Volvo's XC60 five-seat crossover turned out to be very different from what I expected -- in both good ways and bad. Pricing starts at $33,775, with the hot-rod T6 R-Design model I tested listing for $48,475, and all XC60s are covered by a 5 year/50,000 mile warranty with 3 years or 36,000 miles of free routine maintenance. What sets the XC60 apart from other Volvos? Let's drive it and find out.
It is tempting to start this review by reminiscing about the Volvo station wagon my parents had when I was a kid. But I won't, for two reasons: One, nearly every Volvo review starts with a reminiscence about a Volvo wagon, and two, my folks didn't have a Volvo wagon; they drove a Dodge Dart. Not that any of this matters, because the Volvo XC60 has absolutely nothing to do with the big, boxy Volvo wagon my folks drove. Er, your folks. Well, someone's folks, anyway.
That said, the XC60 does bear a wee bit of resemblance to an old Volvo wagon -- the way the body curves inward just below the side glass reminds me of the shoulder-line on the old 245, while the taillights reach to the sky like on the old Volvo 850. But other than that -- and the fact that the XC60 is, by wont of necessity, vaguely wagon-shaped -- it's a totally different look. I actually think the XC60 is the best-looking vehicle Volvo makes; I love the aggressive nose and the way the tailgate curves back in on the body. Nothing at all like those old Volvo shoeboxes. And Volvo designs age well -- Volvo's big XC90 is now nearly 10 years old and still looks fresh and new.
Back in My Day, Volvos were known for safety, not style, although the safety reputation remains: The XC60 scored top marks in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) crash tests and has nabbed IIHS Top Safety Pick award two years running. But other than that, it's completely different from those old Volvo wagons.
In the Driver's Seat
The Volvo 245 wagon which I have promised not to talk about had a simple and functional interior -- back in the 80s and 90s, their car dashboards were nearly identical to their truck and bus interiors. Today's XC60 strives for simplicity with style: Easy-to-read gauges and well-marked switches live happily on a dash made of high-quality soft-touch plastic. Volvo's "floating" center console carries the stereo and A/C controls on a flat panel with storage space just behind.
Volvo seats are famous for being exquisitely comfortable regardless of the occupant's shape or size, and the XC60 is no different. But the back seat is a different story -- it's undersized and lacks rear legroom. And yet the cargo bay is pretty big -- 30.8 cubic feet with the seats up, better than the Audi Q5 (29.1) and the Mercedes GLK (23.3), though not as good as the Lexus RX (40.0). The first time I had a good crawl around the XC60, I was wondering why Volvo didn't give it more back-seat room at the expense of cargo space -- and then I figured it out. Like many cars, the XC60 has its fuel tank under the rear seat and ahead of the rear axle. See this lip at the forward edge of the back seat? Volvo has already moved the seat back as far as it will go. It's a limitation of the XC60's platform -- its basic architecture -- which is shared with other Volvo and Ford products. That's a real shame -- the small back seat is the one glaring fault in an otherwise excellent interior. It's a sharp contrast to the utility of the old Volvo wagons that I am not talking about.
On the Road
If I were talking about old Volvo wagons, which I'm not, I'd mention that they had engines that sounded like tractors and all the driver appeal of a city bus. Not so the XC60, which can be had with a smooth-running 3.2 liter inline six-cylinder engine that puts out 240 horsepower and is perfectly adequate for the two-ton XC60. I drove the T6 R-Design version, which gets a turbocharged 3-liter inline six good for 300 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque. What a rocket ship! Not even the extra 200 lbs. of my tester's all-wheel-drive system could temper this engine's enthusiasm. Out on the two-lane roads of Colorado where I tested the XC60, I passed everything I could, because I could. Now that's something your folks could never do in their... well, you know.
It's a similar story for the handling. Back in Volvo's home country of Sweden -- and I swear I'm not making this up -- cars must pass a Moose Avoidance test, which involves loading up the car with 5 people and swerving to avoid a fictional moose. As a result, the XC60 handles panic swerves with admirable grace. R-Design models like my test car get a sport-tuned suspension, which is so much fun in the curves that I found myself hoping for a wayward moose to avoid. But the trade-off is a firmer ride and reduced off-road grip.
Would I recommend the XC60? Truth is, I'm completely torn.
From the driver's seat, I love almost everything about the XC60: The tall driving position, the manageable size, the power from the T6 engine, and especially the way my R-Design tester tackled the curvy roads. I wouldn't mind getting the sports-car-like handling without the sports-car-like ride, but it's a trade-off I'd be willing to live with.
But people don't buy CUVs because of the way they handle; they buy them because they have people and stuff to haul, and that's where the XC60 falls down. The ratio of back seat to cargo space is all wrong -- there's plenty of space for cargo but not enough for people. Even if you have small children, they'll eventually grow to the point that the XC60 just won't be roomy enough.
Price-wise the XC60 is a pretty good deal. Base models start at $33,775, and the nicely equipped guided-missile version I drove listed for $48,475, which I thought was good value for the performance and luxury on offer. Still, no deal is good if the vehicle doesn't deliver what you need, and if what you need is back seat space, then the XC60 just doesn't fit the bill. If you need lots of cargo room and are OK with the cramped second row, the XC60 is a good choice, as is the less-expensive Mazda CX-7 and the more prestigious Mercedes-Benz GLK350. If space is the order of the day, then the Cadillac SRX delivers more room with good road manners (although it's not a sports car like the XC60), while the Lexus RX350 delivers loads of luxury at the cost of a numb driving experience.
One thing's for sure: It's nice to see that Volvo has evolved since the wagons they made when I was a kid -- not that I would know from personal experience. But I can say with 100% certainty that the XC60 makes a much better family car than a Dodge Dart. -- Aaron Gold