PUBLISHED: 17:14 15 January 2009 | UPDATED: 15:44 20 February 2013
Adrian Foster gets emotional in the new Volvo XC60...
You're crawling past Junction 20 on the M25 in nose-to-tail traffic. You take your eyes off the road to fiddle with the radio then - whap! - you've rear-ended the car in front. Now you've missed your appointment, lost your no claims bonus and your car's going to spend the next two weeks in a workshop.
Volvo's new XC60, described as a 'crossover SUV' (Sports Utility Vehicle), has come up with something rather clever. Claimed to be the safest Volvo ever, the company's new City Safety system is standard on the XC60 for those annoying low-speed rear-end shunts and is active at speeds of up to 19mph. Here's how it works: if the car in front brakes and the system thinks a collision is likely but the driver doesn't react, the car applies the brakes automatically. Volvo claims that if the speed differential between the two vehicles is less than 9mph then City Safety should prevent contact, and if the closing speed is between 9 and 19mph the aim is to reduce speed as much as possible prior to impact.
Boxy Volvos are now a thing of the past and from the outside the new XC60 is quite a handsome beast. The way the light plays over its sculpted flanks is reminiscent of a BMW X5, while the front end recalls Nissan's Qashqai. Volvo is using the XC60 to introduce the brand's new emotional design language, with a prominent face, larger badges and muscular-looking body giving it real on-road presence. At the rear is a new integrated rear brake light in the car's spoiler and a sculpted bumper continues the car's sporty styling.
Despite the sleek looks and lower roofline, rear head and leg room are more than adequate and interior fixtures and fittings are a step up from other XC models. Two-tone soft-touch materials are pleasing along with an enhanced, user-friendlier dashboard design and Volvo's most recent electronic infotainment systems. The characteristic slim centre stack in front of the gearlever is a fresh design, angled slightly towards the driver with a new integrated monitor screen layout. Specify the blond teak finish for the centre console and the right colour for the seats and you have a unique Scandinavian experience that only Volvo seems able to pull off in a car.
As soon as you start using the words 'sporty' in combination with 'off-road' you run into contradictions. Decent off-road performance demands long suspension travel and soft springs, but to make a tall car like the XC60 drive in an athletic manner requires taut springing to control body roll in the corners or lots of clever and expensive electronics and hydraulics, like the Range Rover. More realistically, Volvo had to choose which way to go and wisely opted for good body control on the Tarmac as the objective. So the XC60 is good to drive on fast open roads with sweeping bends and there's not much roll plus the steering, though lacking road feel, feels accurate and well weighted.
Price from £24,695 OTR