2011 Volvo XC60: A virtue wagon that can tempt you to sin

Photo Courtesy of Volvo
Photo Courtesy of Volvo
Warren Brown
Monday, November 29, 2010; 1:08 PM

The policeman was right. I was speeding. I have an explanation, which is not the same as an acceptable excuse. Nor is it meant to be. But it is the truth. I had slipped into the Joy Zone.

It is a hazard inherent in the operation of an exceptional automobile, which was the case that crisp November morning when I was driving the 2011 Volvo XC60 R-Design wagon heading north on Lee Highway in Northern Virginia.

How ironic!

I was driving one of the world's safest vehicles. Yet I ran into a speeding ticket that will cost me $200.

I am tempted to blame distraction, the cause of 90 percent of our nation's traffic accidents, especially in urban areas. But seduction is much closer to the truth.

I was seduced, snookered, suckered by the smoothness of the new XC60's turbocharged 3-liter in-line six-cylinder engine - 300 horsepower, 325 foot-pounds of torque. That's 19 more horsepower and 30 foot-pounds more torque than was available in the 2010 version of that engine.

But I can't really blame those power increases, either. Many cars have high-horsepower, high-torque engines. There is little about them, however, to lure you into the Joy Zone.

That zone is a special place, where driver and car become one. Only the finest cars can take you there. You think. Limbs move. The car goes. It is a machine totally in sync with human movement and emotion.

The better it performs, the better you feel, until reality intrudes.

I am lucky that intrusion came in the form of a speeding ticket. Other motorists aren't as fortunate. Their Joy Zone leads to injury, or death. I'll take the fine, thank you very much.

But the irony remains vexing. The XC60 R-Design wagon is so rock-solid safe. For example, it is available with an optional Volvo-patented technology, "City Safe." At 18 mph or below, an infrared detection system automatically slows or stops the wagon if a stationery or slowing vehicle, or human being, is detected in its path.

City Safe can be turned off in congested traffic where automatically stopping to avoid striking a vehicle in front of you can cause another motorist to slam into your rear end.

Nothing's perfect. But I appreciate Volvo's effort to put as much safety into its cars and wagons as possible. Other XC60 technology, such as an audible lane-departure warning system, represents a successful attempt by Volvo to improve on safety systems introduced by rivals. Ditto the XC60's available blind-side warning system, which can prevent motorists from swerving into unseen (by the human eye) trailing traffic.

It's all good stuff. But it is absent an important complement - my proposed Joy Zone Warning Device. It seems only fair that such technology be included in the XC60, considering that Volvo has gone out of its way to make the wagon accelerate and handle in the manner of a well-engineered sports car.

The Joy Zone Warning Device would detect dangerous fantasy levels, such as when a motorist, lost in the wow-zee of it all, exits a high-speed expressway and enters a more speed-restricted city street. It could issue dumbbell or knucklehead alerts, something like "Hey, knucklehead, slow down! You're on a city street. Slow down!"

I'd happily pay a couple of hundred bucks or more for that system. Heck, I'm paying for it anyway.

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