The Volvo XC60 is the smallest of the Volvo crossover family, which includes the XC70 and XC90. A compact SUV about the size of a Honda CR-V, the Volvo XC60 competes favorably with the Acura MDX, Audi Q5, BMW X3, and Mercedes-Benz GLK.
The 2012 Volvo XC60 R-Design gets boosted by Volvo's high-performance partner, Polestar, raising horsepower and torque through software. Otherwise, the XC60 carries over to the 2012 model year unchanged. XC60 was launched as a 2010 model. For 2011, the R-Design model was added.
The XC60 seats four quite comfortably, five with a bit of coziness, and it offers more cargo space than nearly all its competitors. The XC60 looks like a smaller version of the XC90, and it doesn't shout family-mobile.
The standard 3.2-liter six-cylinder engine easily meets the demands of daily driving, offering 240 horsepower and an EPA-estimated 19/25 mpg City/Highway with front-wheel drive.
For those who value quick acceleration, a 325-horsepower turbocharged engine is available that adds excitement and thrill. For 2012, the new XC60 Polestar offers an increase of 25 horsepower and 29 foot-pounds of torque. We tested the Polestar XC60, and it's hot. It's rated 17/23 mpg with all-wheel drive.
The XC60 is not the sportiest among the compact SUVs, but we found it handles well on city streets and highways. We ran it hard on curvy remote roads in Arizona, and it responded well. It's easy to park, particularly with the optional rearview camera. The XC60 rides comfortably, its brakes are superb, and its 6-speed automatic transmission is well tuned.
Volvo's fulltime all-wheel-drive system works smoothly in the daily grind without a huge penalty in fuel economy (18/24 mpg), and it's truly welcome when the weather gets foul or on gravel or even in bumpy corners. Yet buyers who don't really need all-wheel-drive capability can choose an XC60 with front-wheel drive (19/25 mpg).
With all-wheel drive and 9.1 inches of ground clearance, the Volvo XC60 offers as much off-highway capability as most sport-utility buyers will ever need. It can handle backcountry trails, and the computer-managed Hill Descent Control makes creeping down steep inclines secure. The XC60 can tow 3300 pounds: a trailer full of snowmobiles or a small boat.
Inside, the Volvo XC60 is attractively finished and pleasingly understated. Its knobs and buttons are easy to use, which you can't say about many of the XC60's competitors. The seating arrangement is flexible, and the cargo compartment has tie-downs and other useful accessories. It offers nearly all the features you'd expect in a luxury vehicle, including heated rear seats, rear-seat video and superb surround audio.
Volvo devotes significant resources to research aimed at improving occupant protection, and its reputation for safety engineering is deserved. The XC60 offers the full array of active and passive safety features, including standard City Safety. This braking package is programmed to stop the car independent of the driver when it senses an impending encounter with a car in front at speeds up to 18 miles per hour, mitigating crash impact or avoiding a rear-ender altogether. The XC60 is available with a full array of blind-spot, lane-departure and driver alertness warning systems.
For those who want flexibility in cargo and people hauling without the bulk of a big SUV, the XC60 makes a lot of sense. Plus, the XC60 offers the safety engineering of a Volvo.
The Volvo XC60 is about the same size as compact sport-utilities or crossovers from other European luxury brands, including the Audi Q5, BMW X3, and Mercedes-Benz GLK. Yet the XC60 has at least 17 percent more cargo volume than any of those competitors.
At an overall length of 182.2 inches, the XC60 is sized comparably to the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape, with similar cargo capacity. With 9.1 inches of ground clearance, and skid plates that actually protect some of its underpinnings, all-wheel-drive versions of the XC60 offer a bit more legitimate off-road capability than other vehicles in this class.
