SAN DIEGO — The new Volvo is more than a decade old now. Sold off by Ford in 2010, the storied Swedish carmaker was picked up by Chinese car giant Geely.
Given new life and a new bank account, Volvo set about designing an entirely new lineup of cars for the next decade and beyond. Core to the new Volvo was Vision 2020, a goal that no one would be killed or seriously injured in a Volvo released after 2020.
It’s a wildly lofty goal, but a good one. Some 40,000 people are killed every year in traffic crashes (I don’t call them accidents as humans are nearly always at fault), and we should be doing everything we can to minimize that.
Volvo is unique among car brands in having a crash research center in Sweden that sends researchers to every significant crash in Sweden involving a Volvo and even many non-Volvo incidents. The company has data on countless impacts and has designed safety features to address rarer and more unusual collisions.
For example, while Volvo (and most) cars are designed to handle front- or side-impact crashes, company researchers found that a significant number of spinal cord injuries were happening when a car left the road and went into a ditch alongside the pavement.
But it wasn’t a collision or the ditch that caused the injury. Instead, it was the vehicle jumping out of the ditch at a high rate of speed, getting airborne, and landing again that caused the issue. Specifically, the vertical impact of the landing caused spinal cord issues, and neither seat belts nor airbags would protect against it.
So Volvo designed a special crumple zone in the brackets that attach the front seats to the car. In the event of this obscure but real crash scenario, those crumple zones give way and cushion the blow to sensitive spines.
You’ll probably never have a crash like that. Still, I like the idea of a car company that cares about safety so much that they’ll go out and find new crash scenarios to design for instead of waiting for government regulators or insurance companies to do it for them.
This brings us to my test car this week, a fully loaded Volvo XC60 T8 Inscription. That means it’s a compact SUV featuring the luxury-focused Inscription trim and a plug-in hybrid powertrain.
That’s the T8 part, and I’ve written about it before. Volvo’s all-electric range isn’t the best, but it is competitive with many luxury plug-in kin, going about 20 miles.
But 20 miles is within the daily driving range of many a suburbanite, and it’s good enough to help improve fuel economy and get you a small tax break for buying a car with a big battery.
My XC60 priced out to $71,340, which is a lot. But this is a very zippy SUV with 400 horsepower and 472 lb-ft of torque, in the same ballpark – both speed and price-wise – as the fast SUVs from BMW and Audi. You can save almost $20,000 if you strip off some of the lux features and get rid of the fancy electric powertrain.
But the XC60 is such a nice place to be. The heated and ventilated front seats are outrageously comfortable. Volvo is one of the only car brands to employ an orthopedic doctor to help with seat designs, and you can feel the difference, especially on long drives. The power-adjustable thigh bolster (available on other cars, to be fair) is especially lovely.
The $3,200 Bowers & Wilkins sound system is exquisite as always. While not strictly necessary (the base is a lovely system from Harmon Kardon), the B&W stereo is one of the best you’ll find in a car – and it can replicate the acoustics of Volvo’s hometown opera house in Gothenburg. It’s a neat trick to show your friends, even if you’ve never been to Sweden.
The $1,800 adjustable air suspension is another unnecessary splurge. Still, given how firm Volvo suspensions are (they’re designed for buttery smooth Swedish roads), the improved ride on our crap American streets might be well worth it.
And, if you’re spending this much, it makes sense to get the best. I recommend the Volvo XC60 to many people when they ask me what kind of car to buy. It’s a good size, especially if you don’t have kids. It’s not overly decadent for a luxury car, and everything on it is practical and well thought out.
If you want bigger or smaller, Volvo offers that in the XC40 or XC90. But I’m with Goldilocks: the Volvo XC60 is just right.