Volvo stole the headlines at the Geneva motor show by unveiling its impressive new XC60 which begins reaching customers in late August.
Sixty two millimetres longer, 14mm lower and 12mm wider than the outgoing model, it boasts a more spacious cabin among other improvements and costs from £37,205 compared to £32,935 for the current model. Volvo will initially offer two diesels (190hp and 235hp) and a T5 petrol (254hp), joined by a petrol plug-in hybrid (254hp) by the end of the year. All will be four-cylinders.
Talk of the show, however, was its amazing safety kit, including a new standard system that can help steer away from a potential collisions in city traffic, a potential life-saver in London. Rear “cross-traffic alert” and a semi-autonomous drive mode, “Pilot Assist”, also feature, placing it at the forefront of car safety and paving the way towards the autonomous car.
It is what you would expect of the XC60 which, when launched nine years ago, was hailed as “Volvo’s safest car ever”, becoming the poster boy for safer driving, endearing it to a million customers worldwide and racking up 30 per cent of its global sales.
But what developments led to the old model’s enviable reputation for safety, saving countless lives along the way? I’ve been driving one of the last XC60s off the production line — a smart D5 AWD R Design — to find out.
At the XC60’s launch in March 2008, Volvo stressed its “very high level of safety activity” that won it Euro NCAP’s five-star rating thanks to class-leading body and passenger-cell design backed by a host of features, not least DSTC, the traction and stability control system, fitted as standard.
The full armoury of pioneering safety aids offered, even then, are too numerous to list in full but included Driver Alert Control to warn inattentive drivers by monitoring progress between lane markings and Adaptive Cruise Control, using radar to maintain a set distance from the car ahead.
Other aids included Distance Alert to help the driver maintain the set gap behind the vehicle in front even when active cruise control isn’t on. The Blind Spot Information System helped detect “invisible” vehicles, while its Intelligent Driver Information System stopped drivers being distracted in pressing situations, by delaying incoming phone calls or text messages.
Other cutting-edge kit still fitted to the XC60 today, but appearing revolutionary then, included Active Bi-Xenon Lights that follow the curve of the road when cornering, Tyre Pressure Monitoring System and Park Assist Camera.
Potentially life-saving aids included Lane Departure Warning, Roll Stability Control to reduce power and apply braking power to one or more wheels to prevent a rollover, and Collision Warning which, if the driver approaches another vehicle from the rear without reacting, triggers a buzzer and throws a warning light on to the windscreen. It’s part of “Collision Warning with Auto Brake”, that initially warns with signals then engages the brake pads to reduce the braking system’s response time, before braking automatically if a collision is imminent. It had Emergency Brake Lamps: if the driver braked hard, the brake lights flashed briefly before turning fully on. When the car stops, the hazard warning lights automatically alert traffic.
Crucially for London, the XC60 pioneered City Safety to avoid low speed frontal collisions by automatically braking if the driver doesn’t do so in time. The first XC60 sported an energy-absorbing front to minimise injuries to vulnerable road users. It even had new Pre-Prepared Restraints, using a laser to interact with other on-board technology to control airbags and seatbelt load limiters to suit the severity of the collision, while Volvo’s famous Side Impact Protection System (SIPS) was also in place. Standard “old” XC60 kit includes twin front/side airbags, cabin-length window airbags and anti-whiplash front head restraints.
So what, today, is the outgoing XC60 like to drive? Rather good. It offers that sought-after family car combo; easy to see out of in traffic, compact to park, seats five easily. On the open road, it’s comfortable, has good stowage space and is refined. Order the £1,900 Driver Support Pack and you get cyclist and pedestrian detection and Queue Assist. Road Sign Information is a big safety plus (no excuse for not knowing the speed limit), along with Adaptive Cruise Control, Distance Alert, Lane Departure Warning, Driver Alert, Active High Beam and Blind Spot Information with Cross Traffic Alert.
Downsides? The R Design’s rear suspension is overly firm for London’s speed ramps, the 2.4-litre diesel performs well, but sounds a little gruff and the handbrake control is fiddly. But this is a car you can drive all day in comfort, thanks to its superb, but hard-wearing, cabin and a near-perfect driving position. The new one has a very hard act to follow indeed...
Volvo XC60, D5 AWD Auto R-Design Lux Nav
Top speed: 130mph
Combined mpg: 49.6