The XC60 has the rugged, adventurous, substantial look buyers might expect in an SUV, but it's also very clearly a Volvo, even without the badges. The XC60 bears a close resemblance to its elder and larger stalemate, the XC90. The XC60 continues the Volvo design trend away from sharp angles and square corners and toward softer and more rounded lines. It's less severe, more relaxed, than the Volvos of yore. (Unless you go even further back to when they were rounded.)
The front end wears a softened version of the trademark trapezoidal grille, with egg crate mesh behind an angular slash emblazoned with the Volvo logo, braced by swoopy headlight housings embedded in swept-back fenders. A secondary air intake fills the lower center portion of the bumper, with fog lights tucked into the corners. The outlines of the openings, all V-like in overall shape, flow into each other, giving the fascia an of-a-piece look. The resulting head-on view is pleasing, while substantial and a little tall.
Side perspective presents mild confusion between a sportier, almost coupe-like hood slope and roofline and a wedgy beltline that rises in a straight line from the front wheel well to the rear door handle, leaving a bulbous mass of a rear quarter panel. This unbalanced look leaves a relatively hunkered down front end attached to a high, bustle-like rear end. Granted, this allows that class-leading cargo capacity of almost 70 cubic feet, but it leaves the XC60 with a stubby, chopped-off posterior.
The rear view shows broad shoulders capped by a tapered glasshouse, with LED taillights climbing up the sides of the glass on the one-piece liftgate. The rear bumper cups the bottom edge of the liftgate, with widely spaced exhaust tips peeking out just inboard of each rear tire. The body mass also minimizes the visual effect of the XC60's height, giving the rear perspective a more planted presence than the front.
The XC60 R-Design treatment has a bolder look. It starts with 20-inch alloy wheels and color-matched lower body moldings. The bright metal mirrors, window trim and tailpipes have a matte, almost silky finish, and the grille is imbedded with a prominent R logo, so everyone knows what the operator is driving.
The Volvo XC60 seats five.
The cabin is Scandinavian in style, and elegantly understated. The interior is as true as the exterior to Volvo's contemporary styling idioms. The materials and finish are very good, and functionality rates almost as high, despite some Volvo-specific quirks. It's easy to master the XC60's multitude of controls, which are simpler and more efficient than those in its luxury brand competitors. The seating arrangement is flexible and the cargo compartment is expansive.
The cuts and stitching on the XC60's seats and floor mats and the brushed aluminum trim on its door panels and center stack add a smart, cosmopolitan look. The optional Nordic Light Oak veneer on the center stack is real wood, and it emphasizes the Scandinavian-furniture feel. R-Design models are more metal-heavy in their finish, with more aluminum trim and inserts. Volvo steering wheels have some of the chubbiest rims in the business, and they're so thick that drivers with small hands might find them a bit too hefty.
The front seats offer all the expected comfort for the everyday driver and passengers on the everyday drive, be it around town or between towns. They're modestly bolstered but no less comfortable for being so. Interior dimensions in the XC60 rank in the middle of its competitive set. Nevertheless, in perceived roominess, this Volvo fares well, feeling as or more spacious than most competitors.
Visibility from the driver's seat is good all around. The rear headrests, large in the Volvo fashion for safety, fill a lot of the space in the rearview mirror, but the power-folding option allows the driver to lower those headrests with the touch of a switch when in the back seat isn't occupied.
The optional rearview video camera is especially appreciated for its assistance when parking. The video display bends a set of superimposed guidelines to reflect the car's path based on the position of the steering wheel.
Controls are concentrated in one of two spots: on easy-to-use stalks flanking the steering wheel, or in the flat-panel center stack rising from the console. Here you'll find some of those Volvo traits that are just a bit different than the convention in most cars.
The climate controls for airflow, for example, are fashioned with a large icon that looks like a seated person. Point to the feet and all air flows through the floor vents; choose the head, and air flows toward the windshield. The audio controls are different, too, with a twisting knob that cycles through menus and a keypad that looks like telephone buttons. They all work quite well, once a user gains some familiarity, and nearly all are large and easy to locate, even at night.
