- The Washington Times - Friday, June 7, 2002

The Volvo brand has always been synonymous with automotive safety, and the company isn't about to abandon that icon. Recently, Volvo demonstrated just how far automotive engineering has progressed by showing off the technical and structural capabilities of its first-ever SUV, the XC90.

The scene is Volvo's crash safety laboratory in Gothenburg, Sweden. Inside, a new XC90 sits sideways on a crash sled ready to meet its fate. It's painted a checkerboard combination of orange and green to help engineers see structural changes. It's also filled with fully instrumented dummies and high-speed video cameras to record the upcoming event.

Normally, crash tests are conducted inside, with the test vehicle impacting a solid barrier or another vehicle. Volvo's crash-test facility has two tunnel-like buildings where test vehicles start from the extremities of the tunnels and impact at the intersection of the tunnels.

But, we're here for a rollover test and things are different. Because of their unpredictability, rollover tests have to be conducted in an unconfined area that means outside. So, now the test vehicles start on the inside of the building and accelerate toward an overhead door at the end of the building.

The test apparatus seems almost too simple. Think of it as a forklift truck that has picked up a car sideways and is racing toward an outside door. Suddenly the test sled stops, and the test car is pitched sideways onto a concrete pad. It hits the ground and immediately starts to roll over. From an initial speed of 20 mph, the test car rolls over three and one-half times. On solid concrete, this is a brutal test, but the results are impressive.

All of the XC90's doors remained closed during the entire event, so none of the dummies was ejected. Although there was severe cosmetic damage, the structure of the entire vehicle remained intact. Most of the suspension components, wheels and tires were destroyed, but the cabin suffered no serious damage and all doors could be opened with minimal effort.

With its entry into the SUV market, Volvo has focused on several new areas. Most important is rollover incidents, where the vehicle rolls over onto its roof one or more times. Volvo's Rollover Protection System, ROPS, tackles the problem from two directions. First is a stability control system that minimizes the risk of rolling over in the first place. Just as important is increased protection for occupants if the vehicle does roll over.

If the Volvo XC90 experiences a rollover, the passive safety designs go to work. The goal is to reduce the risk of the occupants' heads coming into contact with the car's interior roof panel or sides. So, Volvo has reinforced parts of the XC90's roof structure with extremely tough boron steel, which is four or five times stronger than normal steel.

All of the seats are equipped with seat-belt pretensioners to hold the occupants securely in place. In a crash, the pretensioner pulls the seat belt firmly across the occupant's body for maximum protection.

To help prevent the head from striking the car's sides, the XC90 is equipped with an inflatable curtain that stays inflated long enough to offer maximum protection in a rollover situation. The inflatable curtain follows the contour of the window glass as it inflates.

If the occupant's head is resting against the window at the moment of inflation, the curtain will slip between the glass and the occupant's head to provide enhanced protection.

All three rows of seats in the seven-passenger version are protected.

Not to be outdone, Volvo has addressed the problem of compatibility between SUVs and cars. The front subframe is supplemented with a lower cross-member, positioned at the height of the beam in a conventional car. This lower beam is integrated into the XC90's structure and is neatly concealed behind the spoiler.

The lower cross-member strikes the oncoming car's protective structure, activating its crumple zone as intended so the occupants can be given the maximum level of protection. That's the Volvo way, with protection even for occupants in other cars.

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