The mid-size crossover section is red-hot and has been for years. And it’s particularly important for luxury automakers, as they have seen their stalwart sedan lineups fade in the face of the ute assault.
Volvo has never been a proper luxury brand, like BMW or Mercedes, and it’s also traditionally occupied a less snazzy sub-luxury niche than Land Rover or Jaguar. Volvos used to be unpretentious cars unpretentious people who would drive their cars until the wheels fell off and then they’d put some new wheels on them and drive some more.
But after the financial crisis, the Swedish legend so beloved by thrifty Northeastern college professors was acquired by China’s Geely and out on a more overtly luxurious path. Initial results have been more than encouraging: the large XC90 SUV was Business Insider’s Car of the Year for 2015.
Since then, we’ve sampled a few additional new Volvos, and we’ve been impressed. But with the mid-size, five-passenger XC60, Volvo really has something to prove. Competition in the heart of the SUV segment for these versatile neo-wagons, favoured chariots of affluent suburbanites, is intense.
We borrowed a 2018 XC60 T8 E-AWD Inscription — nicely optioned, stickering at $US71,590 — and spent a few days driving around the New Jersey suburbs, and we also made a weekend jaunt into New York City. How did the most important vehicle in Volvo’s lineup perform? Read on to find out.
Photos by Hollis Johnson.
The Volvo XC60 is a pretty nice-looking SUV. Scandinavian values of restraint govern the aesthetic, for the most part. And the XC60 looks very good in 'Crystal White.'
The front fascia is, in classic Volvo fashion, subdued, but it isn't boxy. It is a tad more svelte than the first-generation XC60 that the 2018 model year it replaces.
This is the first XC60 built under the watchful eyes of Geely, and it makes use of an engineering platform shared with the XC90.
The famous Volvo badge. Yes, it could be mistaken for a 'male' symbol, but it's actually a symbol for iron. And if you know your Volvos, you'll know all about the storied strength of 'Swedish steel.'
The SUV is a tough design challenge. The goal is to maximise space for people, pets, and stuff -- not astound with glorious lines and curves.
Back in the days when the first SUVs were developed (and they weren't yet called that), they were boxy, quasi-military vehicles intended to absorb offroad punishment. If you didn't want to bust through rocks and rivers or cross deserts, you lived a more peaceful automotive life and gravitated toward sedans and station wagons.
The modern SUV owner has different ideas and wants his or her vehicle to be attractive, often even somewhat sporty. The XC60 isn't an aggressive-looking machine, but it is smooth and sleek, with a nice beltline that forms a wedge from front to back and culminates in an angular rear side window. The angle echoes the tall tail lights, which have been a Volvo feature for years.
The XC60 now resides in the middle of the Volvo SUV range, with big brother XC90 above and soon-to-arrive XC40 below.
I didn't stress out the cargo capacity during our vehicle loan, but it's on par with the segment. Fold the second row down and you have a nice cavern into which you can stow stuff.
It could handle luggage and gear for a family of five for a weekend getaway, gobble up groceries for a week, and accommodate modest loads, from a mountain bike to some antiques.
Our XC60 was the Inscription trim level -- Volvo says it 'combines true Swedish craftsmanship with luxurious comfort.'
Out tester came with an offbeat drivetrain: the T8, which combines a turbocharged 2.0-litre inline four-cylinder motor with a supercharger and a hybrid system.
The triple-threat takes the horsepower to 400 horsepower with 472 pound-feet of torque. Remember, we're starting with a base 250-hp motor, then adding turbocharging for immediate punch, supercharging to cover the higher gears of an eight-speed gearbox, and a plug-in hybrid for frosting on this engineering cake.
The XC60 is fast. My colleague Ben Zhang and I both drove the vehicle, and while we don't do times 0-60 mph runs, we thought Volvo was justified in claiming the sprint in 4.9 seconds.
The hybrid aspect makes for an odd all-wheel-drive setup (Volvo calls its E-AWD). There's nothing connecting the front motor to the rear wheels, but there are two electric motors, one over each axle, with a 10 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery between them. It's an ingenious use of electric tech and it means that the only drive axle dealing with the turbo and the blower runs across the front end.
We did observe some notable torque steer when punching it. I haven't really felt good old-school torque steer for a while -- each front wheel briefly had a mind of its own -- so on the XC60, it was sort of refreshing, adding an element of wildness to an otherwise stately vehicle.
As for fuel economy, the government hasn't yet rated the XC60 in this trim level, but it's probably going to average around 25 mpg
I did try to recharge the XC60 -- using level 2 juice, which should have restored 18 miles of range in about less than five hours. After two hours, however, the battery was only marginally revived. But I think the public charging station was the problem.