The premium audio system is superb, with crisp highs and booming lows. Auxiliary jacks and USB ports provide access to personal MP3 players and the like to keep passengers entertained.
The optional panorama sunroof is essentially the roof, in two pieces of glass, with a front section that retracts up and over the back section. This produces a neat skylight effect, which also benefits rear-seat occupants. The sunroof does, however, exact a cost, chopping a full inch out of front-seat headroom and nigh onto an inch and a half over the rear seat.
Bins molded into front and rear door panels and pouches sewn into the back sides of the front seat backs provide more than adequate occasional storage. The lighted glove box is deep and tall enough to hold quite a bit more than the leather-bound owner's manual portfolio.
The rear seat is more bench than bucket, but properly so, as it's intended to accommodate three average adults, which it does, if somewhat snugly. The XC60 makes an excellent vehicle for families with two children growing into their teens. And for families with toddler, there are optional built-in child safety seats with optimized belts.
The XC60 is a benchmark for cargo volume. There's nearly 31 cubic feet of storage with the rear seat in place, and 67.4 cubic feet with the rear seat folded. That's seven cubic feet more than the Acura RDX, 10 more than the Audi Q5, 11 more than the BMW X3 and 13 more than the Mercedes GLK. Moreover, the XC60 is configured to maximize flexibility.
The rear seatbacks fold easily to a truly flat surface. The middle section, representing the 20 in 40/20/40, works like the pass-through in vehicles with a trunk, allowing longer items like fishing poles to be carried inside the XC60 with full space for two rear passengers. The front passenger seatback also folds forward and flat, creating room for much wider and longer items than fit in the typical small SUV/crossover.
Carpet covers all surfaces in the rear cargo area, and the removable floor panel extends rearward enough to be secured beneath an overlap from the closed liftgate. The cargo cover works great, too, but owners will have to spring for the Convenience Package to get it. The package also adds a power liftgate, grocery bag holder and cargo-area power point, which come standard on some competitors.
The Volvo XC60 defines the appeal of the so-called crossover vehicle. It's a fabulous compromise between what people want in a true, truck-based sport-utility and what they need for daily transportation. Beyond its flexible seating/cargo configurations, the XC60 is generally a comfortable, pleasant vehicle to drive. It's compact and easy to park, and it isn't mundane in a people-mover, family wagon fashion.
The XC60 is tuned more for cruising comfortably on the highway or through town than for flinging around on back roads, or for travel where no graded roads exist. That said, it won't scare its driver, land-barge style, when he or she is trying to keep with the flow on a curving canyon or river road. It provides moderate off-pavement capability, and not just the look that goes with a tall body or ride height raised an inch or two. Its 3300-pound tow rating is substantial in this class, and the standard Trailer Stability Assist (TSA) electronics help maintain stability while pulling a trailer.
The upgrade turbocharged engine delivers refreshingly linear acceleration, not necessarily what you'd expect with a turbocharged engine. It also adds a bit of verve the base, non-turbo engine lacks. Regardless, the base six-cylinder is torquey enough for everyday use in traffic-heavy cities, and we wouldn't hesitate recommending it. Its slight mileage advantage, though, is more a function of its fitment in front-drive XC60s, rather than inherently better fuel efficiency than the turbo, which is only offered with all-wheel-drive.
We liked the 6-speed automatic transmission best in Sport mode. Its well-executed sport setting re-assigns shift points to maximize the engine's power curve and extends the transmission's stay in each gear. Sport mode uses more fuel, but it suppresses unwanted hunting among gears when climbing or descending grades. Additionally, it suppresses the engine's tendency to surge unexpectedly as it acclimates to each gear change. The sport setting also allows a driver to choose a specific gear when desired, overriding the electronic brain's preferred selection, although the system will not hold a gear either to redline or to an engine-lugging rpm. The automatic reasserts its own control to shift up or down a gear at pre-determined engine speeds. In full Auto mode, when the XC60 is driven casually, shifts are smooth, if not invisible.
