Test Drive: Volvo XC60

Volvo has had a tough go the last few years between the market crash and as the poor stepchild of Ford Motor Co.? As a result, the brand synonymous with vehicle safety has been in a state of limbo while parent company Ford looked for someone to buy the unprofitable Swedish brand. ?The waiting is over and the Americans have sold the Swedish brand to a young Chinese company.

As new owner of Volvo, Geely Holding Group has only been building cars since 1998. Nevertheless,?Geely?s chairman and founder,?Li Shufu has great expectations saying, “We want to make more high-level cars that compete with the S class of Mercedes Benz and the 7 series of BMW.?

Volvo could already be headed that direction if recent products like the XC60 and the upcoming S60 sedan are any indication.

We recently had a refresher drive in the XC60 crossover and it still impresses us with its cutting edge styling, strong performance and state of the art safety technology.

With a ?281-hp, turbocharged 3.2-liter in-line six-cylinder engine driving all four wheels, the XC60 accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in just over 7 seconds.? Although not yet world class, the handling is very good and the suspension balances nicely between good ride and good handling. ?The car is quiet, comfortable and most of all fun to drive with a light agile feeling.? The base XC60 model has a 235-hp, 3.2-liter inline-six-cylinder engine and all three versions use a six-speed automatic transmission.

The EPA rates the XC60 T6 AWD at 16 mpg city and 21mpg highway.? Our actual fuel economy averaged 19.1 mpg during the week we drove it. ?The 2011 models will have more power than the current models and get a little better fuel economy.

The XC60 has a list of features that reads like a who?s who of safety.? The latest and greatest is the new City Safety system for avoiding low-speed collisions under 19 mph.? When a vehicle ahead brakes suddenly and the system determines a collision is likely, the brakes are pre-charged.? If the driver fails to respond, the car applies the brakes automatically.? When the relative speed difference between the vehicle is less than 9 mph it may help the driver avoid the collision altogether.? Between 9 and 19 mph, it focuses on reducing speed as much as possible prior to the impact.

We have tried the tests of the system by driving the car at about 9 mph ignoring the large blue inflatable car in our path.? Just feet before we crashed into the dummy car, the brakes activated stopping the car a short of a crash without the driver even touching in the brake pedal.

The new DVD navigation system with Real Time Traffic proved helpful in avoiding traffic slowdowns, but the system has awkward to use control mounted on the rear side of the steering wheel. ?We understand the system changes on future models.

We also appreciated features like the Adaptive Cruise Control that uses sensors to keep the car a selected distance from the vehicle ahead and the Blind Spot Information system that automatically identifies vehicles just out of sight of the side view mirrors and then flashes a warning in the outside mirror surface.? The list of available technology is a page long with four main option packages that add everything from and Interior Air Quality System to power tailgate.

To make travel more enjoyable, the XC60 is the first manufacturer to offer HD Radio as standard equipment updating the radio to digital quality.?? The audio system is equipped with AUX and USB inputs for connection to devices like iPods and memory sticks.? Sirius? Satellite radio and Bluetooth hands-free phone interface are also standard.

XC60 is available in three trim levels: 3.2, T6 and the R-Design.? Prices range from $33,245, including destination charge, for the 3.2 and move up to $42,400 for the R-Design. With all the options, the R-Design price can go as high as $52,000.

We think the XC60 is one of the best Volvos ever built.? With support and financing from the new owners, Volvo could indeed be taking on some of those high-level cars.