Picture the typical stop-and-go commuter grind: You're doing a slow crawl, you accelerate to 30 km/h, spot brake lights ahead, you brake, you're crawling again, accelerating, braking, accelerating, crawling, bored, half awake, reaching to adjust the audio system ...
All it takes is a moment's distraction for the classic bumper crumpler to occur but many long hours of aggravation may be needed to deal with the aftermath.
Swedish car maker Volvo, with a reputation built on taking safety seriously, says 75 per cent of collisions occur at low speeds and, in 50 per cent of those under 30 km/h, drivers take no action at all.
With these stats in mind, it has fitted its new 2010 XC60 3.2 AWD crossover with a standard automatic braking system called City Safety to narrow that inaction gap.
I've been slow to accept the notion of "electronic nannies" taking over driving tasks from the person responsible for vehicle operation, but this Swedish au pair has the potential to keep you out of trouble rather than get you into it.
Volvo describes City Safety as a collision avoidance/mitigation system designed to operate at speeds below 30 km/h. It employs a laser sensor to determine the closing rate between your vehicle and the one ahead, and if it decides you're likely to run into it, activates 50 per cent of the XC60's braking capability - which should wake you from your commuter stupor - and will at least mitigate the resulting crash, if you still haven't reacted.
If you're rolling at from four to 15 km/h, it will actually bring the vehicle to a stop, if traction allows. Any reaction by the driver - braking, steering, accelerating - will override the system.
There are, of course, a few caveats - it only reacts to car-sized objects, not cyclists or pedestrians, for example - and its abilities are still limited, likely more in fear of litigation than because the back-room boffins haven't got more things up their sleeves. It's a first step - not just by Volvo, other car makers offer similar systems - that presages more effective approaches that will surely follow.
Volvo introduced the XC60 early last year, initially with only the 3.0-litre, 281-hp T6 turbo-engine, currently priced at $47,295. The XC60 3.2 arrived later with a normally aspirated 3.2-litre inline-six that makes 235 hp and goes for a more affordable $39,995 in front-wheel-drive and $44,495 in all-wheel-drive form.
The XC60 is built on a platform shared with a number of Volvos and the Land Rover LR2 that is modified to suit its crossover style and personality. It slots in between the wagon-like XC70 and the larger XC90.
Its style is a nicely judged blend of Volvo tradition with the universal crossover mix of form and function. Its angularity is softened around the edges into a very eye-appealing shape that also manages to look purposeful and suitably upscale for the small premium crossover segment it's aimed at.
Its crossover personality means that although it looks kind of SUV-like and can be had with all-wheel-drive it's actually optimized for on-pavement performance. And the 235 hp it makes at 6,200 rpm - while singing a mutedly sporty tune, that all but disappears on a light throttle - and the 236 lb-ft of torque that peak at 3,200 rpm, urged along by the six ratios in its automatic transmission produce a more than satisfactory level of acceleration and good overall drivability. Shifts could be a little less noticeable, however. The XC60's electronically controlled AWD system delivers balanced four-wheel traction as required.
Fuel economy isn't this 1,872-kg vehicle's strong point, although it's not awful, with EnerGuide numbers of 13.8 L/100 km city and highway. Oddly, its consumption isn't any better than the more powerful T6 turbo-engined version, which is rated at 13.0 city/9.0 highway. I averaged 10.8 L/100 km, but the majority of my driving involved highways.
The XC60 steering has just about the right weight, the front tires' response to steering input is good and it turns into corners smoothly, adopts a flat-ish lean angle and then settles into confident stability.
In other words, it's a pleasant vehicle to drive, doing pretty much what you expect it to do. Ride is taut enough you'll feel every pavement ripple and be pitched around a bit on frost-heaved back roads, but I found it more than acceptable.
The XC60's passenger compartment - unlike the larger XC90 which can seat seven (and is a stiff-ish step up at $51,995 with the same 3.2 motor) - holds only five, four if you care about rear seat comfort.
With the rear seats occupied, there's 873 litres of cargo space available and with the seatback folded 1,907 litres.
The cabin is contained within a Volvo-designed safety structure backed up by a multiplicity of electronic driving aids, including a standard blind spot warning system that seemed to generate false readings when it rained - and a barrage of airbags.
Interior design is clean and modern, with a fat, leather-rimmed wheel with audio and cruise controls, a simple instrument cluster, a rather elegantly formed aluminum-trimmed centre stack with a competent audio system, dual zone climate control, supportive power seats finished in leather, standard Bluetooth connectivity, trip computer and, well, a lot of other stuff.
With the segment it's slotted into expected to experience strong growth, having a strong contender such as the XC60 should give Volvo's fortunes a needed boost.
2010 Volvo XC60
Type: Compact luxury crossover
Base Price: $44,495; as tested, $44,495
Engine: 3.2-litre, DOHC, inline-six
Horsepower/torque: 235 hp/236 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 13.8 city/8.9 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Acura RDX, Audi Q5, BMW X3, Cadillac SRX, Infiniti EX35, Lexus RX350, Lincoln MKX, Land Rover LR2, Mercedes-Benz GLK-class, Nissan Murano
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