Volvo XC90 safety features


I had to try three times to swerve like a drunkard into the oncoming traffic lane. I was on a freeway in Spain, driving a new Volvo, and it would just not let me. The first two times, as soon as I started to drift from my lane, the Volvo's steering wheel rumbled a warning against my folly.

The third time, though, I managed to ignore the car's insistent warnings and head directly across the median line. (There were no oncoming cars, so death wasn't on the menu.) But the car didn't give up easily. The steering pushed back, directing the car safely back into my lane. Machine and I engaged in a battle of the wills over direction. Ultimately, it let me have my way. I could have driven down the wrong lane if I really wanted to. But the car certainly wouldn't let me do it by accident.

I was not going to die because of stupidity, drunkenness, or failure to pay attention. Not on this car's watch.

That's the 2015 Volvo XC90 for you. This car is a huge step for Volvo toward the company's Vision 2020 - a commitment to ensuring that no one will be killed or seriously injured in a Volvo by the year 2020. It's a tall order and clearly a commitment the company does not take lightly. The lane-departure system is just one of the new intelligent safety systems that Volvo is rolling out. Here's how they're supposed to protect you:
Pilot Assist

The feature I was testing on that freeway in Spain is Pilot Assist, where the car watches the cars in front and the road's lane markers to keep track of where the car should be on the road. It warns you when it sees you screwing up. If you persist, it steps in to save you.

Intersection Impact Prevention
The car will also stop you from smacking into another car at an intersection, by watching all the cars entering the intersection with the sort of focus only a machine loaded with cameras, sensors, and processors can muster. If it sees you miscalculate and turn into traffic when you should not, it hits the brakes to prevent the accident.

Rear-Collision Warning
If the car sees someone coming up too fast behind you, it will warn you, tighten the seat belts, flash warning lights at the driver behind, and activate the brakes so that we don't pile into the car in front of us after that car hits.

City Impact Prevention
If you're driving in the city at irritatingly slow speeds and make the foolhardy decision to take advantage of a second of downtime to grab a snack from the back seat - thereby failing to notice that the car in front of you went from slow to stopped - the car will slam on its own brakes at the last second (the kind of last second that only comes when an accident is imminent) and prevent you from dinging your fine ride and meeting another driver for an exchange of insurance information.

Cyclist and Pedestrian Detection
Also part of the city safety package in the XC90 is the car's ability to recognize cyclists and pedestrians and hit the brakes to prevent you from hitting them.

Off-Road Protection
While researching accidents, Volvo discovered that many of them - especially those that result in serious injury to the occupants - happen when a car goes off the road. So the XC90 has a warning system for that, too. It can detect the road shoulder, know when you are leaving the road, and warn the driver to get it together. If warnings fail - sometimes you can't do anything about it - the seat is designed to protect the driver from injury. First the seat belts pull the occupants deeper into the seats so the seats can protect them. Then, at impact, a portion of seat mounting breaks away, absorbing the impact so that people's spines don't take that hit.

Adaptive Cruise Control
My favorite safety feature in the XC90, though, is also a convenience feature: Adaptive Cruise Control. When I'm driving - fast on the freeway or, as is often the case, in bumper-to-bumper traffic - I tell the car how fast I would like to go. If there is no traffic, I'll go that speed. But if the traffic slows, the car slows, too. This feature becomes a lovely self-driving feature in the bumper-to-bumper traffic where urban dwellers spend so much time. If I tell the car I'd like to go 70, it will always look for that speed. But it will match my speed to that of traffic, braking and accelerating for me.

If someone cuts me off, it will brake. If traffic starts to move, it will accelerate. This makes for a much more relaxing drive. All I have to do during that hour of annoying traffic is point us in the right direction. The XC90 will handle all the stop and go. And coupled with the Pilot Assist, this means I don't even have to be very good at steering, since it will rumble the steering wheel and correct any stupid mistakes my inattention might bring on.

The car I drove was in preproduction. It will be in dealerships later this year. The XC90 T6 comes in three trim levels. And the XC90 T8 is a luxury plug-in hybrid with seven seats, three rows, plenty of storage, and an astonishing amount of power. Entry price is $48,900.