On The Road Review: 2010 Volvo XC60

Long known for its family of boxy looking family wagons, Volvo has yet another five-door wagon now on the market. Yet, this latest model is anything but boxy and in many ways may be the finest family offering yet from this modest Swedish automaker.

The 2010 XC60 is a crossover wagon based on the successful S60 sedan platform. Using a fully independent suspension and full-time all-wheel drive, the XC60 is more stylish as well as easier to use than the XC70 Cross Country wagon that has been a staple of the Volvo lineup for several years.

Using a body that has a high belt-line with distinctive shoulders and lava-lamp like LED taillights, the XC60 really seems like a clean-sheet design rather than a warmed over old design like many Volvos really are.

That impression carries over from behind the wheel even as the brand gives into its traditions with a cabin very reminiscent of every other Volvo-badged product — dark, gloomy and staid. Yes, the controls are convenient to use; yes, the front gauges are large dials that are easy to see; and yes, there is enough aluminum brightwork to offer some positive accents.

But the starkness of the cabin hides the styling that makes the seats above average, the space suitable for real adults, plus an array of features that more than get the job done.

The great feelings come after you activate the push-button start (a two-step process that still requires the keyfob to be inserted into the dash). Depress the electric throttle and the 281-hp turbocharged 3.0-liter in-line six delivers immediate responses through a swift-shifting six-speed automatic transmission. Power is abundant and never seems to be far away, making driving seem quite effortless. This is so different from many previous Volvos that seem to want to think about delivering their power while you patiently wait.

The car’s handling is sparkling too with a weighted steering wheel that feels comfortable in your hands when pressed into quicker service, yet retains its path accuracy at more sedate speeds. This is contrary to many of the latest crossover wagons, as “numb” steering seems to suffice for ‘light’ steering. The differences may be subtle to most drivers. But for those that actually enjoy their time behind the helm a car with accurate, crisp steering feel is much more pleasurable to operate.

Some body lean appears as you exercise the right pedal on winding roads, but otherwise this chassis seems well-suited to the demands of a family of five that usually uses only one seat. The ride is serene in all situations but where the road has crumbled almost to dirt, a shortcoming that most Volvo owners will never discover.

Throw the liftgate overhead, and the XC60 reveals a flat load floor improved by split-folding second row seats that recline without removing any headrests. Rear seat space is adequate for most, yet somewhat dependent upon how tall — and how thoughtful — your front seat occupants are. Access to both front and rear is easier than in most car-based wagons too, as the Volvo enjoys the higher hip point that makes these vehicles so popular right now.

With a plethora of the usual Volvo safety features, plus the new City Safety Braking system that automatically slows the car if it detects an impending low-speed collision, the XC60 is being called the safest car that Volvo has ever offered.

After seven days together, the XC60 just might be my favorite Volvo ever.

Just the Facts: 2010 Volvo XC60

The XC60 is a compact to midsize premium crossover wagon built in Sweden. It measures 182.2 inches long on a 109.2-inch wheelbase and weighs 4,260 pounds. Roughly an inch larger than a Toyota RAV4 in all dimensions, the Volvo competes against the Audi Q5 and BMW X3, Cadillac’s new SRX, the all-new Mercedes GLK350 and the best-selling Lexus RX350.

Power is supplied by a turbocharged 3.0-liter in-line six making 281 hp and 295 pound/feet of peak torque at 1,500 rpms. EPA estimates for the AWD powertrain are 16-city/22-highway MPG. I averaged 21.4 mpg for the week.

Standard equipment: 18-inch alloy wheels with Pirelli Scorpion tires, traction and stability control, hill descent control, leather seats, tilt and telescoping steering column, dual-zone climate, heated power mirrors, Bluetooth interface, eight-speaker audio system with Sirius and flat-folding front seat. Base price: $37,200 plus $825 destination.

Next week: Nissan Altima Hybrid


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