- The Washington Times - Friday, August 21, 2009

Volvo’s latest model is an early arrival for the automotive class of 2010. The all-new XC60 slots in between the XC70 and XC90 crossovers in the company’s lineup. The new XC60 is lighter than the latter, heavier than the former, and shorter than either of its line mates.

Prices for the new member of the small, premium utility class start at $38,025. An emphasis on safety is a hallmark of Volvo models, and the latest addition to the showroom holds to tradition. The new SUV showcases the first application of a Volvo safety feature called City Safety.

Standard on all XC60 models, City Safety is a driver-support system aimed at preventing or minimizing collisions occurring at speeds of 19 mph or less. When the system detects that the driver is about to run into a vehicle in front of it and the driver isn’t responding adequately, the XC60 automatically applies the brakes.

According to Volvo’s research, 75 percent of all reported collisions occur at speeds of less than 19 mph, and in half of these cases, the driver didn’t brake at all. City Safety joins a host of other, standard stay-safe gear, including all-wheel drive, roll stability control, hill descent control, anti-lock brakes with brake assist and dynamic stability with traction control. On the optional equipment side, notable safety gear includes a blind spot information system and a lane departure warning system.

Initially, the 2010 XC60 will be offered with one engine and one transmission. The turbocharged T6 is a 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder, rated at 281 horsepower and 295 lb.-ft. of torque. It’s linked to a six-speed automatic transmission. The EPA has not yet published fuel economy estimates for this 2010 model. However, Volvo data predicts 16-city/22-highway, and I logged 17 mpg combined average during my test period. This isn’t great mileage, but it’s all relative. The XC60’s numbers are right in line with all the members of its competitive set.

Power-wise, the T6 motor makes a nice match in the 4,174-pound SUV. Acceleration is snappy and the XC60 cruises easily at highway speeds. Towing capacity is 3,300 pounds, and the new Trailer Stability Assist feature offers the driver added control by slowing the swaying tendencies that can sometimes occur when towing. Handling is solid and stable and sporting for an SUV.

The design of the newest Volvo is an eye-opener, particularly for those of us old enough to remember when the company’s products looked more stodgy than stylish. The front end of the XC60 features a wide, egg-crate grille emblazoned with the familiar Volvo iron mark logo. It’s framed by a set of asymmetrical headlights that sweep back toward a steeply raked windshield. The curving, coupelike roof resolves in a sharp drop-off in back. The lines of the rear and sides are pulled together by a set of stunning taillights. Curving and graceful, they’re the signature styling cues of the new Volvo.

The XC60’s interior is both comfortable and classy. The two-tone leather and the optional light oak trim on my test vehicle were an exceptionally handsome combination. There’s room inside for five adults, though if all are tall, some compromises on legroom will be required. The front seats are eight-way power adjustable and among the best in the business. All main controls are easy to reach and access, though some of the buttons collected on the center stack are a little small to adjust on the fly.

The sound system includes auxiliary and USB input jacks to allow for connection with iPods and other media players. There are storage spots in all the usual places, though we wish that some of them (like the covered center console and the molded door pockets) were bigger. Larger cargo goes in the back, and there, the Volvo accommodates a very useful 30.8 cubic feet of gear. That number expands to 67.4 cubic feet when you fold the back seats flat forward. A power liftgate is optional.

The small, premium utility market is a small segment that’s rapidly expanding with new product. In addition to the XC60, the class also includes another 2010 model - the Mercedes-Benz GLK350 - along with a quintet of 2009s: the Acura RDX, Lexus RX350, BMW X3, Audi Q5 and the Infiniti EX35. What the newest Volvo brings to the table is a combination of sleek styling, high utility and cutting-edge safety and electronics. Tech-savvy buyers have just found another vehicle to add to their must test-drive list.