Stun­ning semi-au­ton­o­mous driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence to savour

LONG-TERM FLEET

Business Day - Motor News - - MOTOR NEWS - Phuti Mpyane

My pre­vi­ous en­counter with a Volvo of any kind was with the flag­ship XC90: an amaz­ingly well­sorted car which Volvo used to shift the goal posts for large SUV stan­dards by a mile.

It’s a pre­vi­ous win­ner of the South African Car of the year gong in 2016. So with a full-plate of ea­ger­ness and cu­rios­ity to jump in, I pointed the square key to open our Volvo XC60 longterm test car — the cur­rent holder of the 2018 World Car of the year ti­tle.

The in­tro­duc­tion was gen­uinely much like that of any po­ten­tial first-timer. It’s a sur­pris­ingly hand­some ve­hi­cle, with strong aes­thetic links to the larger XC90 but a tad smaller in form. As mo­tor­ing me­dia we hardly pay much at­ten­tion to en­try and egress. Thank­fully Volvo has thought of this bit ex­ten­sively and slip­ping into or out of the XC60 is about one of its lesser cel­e­brated hall­marks.

Aside from the beau­ti­fully shaped and cream leather­bound chairs crafted with in­put from chi­ro­prac­tors, the XC60’s cabin is a homely en­vi­ron­ment. Hav­ing re­cently hopped out of a BMW X4 and straight into the Volvo pro­vided the ideal op­por­tu­nity to com­pare dec­o­ra­tive tastes be­tween Volvo and the Ger­man tri­umvi­rate.

Start­ing off with its cen­tral com­mand cen­tre that’s mod­elled on a con­tem­po­rary dig­i­tal tablet, ac­cess­ing its many fea­tures is helped by op­er­a­tional pro­to­cols sim­i­lar to the world’s mobile de­vices. It makes find­ing fea­tures through its touch­screen in­ter­face very easy.

Then there are the sur­face trim­mings. The Scan­di­na­vian decor in our Volvo mim­ics a high-end stu­dio apart­ment in ex­e­cu­tion. The In­scrip­tion grade walk also beau­ti­fies the XC60 with acres of chrome edges around the glass house, skirt­ing and on the front and rear valances. The XC60 can be had in both petrol or diesel flavour and our D5 model is pow­ered by a 173kW and 480Nm four-cylin­der diesel mated to an AWD driv­e­train — a fine con­fig­u­ra­tion I must ad­mit.

What’s it like to drive though? Very good in­deed. A punchy en­gine and light steer­ing ac­tion makes it pleas­ingly ag­ile every­where and height­ens the sense of re­fine­ment. The XC60 sticks closely to the es­tab­lished recipe of 2.0l diesel de­riv­a­tives of the BMW X3, Audi Q5 and Mercedes-Benz GLC in sen­si­bil­ity driven pack­ag­ing of prac­ti­cal­ity, class, af­ford­abil­ity and safety.

Re­call­ing modern ob­ses­sions of ve­hi­cle brands to cre­ate some sort of am­bidex­ter­ity in com­bin­ing road driv­ing with beaten track ca­pa­bil­ity, and al­though I’ve yet to make a de­tour down a gravel road, this Volvo’s 20-inch Miche­lins should fare well on coun­try roads, the abil­ity of the AWD four-wheel sys­tem to rede­ploy torque across all wheels im­plies it can crawl over rea­son­able dif­fi­cul­ties with­out ex­pen­sive crunchy sounds em­a­nat­ing un­der­neath.

Our long-ter­mer is gen­er­ously loaded with tech. Adap­tive cruise con­trol with pi­lot as­sist is what I’d like to focus on out­side of a litany of safety and con­ve­nience systems. Volvo has be­come ex­ceed­ingly good at safety but so too have other brands in its seg­ment. The race for supremacy ex­ists in the au­ton­o­mous driv­ing ca­chet.

The eas­ily ac­ti­vated jump to semi self-driv­ing be­gins with adap­tive cruise con­trol, which un­der nor­mal cir­cum­stances scans your vicin­ity look­ing for a lead ve­hi­cle di­rectly in front with au­to­matic ap­pli­ca­tion of throt­tle or brakes in line with the ve­hi­cle in front. Thumb in Pi­lot As­sist and the army of sen­sors seeks out lanes and bar­ri­ers; the car then takes over steer­ing du­ties with alarm­ing ac­cu­racy.

I spent each and ev­ery avail­able op­por­tu­nity on the road test­ing out its self-driv­ing prow­ess and found it scores highly, first, on rapid iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of objects di­rectly or sur­round­ing the ve­hi­cle. Then it scored well in suc­cess­fully track­ing the ma­jor­ity of road lanes, able to swiftly make light steer­ing ad­just­ments to keep it­self on the straight and nar­row in be­tween other ve­hi­cles and closed up places. It’s par­tic­u­larly im­pres­sive when the road curves, more so than in any other ve­hi­cle I’ve an­a­lysed.

Full au­ton­omy is still some way off. As a driver you are still re­quired to in­ter­vene, a lot. The cars still have no clue what a yield line is nor can they rec­og­nize red traf­fic lights or sharp changes in the flow of roads.

Have your XC60 with Pi­lot As­sist and you will find that you are able to del­e­gate a mod­icum of driv­ing func­tions to the car in aid­ing your trav­els to be less la­bo­ri­ous and safer too. It’s easy to un­der­stand why it has been cho­sen best car in the world right now.

Voted World Car of the Year 2018, the XC60 con­tin­ues Volvo’s im­pres­sive rein­ven­tion.

The Scan­di­na­vian decor mim­ics a high-end apart­ment in ex­e­cu­tion

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