First Drive Review: 2018 Volvo XC60 SUV Steers You Away From Trouble

The 2018 Volvo XC60 SUV adds a new layer of safety technology called Steering Assist, which steers the car out of the way of trouble on the highway and in town. The XC60 also includes a quieter, more luxurious cockpit that comfortably carries four adults.

The second generation of Volvo’s compact premium SUV is modern and competitive with the best from Germany, Asia and the US. That’s good. As with other premium automakers, however, Volvo puts some desirable driver and safety assists in $ 1,000-$ 2,000 options packs. Blind spot detection and adaptive cruise control are package options, not standard the way we’d prefer.

Volvo’s safety in action

Volvo’s 2 (only) USB jacks.

I drove Volvo’s top-of-the-line XC60 T6 Inscription, which as tested cost over $ 60,000 with virtually every option including the $ 1,800 air suspension and a $ 3,200 B&W audio system. The XC60 T5 Momentum, the entry model, starts at $ 42,000. In town and on highways, the XC60 is swift, quiet, light (a panoramic sunroof is standard) and airy. The rear seats hold three and are quite comfortable for two adults traveling long distances, as long as they don’t need USB power; the front console has the car’s only two jacks. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard.

The standard safety assists include lane keep assist, run-off road mitigation (pulls the car back if it starts to go off-road), run-off road protection (protection of the spine if the car lands hard), driver drowsiness alert, road sign recognition, auto-brake after collision, the latest iteration of Volvo City Safety, and telematics with crash notification.

My test car had the optional head-up display, part of the $ 1,900 advanced package that also has steerable LED headlamps and surround-view cameras.

Steering Assist enhances 3 driver assist technologies

There’s a new version of Volvo Pilot Assist in the XC60 that combines full-range adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist, activated with a single button on the steering wheel. Pilot Assist is part of the $ 2,000-$ 2,200 convenience package. Volvo’s LKA implementation warns if you’re about to cross over a lane marking. It then steers or brakes you back into lane, but won’t center itself in lane as would, say, a Mercedes-Benz, Tesla, or Acura.

Volvo added Steering Assist to three existing technologies. With Steering Assist plus blind spot detection, if you try to change lanes when there’s a car coming up fast in the blind spot (and if you ignore the alerts), Steering Assist nudges you back. If you veer across the center line and there’s an oncoming vehicle, you’ll be steered back; Volvo calls this Oncoming Lane Mitigation. The jack-of-all trades Volvo City Safety (that detects cars, cyclists, people, and large animals, and slows or stops to avoid them) will provide additional steering effort if you try to steer around an obstruction at low speed. Steering Assist is standard, as is City Safety. Blind spot detection is part of an $ 1,100 vision package, along with parking assistance and dimmable rear view mirrors.

Sensus center stack display

Volvo is near-unique in offering standard a vertical 9-inch center stack display, Sensus. It mimics a tablet, including a home button just below the display, and the ability swipe left or right for additional menu pages: car functions and applications. Volvo said it has improved the touch-screen interface, although others reviewers test driving the car said they found it at times confusing. Volvo said drivers become more comfortable after a couple weeks.

The standard fonts on the Sensus screen will seem a bit small to some, an issue that affected others such as Ford Sync in its early years. The 12.3-inch digital Driver Display, or digital instrument panel, is legible, with one exception: Some secondary prompts, including navigation info, are hard to see on sunny days; they’re in a medium blue font on a black background.

Better than Mercedes, more confusing than Honda

People think of Volvo as the safe-car company. (It is.) It can slug toe-to-toe with Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz and come out ahead: Lane keep assist and LED headlamps are standard only on the XC60.

But Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 have a simpler story to tell: Buy our small SUV and the key safety stuff comes standard. Honda calls it Honda Sensing and (except on the low-volume entry LX) the CR-V comes standard with stop-and-go adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, and blind spot detection. Toyota Safety Sense-P (TSS-P) gives every RAV4 the same, except blind spot detection is an option.

Volvo goes beyond what CR-V and RAV4 offer, but for the core driver safety assists — ACC, BSD, LKA — Volvo requires $ 2,200 and $ 1,100 options packages. Volvo might want to consider a simpler, more inclusive approach down the road.

Is the XC60 worth waiting for?

The XC60 comes two years after the breakthrough Volvo XC90, a midsize SUV that was the first to use Volvo’s Scalable Platform Architecture technology to build different size cars, wagons, and SUVs out of a common architecture. SPA cars have one engine family available in turbocharged (250-hp T5), turbocharged and supercharged (316-hp T6), or turbocharged and supercharged with a hybrid-electric motor (400-hp T8). So far, the SPA platform has hatched the XC90, S90 sedan, V90 wagon (this summer), and XC60.

The XC60 is a polished vehicle, enjoyable to drive or ride in, and not at all cramped at 185 inches long. Most users will be happy with the Momentum trim and either the T5 or T6 engines. They will have to choose carefully to get the right features and technologies.

My suggestion: Start with the XC60 T6 Momentum, which costs $ 45,895 including $ 995 freight. If you’re serious about safety and technology, you’ll want three more options packages: the $ 1,100 Vision package, the $ 1,900 Advanced package, and the $ 2,200 Convenience package. Dropping back to the turbo-only T5 engine saves $ 3,000. Only the XC60 Inspiration, $ 3,800 more, provides access to the ventilated, massaging, premium leather seating package with heated steering wheel and heated front/rear seats for another $ 3,000. The 15-speaker Bowers & Wilkins premium is fantastic, but it’s $ 3,200; the base system has 10 speakers.

The 2018 Volvo XC60 is already in production. The US gets first deliveries in late summer, with the hybrid arriving in fall. In Europe, the shorter, taller first-generation XC60 has been the top seller among compact luxury SUVs for several years; here, the XC90 rounds out the top ten. Volvo hopes to sell almost 30,000 new XC60s in its first full year here, which would put it in the top five.

Volvo expects 60 percent of sales will be the entry XC60 Momentum, about 20 percent the top-line Inscription, and about 10 percent sporty R-Design. Based on Volvo’s technology and safety, the 2018 XC60 arrives on equal footing with the best from Audi, BMW, and Mercedes, as well as the premium US and Japanese makers of compact SUVs. Volvo is back.

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