Since its American debut in 2009, it has become common sentiment among critics that the XC60 is the best product Volvo sells here. Buyers apparently agree, as the XC60 is also the brand’s top-selling model now — just edging out its slightly larger, three-row sibling, the XC90, on the sales charts.
Upping the ante, Volvo has added a plug-in hybrid edition to the mix this year as the Chinese-owned luxury automaker strides confidently toward an all-electric future in just a few short years. With hybrids like this model, buyers might want to savor this level of competence for a while longer.
All XC60s are powered by a 2.0-liter in-line four-cylinder engine. Progress up the model chart — Inscription, Momentum, Polestar and R-Design — and Volvo adds turbocharging, supercharging and hybrid electric motors to the mix to create various levels of forward thrust that range from 247 hp to our Recharge’s supercharged hybrid with a combined 455 hp. With a giant kick of 523 pound/feet of torque from both the gas and electric motors, this is a very swift crossover no matter how you slice it.
The EPA says you should get 63 MPGe if you plug-in overnight and fully use the 35 potential miles of electric-only operation or 28 mpg if you rely on the gas engine/hybrid powertrain after exhausting the juice from the underfloor batteries. Premium fuel is urged for maximum performance.
All XC60s use a full-time AWD system, and each model is equipped with an eight-speed automatic. Pricing starts at just under $45,000, while our well-endowed Recharge model — full kitchen of electronic safety aids, heated and cooled front seats, massive sunroof, headlamp washers, graphical heads-up display, 360-degree surround-view camera, Pilot Assist driver system, air suspension, 20-inch wheels, plus premium audio system — pushed the Munroney sticker to almost $73,000.
While that number may be shocking to many — car pricing seems to know no boundaries currently — buyers will be delighted by many subtleties found in the XC60. Volvo has always had better than average seating, yet the tailored wool upholstery here was a refreshing change from the steady diet of cowhide found all too often. Add electronic thigh extenders, and the Volvo’s seats were driving bliss.
The surround view camera, very nice. The keyless access buttons on the rear doors, very smart — and very handy. And the XC60 Recharge actually displayed some very cool one-pedal operation, like an EV would demonstrate. At city speeds, the car would smoothly slow when lifting from the accelerator and would stay in place with your foot off the brake — until you resumed pressure on the “Go” pedal. No creep, no wasted fuel, just simple refinement.
And of special note, one of the first impressions was the responsive throttle tip-in from the “Go” pedal. This is a fine art, and not all automakers get it right, the relationship between the various computers and how their efficient reaction to the driver’s input needs to be fluid, responsive and commensurate with the urgency of the driver’s acts. Done properly, even slow cars can “feel” faster, while good cars will generally ‘feel’ very fast.
Just before the Volvo’s departure, the Swedish enthusiast publication Vi Bilagare released the results of a study showing how drivers react to basic operational inputs on today’s modern touchscreens. Interestingly, the baseline vehicle was a Volvo V70 from 2005 — when buttons ruled the dash and drivers built up an intuitive sense of their vehicle’s controls. The requested functions included: turn on heated seat and start the defroster, turn on the stereo and tune to a different station, reset the vehicle’s trip computer and turn off the dash’s instrument lights. The baseline results indicated drivers needed only 10 seconds to conclude all four tasks in the older Volvo.
In the modern cars selected, a Tesla, a BMW, plus two European-specific cars, drivers took as long as 45 seconds to complete the tasks!
Volvo does not escape scrutiny here for using a touchscreen for far too many basic operational tasks, requiring multiple finger strikes. And consulting the owner’s manual is not an option, as it is buried in the Volvo’s screen.
Traffic deaths in the U.S. have dramatically increased for over two years, contradicting that our driving fleet has added countless electronic driving aids meant to improve safety. Coincidentally, too many cars use tablet-like screens that create too much driver distraction, as evidenced by the Swedish study. Distracted driving is an undeniable culprit in too many accidents.
Volvo, the brand that has established a long pedigree about safety, has improved its own touchscreen operation, but simple buttons would be more driver-intuitive and safer.
The XC60 remains a wonderful compact crossover. Including safer button/knob controls as a priority would help it stand out in a crowded pack of screen purgatory.
Next week: Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat