Following a procession of Volvo XC60 models out of Barcelona’s touristy nucleus I’m struck by an alarming realisation that sharply contrasts the popular touch-poke method for evaluating a new vehicle. With my steely gaze fixed on the car ahead I’m looking out for any unusual displays that might imply whether the car has the full suite of autonomous modes switched on. This is the development race Volvo has been campaigning so I feel obliged to spend the first few minutes amusingly disengaged from the experience, I assume, like the driver in front.
Volvo terms this near impassive state as ‘driver in the loop.’ A semi-conscious accountability from the driver to intervene should a sudden unexpected situation arise, or bring their hands back to the wheel every 10 seconds or so to re-engage the system. But then an accident by its very definition is unpredictable so there’s very little way of quantifying ‘driver in the loop’, beyond experience with the system.
Back to the car ahead. Volvo’s Pilot Assist which we first sampled in the XC90 as one of that car’s surfeit of standard features, has been given an evolutionary upgrade for the Volvo XC60 – although this time it comes as an option. Chief among them is the car’s increased awareness of its lane markings, keeping its wheels between the lanes with newfound agility coming courtesy of finer movements commanded by the steering. The swiftness of evolution is one of software’s indelible charms so the XC60’s lane keeping function has come leaps and bounds within a short time frame.
It’s this tuning-on-the-fly to those autonomous systems that injects belief into Volvo’s claim that no person will be seriously injured or killed in one of their cars by 2020. Ostensibly XC60 with Oncoming Lane Mitigation will steer itself back into its lane or assist the driver’s steering input to avoid an accident up ahead – previous Volvo XC60 was the first car to offer autonomous braking as standard so this is a safer variation thereof. Blind Spot Monitoring can help the driver avoid moving into an unsighted car’s path – a logical active assist to the previous warning light.
But the underlying fact to all of these is that the decision needs to come from the driver before the deployment of these systems can act to maximise the effectiveness.
Trust with the plethora of guidance systems builds quickly. Even on foreign roads I relax like I could be driving around my own suburb. We’re humming along in the T5 petrol model which perhaps doesn’t quite have the limber mid-range surge of the D5 diesel. Slightly on the gruff side too. But I can’t fault Volvo’s packaging of its new products; effectively the catchment point fed by two development streams, notably the Drive-E engines and the SPA platform. Essentially the two allow Volvo to lower any bodystyle they wish onto it – as evidenced already by XC90, S90 and V90. This is the first model outside that family circle to reap the same R&D, severing those last lingering strings of its time with Ford.
Fundamentally however, the marriage imbues the proportionately practical Volvo XC60 with a supple harmony that discreetly compliments the experience. The XC60 has sportier bones too than any Volvo following the XC90. Within the brand’s framework the engineers reconfigured the steering feel and fettled with the air suspension for a comfortable floppiness to the ride. With wheel sizes up to 22-inch, that’s some accomplishment, although sans the optional air setup and sensible rubber, we wouldn’t undermine the conventional suspension layout’s ride quality as an altogether cheaper version.
With computers guiding the helm, the oasis that is XC60’s cabin exudes the type of ornate architecture that would belong in a high-end boutique furniture store. Driftwood is a rough, flawed material usually discarded for serving no purpose but Volvo has plied it into sections of the dash with ingenious methods usually reserved for a handcrafted trade. And then there are the switches of quiet sturdy quality or finished with tactile surfaces that upgrade even menial functions into special moments.
Centre to it all is the touchscreen mounted portrait within the natural contours of the dashboard. Ultra-responsive with crisp menus in even the harshest light, the refined layout carries the responsibility of placing everyday functions into vertical and horizontal swipes or flicks of the forefinger. At first it can be distressing for those used to the permanent presence of climate buttons but the experience can be truly rewarding as you spend time with it, although Android Auto’s compatibility is somewhat less sublime than Apple’s.
That austereness is clinically precise in its presentation. Sure it doesn’t immediately thrill you with stories of twisty roads but the controlled and connected feeling reflects with calmness, defeating the strain of today’s chortled, highly-strung road networks. And rear legroom permitted from slightly larger proportions is excellent thanks to slimmer front seats that should be regarded as the segment’s benchmark.
The outgoing Volvo XC60 proved to be impervious to age, miraculously outselling itself every year despite being dragged into a fight with leaner rivals armed with latest generation gadgetry. Although this XC60 possesses all those traits in abundance, a 2018 launch in South Africa means it’ll need to summon the same eternal support.
- 1969cc 4-cyl turbodiesel, AWD, 173kW, 479Nm
- 5.5l/100km, 144g/km CO2
- 0–100km/h in 7.2secs, 220km/h