First drive: 2009 Volvo XC60 on track
The 2009 Volvo XC60 is a new crossover SUV that the Ford-owned Swedish company thinks will raise regional Volvo sells by an unrealistic 30%. The GCC version was launched in Dubai a few days ago, and Volvo gave the press a taste of the XC60’s capabilities at the Dubai Autodrome on January 28. They certainly had an impressive line-up of events planned.
The XC60 looks like a melted version of a Volvo wagon, and as such wouldn’t attract much attention had it not been for uniquely-shaped LED tail-lamps and swoopy window sills. It comes with a 286 hp 3.0-litre turbocharged 6-cylinder with 400 Nm of torque at only 1400 rpm, mated to an automatic gearbox and all-wheel-drive, with more engines to follow. We hear it was locally benchmarked against the RAV-4 and the LR2 among others, but it seems to offer less space than either, and costs between Dhs 140,000 and Dhs 180,000.
After the free breakfast, the first event was a few laps on the track. Chasing the instructor was fun, but the XC60 was no German super-SUV. The all-wheel-drive crossover was perfectly stable around every corner but it understeered heavily, possibly due to the stability control, which we weren’t allowed to turn off. The lack of steering feel turned the accuracy of turn-ins into a guessing game in the middle of curves. It might be more fun without the electronic nannies, but we’ll never know.
The second event was a demonstration of the “City Safety” feature, and the XC60 is the first vehicle ever to have such a system. Basically the car brakes to a complete stop if there is an obstacle in front, and you are still accelerating blindly. A balloon was hung on a pole stuck on an XC90, and we had to drive the XC60 into that balloon, except it never hit because the XC60 brakes to a stop on its own, and then releases the brake as it assumes you have stepped on the brakes by now. The violent auto-braking occurs at the last minute, and only works under 30 kph. Over 30 kph, it helps braking, but won’t stop an accident, as it is impossible to determine whether the driver was intentionally tailgating. It also won’t work in a sandstorm.
We were also made to drive into some poles to try out the ghostly braking, and then used the reverse camera with guiding lines to park the car between some cones without using the mirrors.
The third event was a 15-second off-road course that only consisted of a few very deep potholes, to demonstrate the workings of the quick-acting all-wheel-drive system, helped along by the traction control system, even though stability control was turned off. We also noticed the strength of the chassis when one wheel went off the ground without any weird noises.
The fourth event was a timed autocross event, where again we had to leave the stability control on, and the XC60 understeered like a rabid dog, slowing down and going wide at many points under the forceful interference of the ESP nannies. It could safely go much faster without the ESP surely. I never hit a cone, but I did gain a time penalty for dangerous driving, which pissed me off, but in the end it didn’t matter because the results were never announced.
After the free lunch, I gathered that many of the other journalists were impressed out of their minds, mainly because they weren’t even automotive writers. I got the impression that the Volvo XC60 drove exactly like any number of other crossovers. Under the claustrophobic watch of strict instructors, I couldn’t do any of my own handling tests to learn more, so this isn’t a complete review. But the Volvo did differentiate itself with that “City Safety” gimmick that a competent driver will never experience in real life. However, given the response of the non-enthusiast crowd, it is a good alternative to other premium crossovers, if only losing out on the badge.