Volvo XC60 – the smart family car for smart families

So, who wants to be a bloody Volvo driver? Not you? Well, get ready to change your mind! We’ve just tested Volvo’s new XC60 soft-roader and wow, were we impressed.

This is the family car that (almost) thinks for itself. There’s the adaptive cruise control that keeps a constant buffer between you and the car in front. There’s the info alert that warns when a car is travelling in your blind spot. In certain conditions, the XC60 can even apply its own brakes to avoid a crash. What’s not to love about that?

Impressive tricks, all, but then Volvo has been at the forefront of automotive safety for decades. So many of the car safety features now taken for granted, like side airbags, were developed and introduced by this Swedish company.

We were recently invited to try out some of Volvo’s newest safety technology at Eastern Creek raceway with Volvo ambassadors Matt Shirvington and Wayne Gardner.

Many of these safety specs are perfect for family needs (that’s industry code for when you’re slightly distracted because the kids won’t stop fighting in the back or the baby is crying and just won’t settle) and we look at each in detail below.

Among the systems we put to the test were the Blind Spot Info System, Adaptive Cruise Control, Collision avoidance and Pedestrian Detection.

BLIS – Blind Spot Info System

The Blind Spot Info System alerts the driver if there is a vehicle in the blind spot via a small light next to the side mirror.

ACC – Adaptive Cruise Control

Volvo’s Adaptive Cruise Control doesn’t just keep a constant speed, it also slows down and speeds up to keep a constant (selectable) buffer between you and the car in front. It will even bring the car to a complete stop and start moving off again (if the car is stopped for less than three seconds)

City Safety – Collision avoidance

City Safety is an emergency braking system designed to help a driver avoid a low-speed (below 30km/h) crash or to reduce its severity. The system uses a sensor to detect vehicles which may cause a crash. If the system thinks a collision is imminent, it applies the brakes.

If the relative speed between the car and obstacle is less than 15km/h, the car will stop before hitting it. At higher relative speeds, City Safety will not be able to prevent the collision but can reduce the severity of the crash. Imagine this at work in the shopping centre carpark or when you’re crawling in city traffic and get momentarily distracted by those same squabbling kids.

Pedestrian Detection

One of the highlights of the day was their pedestrian detection system with ‘autobrake’. This system uses radar and a camera to constantly scan the road and footpath for pedestrians who may step out in front of the car. If it detects an imminent danger, it applies the brake. It was pretty amazing to be driving a car with this system and see it in action. Imagine how reassuring it would be at school drop-offs and pick-ups.

Volvo is currently expanding the system to detect animals as well as people.

All of these systems are designed to either avoid accidents or minimise injury should an accident occur. They are of particular relevance to parents, who are often distracted while driving. Having an electronic eye on the road is a nice backup for that split-second when your attention is diverted.

To develop and test all of this technology, Volvo has built an $81 million crash test laboratory, the most technologically advanced in the world that can replicate the conditions of any crash. The company collects data on every Volvo involved in an accident from its Digital Accident research recorder (basically a ‘black box’ for cars). This lets Volvo analyse what happened and replicate it in the lab, whether a crash or something else such a ‘road departure’ (Volvo-speak for falling asleep at the wheel).

We were so impressed with the safety features that we took up Volvo’s offer to borrow a couple of cars for a proper test-drive. We decided to take a 2011 XC60 with us on a family trip to the Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo.

The car performed very well on the trip. The 2.4-litre five-cylinder twin-turbocharged diesel puts out 420Nm of torque and 151kW of power, which was plenty for the long haul from Sydney.

The interior had plenty of space and comfort for our family of four, and with 495l of boot space, it easily accommodated our (possibly excessive) luggage for the weekend.

The car came with integrated fold-out child booster cushions which can be set to two different heights to accommodate children of different sizes. The upper setting is designed for children measuring 95-120cm and weighing between 15 and 25kg, while the lower setting is intended for children between 115 -140 cm in height and weighing between 22 and 36kg. The boosters don’t have headrests, but are so more convenient than separate removable booster seats. There’s a video on the Volvo site that shows the booster in action.

Volvo’s iPod integration worked well, charging our mobile device through USB, and keeping our girls entertained. Highway fuel consumption is quoted as 5.7l/100km, which is pretty close to what we got out of it.

The XC60 has been updated for 2012, and includes new styling, models and options. The range starts at $54,990 for the entry-level XC60 T5. Visit Volvo for more details.

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