2015 Volvo XC60 T6 Drive-EPosted on June 9th, 2014
Safety, performance and humanism
By Nina Russin
For years the Volvo brand has been synonymous with safety but not necessarily performance. Despite its transition to sexier, more compelling exterior styling and more powerful engines, Volvo has tended to take a back seat to German brands among fans of European performance.
There is certainly a difference in core philosophy between the two cultures. In Germany, the machine reigns supreme. In Sweden, the approach is humanistic. It’s almost like comparing a jet fighter to a marathon runner. No matter how elite the runner, the jet fighter is always going to be faster.
But there are times when it’s best to bet on the human element. Passenger cars don’t live on racetracks. They reside in cities, with noise, pollution and maddening traffic. They share the roads with distracted drivers and others who are just flat out rude.
And in the United States, people live in their cars, just as they live in houses. They spend hours commuting, and during those hours, a car is also an office and a sanctuary. It needs to be ergonomic, attractive and safe. Volvo, with its humanistic approach to design and engineering does this better than anyone else in the business.
Engines that breathe better
Performance is no longer simply a matter of speed; it also requires efficiency and economy. Volvo has spent the past three years developing a family of four-cylinder engines that are surprisingly powerful and fuel-efficient.
Turbochargers and superchargers are nothing new, but combining them into a single housing to make small engines more efficient is a novel, though not completely original idea. Lancia utilized similar technology, but Volvo is doing so on a much larger scale.
Both superchargers and turbochargers add power by forcing air through the engine with blowers. Superchargers are driven off the engine while turbos run off the exhaust. Superchargers have more instantaneous response but are larger and more difficult to package. Turbochargers are smaller but take time to spool up: hence the term, turbo lag.
By coupling the two mechanisms together, engineers get the best of both worlds: small, easy to package blowers with instantaneous throttle response and hard, linear acceleration. The supercharger decouples when the turbocharger kicks in to maximize fuel economy.
The result is a four-cylinder engine that develops 302 horsepower and 295 foot-pounds of torque. On the XC60 five-passenger crossover, Volvo engineers mated the engine to an eight speed automatic transmission whose large overdrive gears further boost gas mileage. The XC60 averages 30 mpg on the highway: pretty good for a two-ton high profile vehicle.
Test drive in Phoenix
This week’s test drive was my second time behind the wheel of the newest XC60, the first having been a media program in Las Vegas in February. With the heat of the summer in full force, it was a good opportunity to test Volvo’s mettle.
The XC60 met the challenge with aplomb. In temperatures reaching about 110 degrees, the XC60 had no problems climbing up the Beeline Highway between Phoenix and Payson while keeping the interior quiet and cool.
The electric power steering system is one of the best tuned I’ve experienced, with very good on-center response. There is plenty of assist on the low end for maneuverability.
I drove the car in both fully automatic and manual modes. Drivers can select gears using either the shift lever or formula-style paddles on the steering wheel. Either way, it adds some extra fun factor on winding rural roads.
The engine is a beautiful piece of machinery, worth every bit of the investment Volvo made in its development. In terms of power and performance, it could easily be mistaken for a V-6.
The four-wheel independent suspension is firm and responsive. The rear suspension is mounted to an aluminum subframe to make second-row passengers more comfortable.
Visibility around the perimeter is good. The test car is equipped with a full complement of safety features including a rearview camera and blind spot monitoring, giving drivers much better visibility while moving in reverse and eliminating blind spots created by the pillars.
The City Safety system uses visual cues to warn the driver when he is getting close to the car in front. If the system senses that a collision is imminent is automatically applies the brakes, stopping the car at slower speeds and slowing it down significantly at higher ones.
Lane departure warning uses an audible signal to warn the driver if he is drifting out of the lane. While I appreciate the value of this technology it can be a bit annoying. When I drive on winding roads I like to apex racetrack style, which involves going to the edges of the lanes. It is irritating to continually hear audible signals each time I apex in a turn. By the end of the drive, it had an irritating Big Brother feel.
The XC60’s spacious interior seats up to five adult passengers, and adds plenty of cargo space for their gear. Keyless entry and start spares the driver for fumbling for the key fob. Designers created a slot for the key fob next to the ignition button to prevent valet parking services from pocketing the fob and neglecting to return it to the car owner.
The floating center stack creates a handy storage space for a purse or small pack within easy reach for the driver.
Seats have plenty of lower lumbar support, but I found the side bolsters rather uncomfortable. As a rather small person, I tend to fall into a crevasse between the two bolsters. I feel as if I’m sitting inside a soup bowl, with the side bolsters digging into the pressure points on my hips.
The panoramic sunroof adds some weight to the car, but it allows plenty of ambient light to float into the interior: something both rows of occupants will appreciate.
The Volvo XC60 comes with front, side and side curtain airbags, whiplash resistant front seats, antilock brakes, traction control, stability control, City Safety, autobrake with pedestrian and cyclist detection, daytime running lamps and tire pressure monitoring.
The XC60 received a five-star safety rating from the National Traffic Safety Administration.
Volvo builds the XC60 in its Ghent, Belgium assembly plant.
Like: A beautiful car with an excellent powertrain and segment leading safety.
Dislike: Side bolsters on front seats are uncomfortable for smaller occupants.
Model: XC60 T6 Drive-E
Base price: $40,050
As tested: $50,725
Horsepower: 302 Hp @ 5700 rpm
Torque: 295 lbs.-ft. @ 2100 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 22/30 mpg city/highway2015, Luxury 2015, Active Lifestyle Vehicles, auto review, performance, pricing, standard safety, Volvo
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