We live in a nanny society and it's getting worse by the day.
Toronto's police service, for instance, is pushing hard to load up the city with closed-circuit television cameras. The smart politicians are pushing back. Still, it's worrisome that anyone would want to turn Toronto or Ottawa or Vancouver or any other Canadian city into London.
Not London, Ont.; London, England. The English apparently want the (nanny) state to look after you, to watch over your every movement. No thanks.
What worries me is that this mindset - this idea that none of us are really capable of looking after ourselves - is steadily creeping into the new vehicles rolling into dealer showrooms.
What's happening can be downright frightening. I mean, it didn't take more than 15 minutes for the beautifully designed 2010 Volvo XC60 to scare the bejesus out of me. Flashing lights, alarms, and for no apparent reason.
Well, there was a reason. Volvo has baked in a few (nanny) features designed to prevent accidents and they're not all appreciated.
One monitors your driving habits. If you begin to swerve or drive erratically, a warning sounds and a light flashes in the instrument cluster. It's shouting, "Pay attention, dummy; you're falling asleep at the wheel," though not in so many words. And all I'd done is cross a line marker in a way the software didn't like. Once I figured out what the fuss was about, "bam," I hit the button (LDW for lane departure warning) on the console to turn it off.
Then there's this device in the side mirrors, the one flashing when sensors detect something in your blind spot. "Bam," off went BLIS (blind-spot information system). I was quite happy with properly adjusted mirrors; the flashing lights are a distraction.
And something else will stop the car for you if you're about to hit another car at low speeds. This is the XC60's City Safe program. "Bam," I think I managed to turn that off, too, though there were so many on/off buttons I can't be certain.
As for the rest, the one intervention I did applaud was the radar that adjusts vehicle speed while on cruise control. It keeps you spaced properly in yo-yoing highway traffic. That's good and useful.
And headlights that look around corners - so-called adaptive headlights - they're good, too. They help the driver see the road ahead.
I also like having a video image of what's behind me when I back up. The rear parking system (PAC for $1,100) is useful; it does not "nannify" my driving. But do I need a tire-pressure monitor? Not really. I know how to use a tire pressure gauge and, when I check tires, I also check for damage, wear and tear.
This is where you jump in and ask: Isn't electronic stability control - anti-skid control - a good idea? Sure, it keeps you between the lines when you get caught on a slick road or when you're driving over your head. This is a modest and totally sensible intervention. And sure, traction control is good for startups when the ground is slick.
But roll stability control to minimize rollover accidents in tall vehicles? I suppose you can make a case for this. Or you might teach drivers to respect the limitations of a vehicle with more ride height. Novel idea, that.
And trailer stability assist? Frankly, if you're out there towing and you don't know what you're doing - which is why you might need this gadget - then let me know. I'll wait until you're out of the way.
It's time to pull back and think through this trend to safety overkill bit more.
While we do, take a good, long look at the XC60's design. It's a standout in a growing field of so-so-looking crossover sport-utility vehicles. The snout is trim and tidy, the grille strong but tasteful. Moving back, the XC60 has a flowing profile that offers a new and stylish twist on the wedgy, tall wagon profile.
The design, and the XC60's nimble handling and stunning interior, had me thinking about the less frisky, slightly larger XC90. The XC60 is quite a bit shorter than the XC90 crossover and it costs about $3,000 less than the basic six-cylinder version. Some might need the XC90's additional space and its available third-row seats. But if you don't, the XC60 is a wonderful choice.
The newest Volvo rides on the latest S80 sedan platform and it's excellent - sportier, more solid than the XC90's previous-generation S80 architecture.
The XC60 is a delight to drive. The ride is comfortable and the responses - steering, braking, cornering - are both reassuring and predictable.
The engine is a turbocharged 3.0-litre, inline-six rated at 281 horsepower. This is good. The XC60 will launch from zero-to-100 kilometres an hour in something like seven seconds when you mash the throttle to the floor. Lots of jam here.
The six-speed Geartronic transmission is very smooth on heavy acceleration. If you like, a manual override allows you to control gearing yourself.
All-wheel-drive is standard. The system uses an electronic clutch to push power forward and aft, depending on how much traction a particular wheel grabs. Take note, though, that a less-costly front-drive version could very well make its way into showrooms before long. A lighter front-drive XC60 would use less fuel, too.
For now, fuel economy is below average for this class: the XC60 is rated at 13.5 litres/100 km in the city, 9.1 on the highway. Premium fuel is recommended, but Volvo says the XC60 will run fine on regular.
As for the cabin, it is even more delicious than the exterior. A slim centre stack is the signature feature, but we don't want to overlook all the rich but not overwrought details - from the cross-stitch on the leather seats, to the Nordic light oak inlays, to the leather seats in my tester, which were as good and as supportive as any seats I've experienced in any car at any price.
The front seating area is comfortable and, in back, there is ample room for two adults. The numbers say the XC60 has roughly 30-per-cent less space behind the second row than the XC90, but the XC60's cargo area is big enough for most normal families.
I would argue for more cabin storage space, more cubbies for odds and sods. But I have nothing critical to say about the phone-style keypad for audio and vehicle functions. It's logical and sensible. Changing radios stations and so on is easy.
The navigation system ($2,500) works fine, but Volvo - in an obvious quest to emphasize safety - has installed less-than-ideal controls. The back-of-the-steering-wheel controls aren't the problem; while awkward at first, you quickly learn to use them with both hands planted firmly on the wheel. The problem rears its head when the passenger wants to program the navigation system. This happens through a remote control that surely will be lost before very long. As my 14-year-old put it: "Dumb." Volvo should put buttons for the navigation system on the centre stack, where most of us expect to find them.
Naturally, the XC60 is offered with all the luxury features of a premium crossover: heated seats; dual-zone climate controls; standard eight-speaker stereo; and even anti-whiplash head restraints.
So we have here a curvy, stunning premium crossover with a spacious interior and generally smart controls, the navigation system excepted.
The turbo engine is plenty zippy, the chassis is obviously strong and well engineered and the all-wheel-drive system provides comfort in bad weather.
I would, however, be quite happy to own the XC60 without some of the driving nanny add-ons.
2010 VOLVO XC60
Type: Premium, five-passenger crossover
Engine: 3.0-litre, inline-six-cylinder, DOHC, turbocharged
Horsepower/Torque: 281 hp/295 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 13.5 city/9.1 highway; premium recommended
Alternatives: Infiniti EX35, Acura RDX, Lexus RX350, BMW X3, Lincoln MKX, Mercedes-Benz ML350
- Beautiful design, inside and out
- Very safe with some useful safety features
- Strong performance
- Nimble handling
- Navigation system remote is sure to be lost
- Some of the driving nanny aids are simply too much of a good thing
- Mediocre fuel economy
- More cabin cubbies are needed