All-electric driving can be selected by using Pure mode. Max velocity and performance comes with Power mode, and the Off Road mode mimics a more serious SUV. Everyday driving happens in Hybrid mode.
Don't miss that start-stop know, by the way. It's reminiscent of another Swedish brand, now sadly departed: Saab. Volvo's didn't used to put starters in the middle console, but now it does. As someone who owned two Volvos and a Saab, I find is kind of weird.
The skin of the XC6O is lovely, but what's inside is stunning. Volvo's interiors have gone full-Scandinavian and for those who dig the minimalist vibe, they're ideal.
The front cockpit is roomy and defined by the large center touchscreen running Volvo's Sensus Connect infotainment system. The screen is the most Tesla-like of any currently not produced by the Palo Alto carmaker.
The perspective for the driver is quite soothing -- not overstimulating, as it might be in a BMW or Audi.
There's more chrome in here that what die-hard Volvo fans might like, but overall it's tastefully handled.
Chrome, open-grain driftwood inlays, and glove-soft Nappa leather combine to deliver one of the best passenger experiences around. Oh, guess what -- the glove compartment is cooled! All part of the $3,800 Inscription package.
The good Swedish vibes extend to the back seat, where adults will be comfortable for short hauls. My 6-year-old and 12-year old had no complaints.
I've found it frustrating on previous Volvos we've tested, and I still get annoyed when adjusting the climate controls or the heated-and-cooled seats.
But the Sensus system is the next best thing visually to what Tesla is selling and could be a harbinger of things to come in the industry.
The 10-speaker. Bowers & Wilkins audio system is sublime and powerful: 330 watts. We named it Audio System of the Year for 2016 (it can be found in vehicles that aren't Volvos, in different configurations).
The Orrefors crystal shifter is gorgeous. But the shifting itself is somewhat bothersome, requiring a double-pull-down to activate drive.
The Volvo leather-wrapped fob is also gorgeous. I can't get enough of it, but then again, I owned two Volvos that started with humble plastic-clad keys.
Let's get the bad news out of the way first. The XC60 is beautiful and comfortable, but it also suffers from a rushed vibe, as if Volvo were pushing to get it into the segment. The quick acceleration can seem forced, the hybrid system is decent, but the plug-in EV aspect doesn't provide much range, and the ride and handling are less thrilling than what we've enjoyed on other recent Volvos.
The XC60 could have used a little more time in the oven.
But on balance, these are small complaints. The vehicle overall offers a compelling alternative to the usual suspects and will genuinely appeal to fans of Scandinavian design. Honestly, I think Volvos are now more Volvo than ever, embracing their Swedishness in more overt ways under Geely's ownership.
What they aren't are the Volvos of yore: stolid brickmobiles with a well-earned reputation for safety. Don't get me wrong, the XC60 is jammed with safety features, ranging from a thorough suite of driver-assist tech to front-seat massage function to keep those backs happy on longer journeys.
But while a classic Volvo 240 might have proclaimed its indifference to anything too modern, the XC60 is pushing the envelope. Sort of. The Adaptive cruise control system has a semi-autonomous feature called 'Pilot Assist' that can help with the steering, but it's not nearly as potent as Tesla Autopilot and Cadillac Super Cruise. I sampled it briefly and decided that it wasn't entirely worth it, but Volvo will obviously continue to evolve the tech.
Our Inscription tester started at about $US53,000, but it was crammed with almost $US20,000 worth of options; a base version with the core four-cylinder motor starts at $US45,000. The entry-level Momentum trim is $US41,500, and the sporty Momentum version adds another $US3,000. So Volvo's pricing for the XC60 is intended to offer something for everyone.
The ride is stable and our car could embrace its sporty side quite easily without turning into a sports car. Somehow, the turbo-supercharger-electric motor setup doesn't drive itself crazy, and the XC60s suspension is sharp enough to make pitching into curves fun. Wind and road noise are minimal.
So the bottom line is that Volvo has really bolstered its position in the mid-size crossover segment and now has a lineup of vehicles that can match up segment-by-segment with everything in the luxury realm. The vehicles are less quirky than they once were, but Volvo is really building on its legendary safety reputation by embracing a particular attitude toward luxury and by advancing the high-tech cause.
It won't be for everybody, and the XC60 isn't 100% successful. But it's absolutely worth a look. And Volvo needs customers to do that, as the battle for mid-size SUV hearts and minds heats up.
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