The Volvo XC60: Stylish, Swedish & Safe

The small premium utility vehicle segment is demanding a bigger share of the U.S. market, so since its XC90 is too big and its XC70 is too wagon-like, Volvo hopes that its XC60 will be just right.

Doug Frasher has been at the Volvo Monitoring and Concept Center (VMCC; Camarillo, CA) for more than 20 years. And in that period of time, Frasher has developed a number of signature Volvo vehicles, from the 1992 Environmental Concept Car (ECC) to the '98 S80 sedan to the '03 XC90 crossover to the just-launched 2010 XC60 urban crossover.
Frasher, who is the strategic design chief there, takes an interesting approach to design, an approach that has permitted this California native to compete with designers from Sweden and to win with his designs. He says that he looks at vehicles "holistically," and he doesn't mean that in the context of some new-age notion.Rather, he takes into account all aspects of the vehicle, not only from the point of view of the design language that he began to spell out with the ECC (and which has had vocabulary entries by other Volvo designers and are now part of the primer), but as regards economic issues (the vehicles must be designed so that they can be affordable) and even to the point of working with the people who will be responsible for forming the metal (if you're going to get the shapes that you desire, you'd better make sure that they can actually bend it in production; in the case of the XC60, the production is performed not in Sweden, but in the Volvo plant in Ghent, Belgium).
The XC60 is a vehicle that competes in a class that includes the BMW X3, the Infiniti EX35, the Acura RDX, the Lexus RX, and the Mercedes GLK. Which is to say that it is in a class where there are no dummies. Yet Volvo has a certain advantage in that it (1) has developed a form language derived from its Scandinavian roots that is manifest in a stylish simplicity (consider the strong shoulders in the front of the car that follow up the belt line and tightening like the waist of an hourglass at the B-pillar until broadening out on the rear quarter where it meets up with the strong tail lamps that run up the back of the D-pillar); and (2) it is known for safety, which is manifest in a planted, yet not ponderous, appearance, although even the simple iron mark logo speaks of this assurance.
Thanks in no small part to work done by Frasher, there is an unmistakable identity to what a Volvo is; there is no mistaking it for anything else on the road from almost any angle, which can't necessarily be said of the other CUVs. For example, Frasher says that he was inspired by the kick in the beltline of the current C70 that he wanted to protect on the XC60. The rear liftgate resembles that of the C30. And overall, there is a resemblance to the XC90, but the XC60 has a design onto its own; this is not some sort of "Honey, I Shrunk the Swedish SUV" (the XC90 is 70.2 in. high with roof rails, 189.3 in. long, 74.7-in. wide, and has a 112.6-in. wheelbase; the XC60 is 67.4 -in. high, 182.2-in. long, 74.4-in. wide, and has a 109.2-in. wheelbase).
Of course, achieving safety is more than skin deep, no matter what the exterior sheet metal looks like. Structurally, it's underneath what counts. So Volvo engineers went to work developing a safety cage for the five-passenger compartment with materials ranging from high-strength to ultra-high-strength steels. Then there are the expected features, ranging from the multitude of airbags (front, side curtains and side impact bags) to brakes with a soup of acronyms: ABS with HBA, OHB, RAB, and FBS (that's antilock with hydraulic brake assist, optimized hydraulic brakes, ready alert brakes and fading brake support). All of these brakes are of more than passing interest because the XC60 has what is claimed to be a world's first: a system that actually stops the car if the driver is about to run into a car in front of it.
It is called "City Safety"-as in the kind of stop-and-go driving that is typical of urban environments, where the XC60 is undoubtedly going to spend the greatest amount of time, its all-wheel-drive system notwithstanding. It is based on a laser sensor that is mounted at the rearview mirror. The sensor has a forward-looking range of 18 ft. The system is active only at speeds up to 19 mph. Essentially, the sensor takes readings that are processed at a rate of 50 times per second, determining what braking force will be necessary to avoid or mitigate the consequences of a collision. Say that traffic is crawling along and the car immediately ahead suddenly stops. The City Safety system will pre-charge the brakes, and if the driver of the following car doesn't hit the brake pedal, then the system applies the brakes and reduces the throttle opening. Volvo safety engineers have determined that below 9 mph the driver may be able to avoid the collision and that between 9 and 19 mph the consequences of the inevitable crash will be minimized. In several western European countries where the vehicle has been available since the fall of 2008, insurance companies have reduced premiums by 15 to 25% for drivers of the XC60.
Consider: It is a vehicle that not only looks good, but is safe and can potentially save you money.