It’s hard to get excited about safety. But Volvo’s new XC90 SUV is so packed with life-saving technology, it’s an exception. The car has a number of radar sensors and camera monitors used by its crash-avoidance software to keep passengers safe. If its computer system deems that a crash is imminent, it can alert the driver—or take control.
Short of turning the XC90 into a fully autonomous car, Volvo has used every driverless tool at its disposal. Radar-based cruise control keeps the vehicle a safe distance from traffic ahead. Cameras monitor traffic lines for automatic lane centering. If the car senses you’re letting it drift, it vibrates the steering wheel. Radar scans your blind spots, so if you attempt to merge into an occupied lane, an alarm sounds and lights in the side mirror flash.
The XC90 takes automation a step further, into the realm of artificial intelligence.
A lot of that technology has found its way into other vehicles too. But the XC90 takes automation a step further, into the realm of artificial intelligence. It has software that learns your driving tendencies and, by monitoring your steering, braking, and acceleration patterns, can catch your mistakes before they turn deadly. The car compares your behavior to previous drives. So, if you start jerking the wheel, the center console will flash a text warning advising you to take a break. It’s also the first SUV in the world to automatically brake if it’s headed toward an oncoming car, cyclist, or pedestrian. The car does this with windshield-mounted radar that scans more than 600 feet ahead, night or day, rain or shine. If a collision is imminent, it will brake even if the driver is pressing the gas.
All of these innovations make the XC90 SUV the crown jewel of Volvo’s audacious in-house pledge to eradicate death and serious injury in all of its vehicles by 2020. As such, it even protects you against other drivers’ recklessness. Rear-facing radar monitors the speed and distance of vehicles behind you. In the event that you’re about to be rear-ended, the XC90 tightens your seatbelt and applies the brakes so you don’t strike vehicles ahead. Volvo also rearranged the bulky seat-adjustment motors and other hardware beneath the seats, making room for self-crumpling frames that direct energy away from passengers. The system reduces the risk of spinal injury by 30 percent.
Though it may not be the most powerful SUV out there, the XC90 has become a dominant force in highway safety.
Fuel Economy: 20‑25 mpg
Acceleration: 0 to 60 in 6.1 seconds
Horsepower: 316 at 5,700 rpm
Price: Starts at $48,900
This article was originally published in the July 2015 issue of Popular Science, under the title “A Car To End Traffic Deaths.”