Have you ever been in a fender bender? Whether you're distracted with your BlackBerry, cellphone or screaming kids - it only takes a split second for disaster to strike.
Volvo's latest innovative technology called City Safety might be your saviour in the future.
It's a safety system designed to help you avoid or reduce the severity of a low-speed crash. And it's a standard feature on the new 2010 Volvo XC60 crossover utility vehicle.
Volvo is synonymous with safety. In 1959, Nils Bohlin, a Volvo engineer, invented the three-point seatbelt - a technology that has likely saved more lives than any other. Since then, the Swedish auto maker has led the way in safety technology.
And City Safety raises the bar higher. A laser mounted in the windshield near the rear-view mirror continuously monitors the traffic; it can detect vehicles up to 10 metres in front of the XC60's front bumper. If you're travelling less than 30 km/h and the vehicle ahead slams on its brakes, the system automatically applies the brakes if it senses a crash and the driver isn't reacting.
I tested the system in a safe environment at a dealership in Oakville, Ont., driving directly towards three City Safety signs. At 15 kilometres, I approach the signs without touching the brake pedal. In the nick of time, the technology takes over, grinding the 1,928-kg vehicle to a complete stop mere centimetres from the signs. The system holds the brakes for a second-and-a-half - enough time for the driver to take over.
While it works day or night, it can't detect pedestrians, bikes, or animals - only the rear of a moving or stopped vehicle. The windshield must also be clean and free of obstruction - snow, heavy rain or fog limits its detection capacity.
If the driver applies the brakes, accelerates or turns the steering wheel, the system won't activate, either. You can also deactivate the system via the left stalk behind the steering wheel, but I wouldn't recommend it. It's an impressive piece of safety technology.
The XC60 also has adaptive cruise control, which is handy for highway driving. Set the cruise control and, if the system detects a slower vehicle ahead, it automatically adapts to the vehicle's speed, applying the brakes as needed.
It can also accelerate automatically when the road is clear again - the driver need never touch a single pedal. The transition from the brake to throttle is smooth and steady - it doesn't feel jerky or awkward at any time.
Adaptive cruise control is part of a Technology package that costs $4,100 and includes Volvo's Collision Avoidance System and a lane-departure warning system, which monitors your car's position on the road and warns if you are crossing the lane unintentionally and possibly heading into the path of danger.
Volvo's blind spot information system is also part of the package. It alerts you to vehicles in your blind spot. If a vehicle enters your blind spot, a light appears in the front door post of the side-view mirrors. If you activate the turn signal, the light flashes to warn you it's not safe to make a lane change.
The system is so sensitive it'll even detect a motorcycle in your blind spot. At times, though, it's technology overload with lights flashing and buzzers sounding often. At least you can turn off most of the systems with the touch of a button.
The 2010 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD starts at $45,495, but beware of options - they add up fast.
A Convenience package on my tester costs $2,100; it adds speed-sensitive steering, rear power child locks, a sunglass holder and a power tailgate.
A Luxury package for $3,050 includes rear heated seats, rain-sensing windshield wipers and active bending headlights.
Standalone options, such as a wood steering wheel and a beautiful shade of bronze metallic paint, are undeniably attractive, but cost $350 and $790, respectively.
A rear-parking camera is handy in a vehicle of this size. It costs $1,100 but also requires a navigation package for $2,100. Before you know it, my test vehicle rings in at $59,685.
The interior is upscale; it seats five comfortably. In the driver's seat, you sit high up and have a commanding view of the road. The theatre-style rear seats offer excellent headroom and are as comfortable as the front seats.
Integrated child booster cushions fold up from the outboard rear seats so you'll never have to buy booster seats again - although you'll have to pay $500 for the option.
The cargo space is extremely large with 1,907 litres of room. The power tailgate opens via the key fob, which is convenient when you're burdened with grocery bags. Tinted glass is a nice touch, preventing wandering eyes from peering inside.
Cool two-toned complementary colours - espresso brown and soft beige leather - cover the seats, creating a contemporary and attractive cabin. The centre console is littered with countless buttons and dials, which makes it hard to find functions fast. But at least you can operate the navigation and audio controls via the steering wheel.
Under the hood is a 3.0-litre, turbocharged, six-cylinder engine that delivers 281 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. Mated to the engine is a six-speed automatic transmission with Geartronic, which lets you manually shift gears.
When driving, the XC60 feels large and heavy at times and there's some body lean when cornering. But it absorbs bumps and other degradations in the road well. It's also whisper-quiet inside.
Fuel economy is rated at 13.5 litres/100 km in the city and 9.1 on the highway. I averaged slightly higher at 13.9 L/100 km combined driving.
The new 2010 XC60 is probably the safest Volvo on the road thanks to innovative features like City Safety, which you can test for yourself at some retailers. It goes on sale this month.
2010 VOLVO XC60 T6
Type: Compact, luxury crossover
Base Price: $45,495; as tested, $59,685
Engine: 3.0-litre, DOHC, turbocharged, six-cylinder
Horsepower/Torque: 281 hp/295 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 13.5 city/9.1 highway; premium gas
Alternatives: BMW X3, Land Rover LR2, Lexus RX350, Acura RDX, Mercedes-Benz GLK
- Innovative safety technology
- Upscale interior
- Comfortable ride
- City Safety is a standard feature
- Price, and options add up
- Body lean when cornering