Volvo’s new flagship is aiming to set a new standard not just with crash worthiness but also with ways to avoid those accidents in the first place.
Rear impacts? No problem
The system that might have prevented my accident is the rear impact protection system. We were stopped at a stop sign when we were struck by an old Ford pickup going around 45 mph. To prevent – or at least mitigate – those accidents, the XC90 has rear-facing radar that alerts the driver if it detects a potential rear collision. This gives the driver a chance to avoid the accident.
If the driver of the Volvo can’t avoid the impact, the XC90 swings into action itself. The seatbelts pretension to the safest position for the impact and the brakes are used to mitigate the force.
As smart as this system is, it just scratches the surface of the kind of safety Volvo has built into the XC90. In fact, the big luxury SUV incorporates two world firsts in safety.
Where no safety engineer has gone before
The first of these, the Safe Positioning system, is designed to help mitigate run-off road or single car accidents. Like the rear impact system, at the core of this system is a series of sensors. These sensors detect if the vehicle is leaving the road, and responds by adjusting the seat belts.
The belts work in concert with specially designed seats to mitigate not just the sort of horizontal forces encountered in vehicle on vehicle accidents, but the vertical forces the XC90 might encounter in a hard landing as the car leaves the road. In fact this system can reduce the impact by fully one-third.
Combined with Volvo’s active roll-over protection that not only applies brakes individually to help prevent the car from tipping, but also reduces engine torque to prevent the rotational force from affecting stability and the result is a truly world class level of safety.
The really stunning thing about this system is that Volvo has developed it despite the fact that there is not one safety test or regulation requiring it. Instead, Volvo engineers developed it because they crunched the numbers and found that as many as half of all traffic fatalities are caused in accidents like the ones the system is designed to mitigate.
After all, this is Volvo, and as the brand’s safety engineer Prof. Lotta Jakobsson says, “Committing to safety is not about passing a test or getting a ranking.”
Let Volvo do the work
The other world first in safety, is Volvo’s auto-braking system. This system is designed to prevent accidents where the driver of the XC90 turns in front of an oncoming car. If the Volvo’s combination of radars and ultrasonic sensors detect an imminent collision the brakes are applied to avoid, or at least mitigate it.
But this is just part of what Volvo has done to not only make the XC90 safer but also reducing driver workload.
To that end the XC90 is now capable of following the vehicle ahead in heavy traffic. This isn’t just the active cruise control increasingly common on new cars, but also uses the steering to keep the vehicle positioned behind the one ahead of it, and in the lane.
Parking is also partially automated. Twelve ultrasonic sensors scan the area around the car, providing the driver with a 360-degree bird’s eye view of what is happening around the car. This system will also notify the driver when a sufficiently large space has been found, and is capable of steering into the space by itself, so long as the driver controls the throttle.
Safe at any speed
It says something about Volvo’s commitment to safety, that I have written nearly 700 words without even mentioning the actual structure of the car.
This could be a story in and of itself, if anyone actually wanted to read about the intricacies of hot-formed boron steel. But, because this is not a Swedish technical journal, I will simply say this the XC90 uses more of this high strength steel than any of its competitors and five times as much as the previous generation.
The XC90 may stand out more because of its styling, luxury features, and impressive power. But as with many Volvos what will really set it apart from everyone else is its incredible commitment to safety. As professor Jakobsson says, “We lead, the industry follows.”