Mountain Wheels: Safety-oriented Volvo offers flashy updates to its SUV and wagon family
Volvo continues its quest forward, bridging all-important safety with increasingly higher-end European design, the results being a suite of incremental changes to its very well-accomplished model lineup.
We spent some time way, way north in the Rockies — in Alberta’s Banff National Park and along the Trans-Canada Highway to Vail Resorts partner property Kicking Horse Mountain in Golden, British Columbia — checking out a few of those updates.
Volvo is celebrating the 60th anniversary of one of its most critical inventions, the three-point automobile seatbelt, and to that end, the company continues its historical focus on safety with an earnest commitment to avoid fatalities for drivers of its products and those involved in collisions with Volvo automobiles.
That the company has established a program to share its decades of crash research data with other manufacturers, and it will continue to use computer modeling to provide in-vehicle crash safety for those of us who fall outside of the weight and height of the standard crash test dummy.
To that end, we played it safe while romping around in several vehicles. (One does not speed in Banff National Park, unless they are following a rogue Ferrari California that braved those low-digit limits.) That included a new six-seat rendition of the popular full-size XC90 SUV, a very exciting Polestar-engineered edition of the XC60 mid-size SUV and the Cross Country edition of the V60 wagon, which we drove up mountain access trails to the top of Kicking Horse.
XC90’s status as a solid competitor to BMW, Audi and Mercedes full-size SUVs continues with a new round of technological and mechanical updates, some of which actually can be reverse-engineered to recent XC90 models.
For 2020, that includes the option to have six full-sized seats in the vehicle, rather than squeezy second- or third-row seating, allowing easier passenger access and full capability for a big load of child seats, if you are in a very large family way.
The car’s also received some gentle but pleasant stylistic tweaks, including a concave front grille, updated bumpers and wheels, as well as more tangible haptic feedback through the wheel when using the increasingly autonomous Pilot Assist driving function. For the record, Volvo’s lane-assist is one of those Jesus-take-the-wheel types and can be uncomfortably grabby, especially on highway curves, so I quickly scrolled through the large Sensus touchscreen on the dash and disabled it. That’s just me. More positively, braking has got more real hydraulic parts in its system, rather than the drive-by-wire tech, so the brake feel is more natural.
The partially hybrid T8 twin-engine plug-in hybrid model also receives additional battery power, creating a 400-horsepower machine with 11.6 kilowatt-hour and a rather remarkable $87,000 price tag, at the high-end Inscription level. Yes, that does include a gigantic Orrefors crystal gear shifter, and if you like an alternative to even those super-comfortable Volvo leather seats, the company also has new wool blend choices available.
The V60 Cross Country also offers a credible, snow- and off-road-capable, 250-horsepower vehicle that very handily hauled us up the mountain. It rides 2.5 inches higher than the standard V60 wagon, with 8.3 inches of ground clearance — you may remember me feeling a little claustrophobic when navigating a world of left-lane-hogging Suburbans while driving it on Interstate 70 earlier this year.
The lift doesn’t make it a monster truck, but the added poise complements a vehicle that is overall lower, longer and wider, with its looks getting a bit closer to the physically larger V90 wagon or even the XC60 SUV. All-wheel drive is standard, with switchgear for a slightly softer suspension setting when bounding up the hills, and we certainly felt confident dodging mountain bikers or scrambling up some very steep slopes. A model we drove came in just shy of $57,000, including a $4,000 Bowers and Wilkins audio system.
The flashiest ride on hand was the new XC60 Polestar E-AWD, which gains the 415-horsepower, 494 foot-pounds T8 twin-engine gas-electric combo for blistering off-the-line speed, which we sampled on a local airport runway, rather than contending with the Mounties and their radar guns.
It’s a pretty one-of-a-kind performance vehicle, with fully adjustable dampers (if you want to crawl under the chassis in your driveway and mess with them) and bright gold Japanese Akebono high-performance brakes — and those audacious gold seatbelts, which just make the vehicle seem faster, standing still. Forged alloy 22-inch wheels also give the powerful beast a more solid ride.
Again, not cheap — $73,490 as tested — but set to create an exciting alternative to folks who seem to be ponying up in record numbers to buy the hail-magnet Audi SQ5.
Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Greeley. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Spoiler alert: There was almost no drama whatsoever during my recent test of the accomplished, practical and even vaguely sexy-looking Hyundai Sonata hybrid.