2010 Volvo XC60Having the opportunity to experience San Francisco for the launch of Volvo’s all-new XC60 small premium utility vehicle was the best of both worlds. Volvo captured our attention and gave us a true understanding of what the brand represents: from its new beauty, to its luxury to its strong history in safety. And they will need everything to compete in a segment where the Acura RDX, Mazda CX-7 and BMW X3 exist and where Audi is introducing their new Q5. But with advancements such as City Safety then they have a pretty good head start.

Once arriving in San Francisco, we graciously settled in at Cavallo Point Lodge which used to be Fort Baker to the U.S. Army. The grounds of the resort hotel were breathtaking, with opulent views of the Golden Gate Bridge, downtown San Francisco and the infamous Alcatraz Penitentiary.
To kick off the first evening, we attended an XC60 design presentation. Doug Frasher, XC60 exterior designer, explained the vehicle’s “True Inspirational” design philosophy which is inherited from nature. He went on to explain that Scandinavians have a love affair with nature which inspires the way light interacts with the elements of various environments. Volvo then interprets that into a vehicle design encompassing a new trapezoidal grille, broad shoulders, a big waistline, and vertical lights that give a unique identity and expression to the vehicle. The XC60’s exterior is definitely bolder than the XC90 and doesn’t follow any of Volvo’s traditional looks.

But let’s get straight to the point. Volvo’s latest and greatest safety innovation yet is “City Safety,” which is a new and standard supplemental system aid to drivers. It uses infrared laser beams to sense full physical objects in front of the vehicle and applies the brakes if a low speed impact is about to occur. Basically, if your vehicle is about to drive into the vehicle in front and the driver does not react, City Safety automatically applies the brakes. It is active at speeds from 2 to 18 mph and is always on unless turned off manually. City Safety applies 50% of full braking power to either halt the vehicle or slow it down. Volvo says City Safety can reduce insurance premiums by 15 to 25%.

After the City Safety demonstration, we began our test drive on winding roads. Impressively, the XC60 has quick reflexes and great traction.  And when we did have an opportunity for open road it also showed great acceleration from its 3.0-liter turbocharged six-cylinder that churns out  281 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. Engine power is coupled to a six-speed “Geartronic” auto transmission and all-wheel drive with “Instant Traction.” Overall, the experience behind the wheel of the XC60 is very sexy, quite the opposite of the “boring” comments I have heard from friends who’ve either owned or knew someone who owned an XC90.

The XC60’s  interior is seductive and has a great luxury feel. Audio sound quality was so crisp and clean it was as if the artist was performing for me in the vehicle! The optional panoramic sun-roof is inviting, the auto opening and closing tailgate is great for shopping and the headrest integrated TV screens are perfect for the kids. A backup camera acts as a third eye and Bliss (Blind Spot Identification System) is a great aid when switching lanes.

After our day’s drive, Volvo surprised us with a great evening outing. A penitentiary bus pulled up to the hotel to shuttle us to a ferry to Alcatraz! After an hour long tour, we had a lavish dinner in the hospital ward.

The XC60 is a very complete premium Sport Utility. We’ll see if Volvo’s marketing arm can spread the word about this terrific vehicle. MSRP starts at $37,200.

Kimatni D. Rawlins is the publisher of AutomotiveRhythms.com