On the Road Review: Volvo XC60 Crossover Wagon



Volvo has become the survivor Swede.

At one time, Volvo was like rival Saab — both automakers were sought by larger automotive corporations as Euro-based divisions that would expand overall sales, market exposure and profits. The Ford Motor Co. made Volvo part of its premium car company collection, joining Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston Martin all in one big shopping spree in the late 1980s and early 1990s. GM, already the decades-long owner of Opel, pursued and purchased Saab.

These deals were in trouble from the start. GM soon learned that Saab did not have the mass-market appeal that eager marketing types had proposed and the cars were cannibalizing both research dollars and Opel sales in the European market. When GM was forced to jettison underperforming brands surrounding the 2008 economic collapse, Saab was an easy candidate to save assets and money. Some buyers emerged for Saab, but ultimately GM’s efforts to make something of Saab over an almost 20-year period resulted in the brand shuttering its doors.

Volvo, on the other hand, had a much-larger footprint, (especially in the Euro market) even after being spun-off from the Volvo Truck Division. Several Chinese automotive start-ups wanted the Volvo name, and Geely stepped up to the plate and consummated the fire-sale purchase of the Volvo brand when Ford also needed to purge its money-draining foreign brands. Since the sale to Geely Motors, Volvo has received billions in R&D monies, with evidence of innovative life once again populating the iconic brand’s products.

In the last six months, we have seen the arrival of the all-new XC90 full-size crossover — which has quickly eclipsed all other products and is now the top-selling Volvo — while a brand new S90 midsize sedan will soon replace the very dated S80 car that has soldiered on for far too long.

Keeping the lights on in dealer showrooms for several years has been the popular XC60 Compact Crossover — the best Volvo car in dealerships before the XC90’s arrival. The latest XC60 with Drive-E engineering is featured here.

The XC60 is a quality product; it is comfortable to use, a solid on-road performer, as well as featuring a combination of the features that make Volvos attractive to traditional buyers — safety components, turbo engines and a definable Swedish charm inside. In a segment that also includes the Audi Q5, new Cadillac XT5, Mercedes GLC, BMW X3, Lexus NX, Lincoln MKC, Porsche Macan, plus other premium small crossovers, the Volvo must fight for status, cache. The addition of Drive-E engineering is meant to bridge the gap between the existing XC60, and an updated model coming soon.

Drive-E is but one of several powertrains available in the XC60 — a remarkable feat all by itself given the relative volume of sales that the product elicits each year. Base front-drive models ($37,595) start with a 2.5-liter turbo-five with 250 hp, while AWD editions usually get a 3.0-liter turbo-six making 300-hp. Drive-E is comprised of a new 2.0-liter turbocharged AND supercharged four-cylinder engine that makes an incredible 302 hp with 295 pound/feet of peak torque. For those of you keeping score at home, that is over 150 hp per liter of engine displacement, an impressive amount of power for anything more than a track-focused racecar.

The direct injection turbo-four earns ULEV-II status (ultra low emissions) while using stop-start technology to improve city fuel economy. The motor is also teamed with a new eight-speed automatic transmission, helping push EPA mileage estimates to 19/27/22-mpg on suggested premium fuel. Our weeklong average netted to 22.8 mpg.

Volvo plans to use the Drive-E engine in most of its products; it is already the base engine in the XC90 where it is tuned to make even more power. The turbo-five and six-cylinder engines will slowly disappear.

Power delivery is plentiful yet uneventful; there are no big surges, no gear whine from the supercharger, just seamless acceleration when you ply the right pedal. This is a five-passenger crossover, not a Hellcat so big noise and heart-palpitating power is not part of the equation.

I did, however, expect bigger fuel economy despite electing to deactivate the stop/start feature, since there was little city operation involved. The promise of 27 mpg proved elusive, with the trip computer never passing an indicated 24.5 mpg for short stints. Perhaps less rain, flatter terrain, and warmer ambient temperatures would help the Volvo reach its mileage goals.

The usual Volvo safety portfolio is found here: a plethora of airbags and whiplash protection, high-strength steel safety cage construction, City-safety low-speed forward collision avoidance, electronic braking assist, roll-stability control, plus the added traction of AWD. Platinum Package ($4,400) adds adaptive cruise control, pedestrian/cyclist detection with automatic braking (very aggressive braking in fact) distance alert, lane departure warning, rear parking assist, plus several convenience items like a power rear liftgate, auto-dimming mirrors and headlamps with washers. Strangely missing: Blind-spot detection system, which would have been appreciated with the excessive rain experienced.

The Climate package adds two-stage child booster seats, heated front seats and steering wheel, heated washer nozzles, plus a heated windshield — an arrangement that places vertical wires in the windshield which proved to be visually distracting for this driver on gray overcast days, or, when actually raining. Throw on some interior wood trim, 19-inch wheels, and contoured front seats and the price balloons to $52,505.

High points: the Volvo proved to be a quieter road companion than several recent sample vehicles, the cabin is a comfortable cockpit for long stints behind the wheel, and the XC60 delivers a composed, balanced ride/drive performance that buyers will find rewarding. One could say that the Volvo was a calming companion for my long drives during our time together.

On the flip side, the Volvo’s center console area lacks convenient access for device plug-in ports, the beverage slots block quick access to the shifter lever, while your right leg rests against a hard aluminum trim piece that annoys. The back-up camera is not centered, providing a slightly skewed view that proved to be less reassuring than other setups, and the many steps necessary to make simple operating changes like the change to daylight savings on the clock are pure irritation. Changing simple to complicated is not advancing the convenient use of your vehicle.

The XC60’s starting price is only beat by the Lincoln — a tarted-up Ford Escape, so the Volvo has certain value in the segment. Adding components that buyers generally expect — not only here, but in lower priced mass-market crossovers — extracts a price premium that places the Volvo in the same market as the Audi, Mercedes and others, vehicles that sell better.

Volvo marketing mavens already claim that the brand is close to Audi and BMW. An Asian-owned Swedish car company trying really hard to be German better focus on what is coming up behind them too.

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.

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