FeaturesThey're Boxy, But They're Good.

They’re Boxy, But They’re Good.

For those of you who haven’t seen the 1990 film Crazy People, that title will mean very little. It’s a tongue in cheek comment that still applies 28 years later despite being made about a brand that has most certainly evolved and yet there’s no denying that it still rings true;

Volvos. They’re boxy, but they’re good.

This is especially true given that prestigious magazine What Car? have recently announced the winners in their 2018 ‘Best Car Safety Award’ with the Volvo XC60 coming out on top. I’ll not lie, I had no idea that a -60 sized version of Volvo’s SUV even existed as despite being a petrolhead my Mastermind subject would undoubtedly be ‘crap vehicles from the 1970s and 80s’ rather than their contemporary counterparts, but upon initial inspection of a handful of images and some words I came across on the internet I can confirm that it does in fact appear to be both boxy, and good.

What I do know without having to carry out any specific research, however, is that Volvo have been at the forefront of innovation in safety for decades and so the XC60’s overall NCAP (New Car Assessment Programme) score of a full five out of five stars doesn’t come as too much of a surprise. Whilst the Americans were strapping test dummies laden with sensors into rocket sleds using six point harnesses and firing them into concrete walls at speeds far, far in excess of what any of their mighty V8 motorcars were capable of at the time, the Swedes were pushing eggs down slides in small wooden wheeled contraptions secured with a device that we now all take for granted; the three point seat belt. You guessed it, it was Volvo who introduced the seat belt as we know it in 1959 as standard equipment on their Amazon range, yet across the Atlantic seat belt usage remained low even into the 1970s.

Instead, drivers in the US were offered airbags that at first did little more than focus their explosive thrust upon the cover, propelling it directly into the driver’s face until somebody decided to add a hinge to the cover. True story, albeit one that I can’t back up whatsoever. I digress. By 1990 Volvo and a handful of other manufacturers were offering airbags not only in the steering wheel but also curtain style airbags that deployed from the roof and B-pillars and they were proud enough to let everyone know. If you can find a Volvo 850 that doesn’t still bear a sticker in the rear screen reading ‘SIPS Side Impact Protection System’ I’ll eat my car’s antilock-braking system. With such a track record for commitment to vehicle safety the XC60’s 98% adult occupant protection score in the NCAP tests might be expected, but just how did they achieve it and what did it take to pip the likes of Subaru’s XV and Volkswagen’s T-Roc, who took second and third places respectively, to the chequered crash test post?

As well as those seatbelts and airbags tucked into almost every last area of available space previously mentioned, clever structural design and digital technology also play a huge part in their safety success. Myriad cameras and a radar system provide the car with an ability to successfully sense when an impact is imminent and assist the driver in either avoiding or mitigating the effects of a collision, big or small. One of the systems onboard has been developed with the sole intention of detecting anything from pedestrians and cyclists to large animals (the Elk is Sweden’s national animal, after all) and another is capable of detecting the edge of the road and steering the vehicle back to safety, which I’d imagine would come in handy if you suffer from narcolepsy or have simply had a bit of a long day. All joking aside, the XC60 has the power to recognise a sleeping driver and in the event it does, will pull the car over safely. However, if that happened on a motorway you might have to reassess the definition of ‘safely’ given that stopping absolutely anywhere on a motorway isn’t particularly safe. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if it can use the car’s GPS location to determine which side of the road would be best to pull over to based on geographical location and local traffic rules, too. Have they essentually created an autonomous vehicle without the necessary certification that’s been getting the likes of Tesla and Google an inbox full of bad press lately?

There’s no denying that the name Volvo has been synonnymous with safety for the vast majority of their history, but since their acquision by Chinese multinational automotive goliath Geely eight years ago the research and development budget has certainly been forthcoming and it’s certainly paid off too. The Volvo XC60 is in fact the vehicle with the highest overall NCAP score ever. Yes – ever.

‘Yeah, but Volvos are boring’, your internal monologue may be vocalising as your eyes digest this article. And that is why this is the point where I mention that their petrol hybrid version kicks out a healthy 407 horsepower. That’s right, over 400 horsepower in a hybrid SUV. That’s surely enough power to be classed as dangerous in the hands (and feet) of many, so it’s a good job for drivers, passengers, cyclists and Elk alike that so much safety has been designed in as standard.

Could this be the safest car in the world? If it’s all the same, I’d rather not find out first hand…

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Russ Atkinson
Russ Atkinson
Russ joined Factory having completed his degree in Graphic Design at The Arts Institute at Bournemouth. Handling the rare combination of a mastery of both words and images, Russ lends his writing skills to his overarching responsibility for design and production scheduling. Russ loves building BMWs of both the 2 and 4 wheel variety.

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