Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor
At the time of this writing, ads for Volvo's all-new 2010 XC60 are in heavy rotation. "It's the car that stops itself!" Volvo says. They're not kidding — thanks to its new City Safety system, that's precisely what the XC60 will do if it senses an imminent low-speed collision. No advertising liberties taken here. Now if we could get a car that also stops litter-box odors, eliminates shower soap scum and gets the IRS off our backs for those taxes we swear we paid in 2006, we'd really have something revolutionary.
Alas, the 2010 Volvo XC60 is just a five-passenger small luxury crossover SUV. Like cute little bunnies, these vehicles are multiplying, starting with the Acura RDX and BMW X3 a few years ago and now expanding with a new 2010 litter, including the XC60, the Audi Q5 and the Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class. It's Animal Planet right in your driveway. This Volvo might seem like a "me-too!" vehicle, but after spending some quality time with the XC60, we came away impressed. It seems those snowbound Swedes might know a thing about building small SUVs after all. What took them so long?
For testing, we got our hands on an all-wheel-drive 2010 Volvo XC60 T6 — it's the only trim configuration initially available. The T6 comes respectably equipped right out of the box, but its $38,025 base price (with destination) is not insignificant, especially when you consider that the GLK-Class starts at $34,775. Comparably equipped, though, vehicles like the GLK and Audi Q5 are priced similarly to the XC60. Downsides? The XC60's ride quality is disappointing, and its fuel economy is near the back of the pack. But it's still a smart-looking and sharp-handling premium crossover that can stop itself, and these virtues should help the XC60 stand out in an ever-expanding segment.
Packed under the XC60 T6's hood is a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 engine that huffs up a substantial 281 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. Impressively, that torque peak starts at a low 1,500 rpm and lasts until 4,800 rpm. Mash the throttle from a stop and the XC60 responds with quick and linear acceleration. Power is sent to all four wheels through a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission.
With the XC60's formidable 4,247-pound as-tested curb weight, though, that turbo-6 has its work cut out for it. We clocked our test vehicle from zero to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds and past the quarter-mile in 15.2 seconds at 93.8 mph. These numbers are about midpack for a small luxury crossover. The Volvo's pudginess also tugs down fuel economy — EPA estimates are 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway, which is worse than most rivals can manage. In our time with the XC60, we observed 15.6 mpg in mixed driving.
When driven aggressively around corners, the 2010 Volvo XC60's surprisingly taut handling capabilities come into play. Body roll is kept in check, and there's a respectable amount of grip from the 235/60R18 tires. The XC60 aced our slalom course, speeding through at 65.1 mph, notably faster than either the Q5 or the GLK could manage in recent testing. It also registered a respectable 0.77g on our skid pad. The braking distance from 60 mph to zero was a similarly competent 123 feet. Overall, we were impressed with the XC60's dynamics.
If there's a complaint, it's that the XC60 capabilities don't come with an equal level of driver involvement. Due to a bland engine note and a lack of feedback from the steering, the XC60 just isn't as fun to drive as BMW's X3 or Infiniti's EX35. That said, we expect most owners will be satisfied with the XC60's overall performance. As for off-road capabilities, the XC60 can tackle light-duty trails — its 9.1 inches of ground clearance help here — but don't expect to do any serious bushwhacking.
On smooth highways, you'll be able to converse with your passengers (or yourself, if that's your thing) with ease, as the Volvo effectively keeps out most wind and road noise. On imperfect surfaces, the conversation will continue, but you might find yourself fielding questions about why the XC60's ride seems overly firm. In our testing, we noticed that the vehicle's sporty suspension tuning comes at the expense of ride quality, which many of our drivers deemed rough. Competitors like the Q5 and GLK feel more supple and sophisticated over rough pavement.
There will be little to complain about when it comes to seat comfort. Though the eight-way power front seats aren't as comfortable as those in some other Volvo vehicles, they still provide sufficient support and cushioning for long drives. Rear passengers will enjoy the 2010 Volvo XC60's ample headroom and decent legroom. Even two tall adults should be comfortable in back for medium-length drives thanks to the elevated and nicely angled seat cushion. Adding a third rear passenger will tighten up things considerably, though that's typically the case for smaller SUVs like this.
The XC60's "floating" center stack panel features Volvo's unique human-shaped airflow pictogram, which works extraordinarily well — just press the part or parts of the body that need air and adjust the rotary fan-speed knob as desired. The audio controls are generally fine, but a few buttons are hard to distinguish from the adjacent Bluetooth keypad, and the monochromatic dash-top display screen takes some getting used to. Our test car also had the optional navigation system, which comes bundled in the $2,700 Technology package. Unfortunately, the Swedes' idea of good navigation technology seems to have gotten lost in translation. The system lacks touchscreen functionality and doesn't even have any buttons on the center stack — it can only be operated through either a hidden controller mounted on the back of the steering wheel (for the driver) or a hand-held remote (for passengers). It's just not very user-friendly. We like the idea of not having to fiddle with too many buttons, but Volvo's execution of this concept leaves much to be desired.
You might end up using a map, which you could store in one of the XC60's average-sized storage bins. There are also two decent-size front cupholders that reside beneath a sliding cover, as well as a bottle holder in each front and rear door pocket. Taking on larger items can be easily accomplished by folding down the 40/20/40-split rear seat, which provides a bit more cargo-hauling flexibility than the typical 60/40-split setup. With the rear seatback completely folded, there are 67 cubic feet of cargo space available, which is one of the biggest capacities in the segment.
Of course, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention the 2010 Volvo XC60's standard City Safety feature, which monitors the traffic ahead via laser technology and automatically applies the brakes if a collision is imminent. Volvo claims that City Safety can entirely avoid accidents at speeds under 9 mph and substantially lessen damage at speeds between 10 and 18 mph. To test it, we put some large barrier cones in harm's way and drove our XC60 at them at about 17 mph without touching the brake pedal. The XC60 performed better than advertised, activating its brakes and coming to a complete stop within a couple feet of the cones. Note, however, that Volvo says City Safety is only meant to detect vehicles, not pedestrians.
Design/Fit and Finish
To our eyes, this is the best-looking four-door Volvo in quite a while. The brand's distinctive design elements, including the trapezoidal grille and broad-shouldered sides, are still there, but the overall look is more modern and sleek thanks to the upswept beltline, projector-style headlamps and curving taillights.
The 2010 Volvo XC60's interior is also attractive, with a sleek dashboard design and Volvo's trademark suspended center-stack panel. It's unfortunate that our test vehicle wasn't fitted with the optional wood paneling for the center stack or the no-cost two-tone seats — combined, they make the XC60's interior look warmer and more distinctive than those of other small luxury crossovers. Materials quality is also respectable: Some of the plastics and padding used on the doors are a little disappointing, but overall the cabin looks and feels appropriately upscale. Our test vehicle was solidly built, with no significant build quality issues.
Who should consider this vehicle
Small-luxury-crossover SUV shoppers smitten with the XC60's innovative City Safety system, distinctive styling and unusually sharp handling.
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