After more than a decade of doing basically nothing with its XC90 SUV, Volvo has suddenly kicked things into high gear. The automaker is aggressively previewing the all-new 2016 XC90, first showing off the crossover’s infotainment tech, letting us ride along in a prototype, revealing the interior, and even detailing the super-awesome-sounding plug-in-hybrid powertrain option. Now Volvo is returning to form and highlighting some of the upcoming SUV’s new safety features, two of which the company says are “world firsts.”
It’s hardly surprising that Volvo, which has built its reputation on safety, would pull such tricks out of its sleeve for the new XC90. The model is the automaker’s de facto flagship, and the new one will carry the standard for the brand’s next-generation vehicles to follow. The first world-first safety feature debuting on the XC90 is Safe Positioning, which is aimed at reducing injuries in crashes where the vehicle leaves the road. When the system detects that the XC90 is running off the road, it cinches tight the seatbelts, locking occupants snugly into the seats. This is important because the seats have energy-absorbing material between their outer layers and the frame designed to cushion occupants’ spines in the event of an extreme vertical impact, such as a hard landing at the bottom of a ditch.
Next up is an automatic braking feature that can stop the car before it turns in front of oncoming traffic. This is a common sort of crash, where the driver of a car turning left, for example, misjudges the velocity of—or simply doesn’t see—an oncoming car and makes a turn in front of it. Our home state of Michigan is so paranoid over the prospect of such accidents that it designed many of its roads without left-turn lanes, choosing instead to route traffic through a so-called “Michigan Left,” which is where cars wanting to turn left instead turn right or go straight at an intersection, then more or less pull a U-turn using designated lanes on the left to avoid crossing two directions of traffic. Volvo’s mistrust of left-turners elevates the automatic-braking game from a simple detection of largely stationary objects in front of a vehicle (as executed by the automaker’s own City Safety feature) to a more complex decision-making process that can consider faster-moving targets not directly in front of a vehicle.
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We’re fairly certain that Volvo has even more safety advances in store for the XC90, but we may need to wait until the model makes its full debut next month to find out.
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