic steering intervention has been completed. Hopefully nudged into action by the unnatural feeling of the car steering on its own, the driver can override the automatic steering at any time by overtly taking control.

In addition to these systems, the XC60’s advanced adaptive cruise control, which now also features automatic steering, is both a safety enhancement and a significant convenience in stop-and-go traffic. Called Pilot Assist, Volvo’s semi-autonomous driver assistance system takes care of steering, acceleration and braking on well-marked roads and is available in the new XC60 as an option. All of these driver-assist systems are stepping stones to Volvo’s goal of introducing a “Level 4” fully autonomous vehicle by 2020, but currently they are state-of-the-art “Level 2” driver assists that require the driver to be paying close attention to the driving process and to have her or his hands on the steering wheel at all times.

Sharing the riches of the XC90

While all the safety aids are headline-grabbing, there is much more to the XC60 than electronic safety and driver-assist systems. In fact, those are the whipped cream on a sundae that starts with Volvo’s “Scalable Product Architecture” (SPA), the basis of its large 60- and 90-series vehicles. Sharing a great deal with the popular XC90 is to the XC60’s distinct advantage, and Volvo has taken this effort to its logical conclusion by enabling the 60 and 90 “cluster” vehicles to share not only basic chassis components but also powertrains, including the T8 “Twin Engine” hybrid system. Clearly, one of the reasons the XC60 was so long in gestation was the rationalization of the Volvo’s chassis, suspension and powertrain plans, and now that the vehicle is here it is obvious that those plans enable Volvo to compete against much-larger global automakers.

Our extended test drive came in an up-level Inscription series XC60 equipped with the T6 AWD (BorgWarner Generation 5 all-wheel drive) powertrain that features both supercharging and turbocharging to provide a torque curve as flat as the Kansas plains and as fat as a Kansas City rib plate. With both air compressors spinning their magic, the engine delivers 316 peak horsepower but more important is the 295 lb-ft of torque that is available between 2,200 and 5,400 rpm. What this means when you are behind the wheel is that torque is available instantly by applying your right foot to the accelerator pedal, no matter the engine speed.

In addition to the T6, American car buyers will also have the choice of the 250 hp available from the T5 and the colossally promising 400 hp (combined output of the internal-combustion engine and electric motor) from the T8. XC60 pricing will range from a low-$40,000 for the base T5 up to the around $57,000 for the T8 model. In all, it is an embarrassment of riches with the T8 hybrid offering a shimmering price/value, making us eager for a test drive.

Update: Get driving impressions of the Volvo XC60 T8!

Sophisticated suspension tech

The impressive powertrains are matched by suspension design that provides both comfort and a significant amount of control. At the front, a new double-wishbone suspension is designed to limit both understeer and torque steer for a neutral feel in virtually all conditions. The front suspension is matched to an equally sophisticated rear-wheel integral-link design that enabled suspension engineers to tune comfort and handling characteristics individually. Our test vehicle was equipped with the optional air suspension, but those that aren’t utilize a transverse leaf spring similar to the arrangement in vintage Chevrolet Corvettes. The air suspension replaces the springs and enables automatic leveling, lowers the ride height at 75 mph, and even drops the body to ease getting in and out. What we discovered on the road is that the XC60 offers an impressive combination of ride and handling.

In the spirit of the times the performance of infotainment systems commands significant interest. We were already impressed with Volvo’s Sensus system in the XC90 and were pleased to find it revised and enhanced in the XC60. Among other changes, it and the accompanying Volvo On Call app received a graphical update (bigger icons) to improve usability. Smartphone integration with CarPlay and Android Auto is also available, but unlike many integrations the normal touch-screen functions don’t vanish when CarPlay or Android Auto appear. If you’d like your XC60’s interior to ring with the majesty of the Gothenburg concert hall, opt for the 1,100-watt, 15-speaker Bowers & Wilkins sound system.

Also: See the 12 Kelley Blue Book Best Buys of 2017

Interior echoes XC90

That is just one of many examples of how the interior of the XC60 captures the same upscale feel as its bigger brother, the XC90. A key design touch is the “ribbon of woodgrain” that flows along the dash, a design that Volvo production engineers spent a long time trying to execute. Instrumentation is clear and features a sizable driver information center between speedometer and tachometer. Seats are topnotch in the Volvo fashion with superior adjustment, and the rear seat area is comfortable for three adults. Behind the rear bench is a voluminous cargo area.

While families flock to the larger 3-row XC90, Volvo execs noted that pre-family and empty-nest couples are the prime buyers of the current XC60, and they expect this to remain the case with the new version. It seems a reasonable expectation since the XC60 captures much of the luxury of the larger SUV in a leaner, more nimble package. The new XC60 is a very important vehicle for Volvo, and in our opinion Volvo engineers, designers and manufacturing personnel have created a vehicle well worth the long wait.


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