Somewhere in the Free State - If I fall asleep now, God forbid, will I wake up platooning behind a truck?
For obvious reasons, this is not a theory one should ever test - at least not until cars are ‘actually’ autonomous. Relying on so-called ‘semi-autonomous’ driving gadgets is a fatal move, as some Tesla drivers have found out the hard way after putting their faith in that dubiously named ‘Autopilot’ gizmo.
But it’s a curious thought that crossed my mind while ‘piloting’ Volvo’s new XC60 D5 from Gauteng to the KZN coast recently for a mid-winter thaw. Well, I did actually have a lot of time to think, and it was enlightening to experience Volvo’s Pilot Assist semi-autonomous tech on a long-distance journey.
Available on most modern Volvos, and a R19 200 option on the XC60, it is in essence a very larney radar and camera based active cruise control system that not only accelerates and brakes for you at speeds of up to 130km/h, but also provides steering assistance when the road markings are clear enough on both sides - although it will protest and deactivate if you don’t keep at least one hand on the steering wheel, and rightfully so.
The steering gizmo works better than similar systems that I’ve sampled, and you might accuse it of being a pointless gimmick, but I do appreciate the extra safety margin it provides. The active cruise control componentry worked exceptionally well too, braking calmly when slower vehicles got in the way and promptly accelerating back to the chosen cruising speed when said slowpokes moved over.
On curvy country roads, this Volvo handles neatly, although it doesn’t feel quite as sharp as BMW’s X3/X4 range. The ride is a bit firmer than it perhaps should be, largely thanks to the low profile 19-inch rubber fitted to the Inscription model that we had on test, but it’s still reasonably comfortable on most surfaces.
All XC60s have permanent all-wheel-drive as standard and an extra R26 750 gets you air suspension with four driver-selectable modes, including an ‘Off Road’ function - although don’t ever mistake this Thor’s hammer eyed SUV for a traditional bush warrior.
The D5, powered by a 173kW, 480Nm version of Volvo’s 2-litre turbodiesel, is easily the pick of the bunch here - although if it doesn’t match your budget there’s also a 140kW D4 on offer, or turbo petrols in 187kW T5 and 235kW T6 guises if performance is at the top of your wish list.
The D5 employs Volvo’s simple but ingenious PowerPulse compressed air tank to breathe life into the combustion chamber before the turbo spools up, ensuring lag-free pull offs. Power delivery is impressively linear, although the vehicle doesn’t feel particularly punchy - it’s got enough get up and go to do its job, nothing more and nothing less really. Consumption averaged 6.8 litres per 100km on the open road, which is fair for a vehicle of this size and stature.
Now that we’re talking dimensions, the XC60 is very much the ‘Goldilocks’ option in Volvo’s SUV line-up. Obviously if you need seven seats then the XC90 is your go-to Volvo, but if five chairs will suffice, the XC60 provides a spacious package with decent - although not quite exceptional - rear legroom and a biggish (505 litre) boot.
The XC60’s exterior also strikes that perfect design balance. Though it’s not as funky as the new XC40, it packs the elegance of the larger XC90 into a more athletic wrapping, complete with bow-and-arrow-like feature lines dug into lower side sections to lend a more taut, compact appearance.
Inside, the dashboard is reminiscent of the S90’s, although closer inspection reveals some neat new details such as a wave-like horizontal panel that runs along the lower dashboard, and which can be finished in a variety of classy-looking metal or wood trims.
Classy. Now that’s an understatement. Seemingly every panel and surface in here just oozes elegance, right down to the satin chrome door handles and that miniature Swedish flag label on the edge of the driver’s seat.
This cabin is a visual and tactile mästerverk, as Ludvig would put it, although the ergonomics might not prove ideal for all buyers as most functions are operated from the huge tablet-like central screen that hosts Volvo’s Sensus infotainment system.
It’s relatively easy to operate but you do have to swipe sideways between menus to access many functions. The climate controls are digitally housed too and require more eyes-off-the-road distraction than good old fashioned rotary dials would.
Thankfully, then, the City Safety auto braking feature (now also featuring steering assistance) is standard, along with Oncoming Lane Mitigation and Lane Keeping Aid.
You will have to fork out extra for some of the fancier options, including that aforementioned Pilot Assist, as well as things like head-up display (R14 900), massaging front seats (R5600), Park Assist Pilot (R7900) and a 360-degree camera for parking, which costs R12 750 extra.
What’s standard then? All XC60s come out the box with leather seats (power adjustable upfront), dual-zone climate control, auto lights and wipers and conventional cruise control. Upgrading to one of the design lines, such as R-Design or the opulent Momentum trim that our car featured, brings unique styling garnishes and larger 19” wheels (18” alloys are standard).
Priced between R666 000 and R784 500, and with the D5 inscription featured here retailing at R779 800, the XC60 range is well priced and specced in relation to its rivals, though by no means is it a ‘cheap’ option.
Sure, the ride and performance are average at best, and the ergonomics can get a bit iffy, yet the new XC60 is such a class act in terms of style, cabin finish, luxury, technology and overall refinement that its rivals must surely be having a hard time falling asleep at night.