The all-wheel-drive system operates seamlessly, and the driver will almost never know when it's working. The all-wheel drive works full time; the driver does not need to switch it on. In normal, good-traction conditions, 95 percent of the engine's power goes to the front wheels, just 5 percent to the rear. If the front wheels lose traction, a multi-plate clutch begins routing power to the rear, to a maximum split of 65 percent to the rear wheels. This front-drive bias leaves the XC60 with a default understeer handling characteristic, like most cars. When driven past the grip limit of the tires, this push is much easier to handle than a skittish rear end, because a driver's natural instinct is to slow down, and that basically solves the problem.
All-wheel drive on the Volvo is more an advantage for safe, secure forward progress in lousy weather than a true off-road tool. Still, with 9.1 inches of ground clearance, this crossover can traverse terrain that would be impossible in a conventional sedan, or in some other crossovers. Hill Descent Control adds some reassuring braking assist when navigating the way back down that dirt track that an hour earlier looked so benign.
The Volvo XC60 is lighter (and smaller) than the XC70 and XC90 crossover SUVs, but it has relatively high center of gravity combined with minimally bolstered seats and a largish steering wheel, both seemingly designed more for comfort than speed. These traits establish the XC60 more as an all-weather, long-distance cruiser than a canyon carver.
The suspension does a decent job taming different types and conditions of tarmac. Ride quality is a bit rough at times, more so with the more stiffly suspended R-Design models, but the unsprung weight of the all-wheel drive mechanicals bears more of the responsibility for this than any design or structural deficiency. Travel on rough pavement produces some head toss, which is not uncommon in the class. Nonetheless, the Infiniti EX35 delivers a quieter ride than the XC60, and the BMW X3 and Acura RDX offer better steering feel.
We got good seat time in an XC60 R-Design, driving hard into the Arizona mountains. Volvo's performance partner, Polestar Motorsport, pumps up the horsepower to 325 hp and torque to 354 pound-feet. The R-Design's stiffer suspension and 20-inch wheels with low-profile tires make the ride considerably rougher. We charged a lot of corners, and the handling was good but it'll never feel like a sports car or be one, so maybe the stiff ride isn't worth it.
The hotter acceleration, and the wider and bigger torque, is sure worth it, though. The 6-speed automatic transmission doesn't have to do much kicking down, with all the power and torque at hand. The R-Design accelerates from 0 to 60 in 6.6 seconds, which is .3 seconds quicker than the XC60 AWD.
The brakes on the XC60 work very well, resisting fade, consistently and confidently slowing it from high double-digit speeds for slow corners. Most of its optional lane departure and other proximity warning systems can be suppressed or turned off, squelching the associated irritating and distracting beeps and buzzes when the driver decides they're not needed.
The standard City Safety feature is intended to help avoid rear-ending the car ahead, or at least to minimize the damage. This system works at speeds 2-18 mph. Up to 9 mph, it can stop the car before it hits a car in front. From that speed up to 18 mph, it can reduce significantly the force of the impact. Tested at just under 9 mph in a parking lot, it worked, surprisingly sharply, jolting driver and front seat passenger smartly into abruptly snugged-up seatbelts. We were glad it worked.
The Volvo XC60 packs a lot of space into a stylish, compact SUV that seats five. It's maneuverable and pleasant on freeways and city streets. It offers more cargo capability than its competitors, with great cargo/seating flexibility, and it's loaded with Volvo's trademark safety technology. With good ground clearance and optional all-wheel drive, the XC60 offers light off-pavement capability. The upgrade turbocharged engine is appealing and more invigorating, but the base 3.2-liter six-cylinder is more than adequate for most drivers and it delivers better value.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard reported from northern California, with J.P. Vettraino reporting from Detroit, and Sam Moses reporting from Arizona.