The Volvo XC60, now in its seventh year, is a mid-size crossover SUV built on the platform of the sweet S60 sedan. Available with front- or all-wheel-drive, the XC60 is safe and particularly sensible, as Volvos are known to be. The V60 wagon is similar but it’s more like a large hatchback, not nearly as roomy in back as the family-friendly XC60.
The 2016 Volvo XC60 is available in 10 different models. For 2016, there are no real changes, just a shuffling of options.
The XC60’s fuel-efficient, direct-injection 2.0-liter engines, called Drive-E, were new for 2015. There are two versions, the T5 with 240 horsepower and T6 with 302 horsepower, both paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission. The T5 is turbocharged, while the T6 adds a supercharger to the turbocharger. The idea behind having two aspiration methods on the same engine is that one (turbocharged) brings more power at higher speeds, while the other (supercharged) brings more a lower speeds.
The lightweight Drive-E engines with the solid Haldex all-wheel drive come with the old 6-speed transmissions that now seem archaic. A 2.5-liter inline five-cylinder sounds stodgy but is actually strong and smooth; a 3.2-liter inline-6 makes 240 horsepower; a turbocharged 3.0-liter six makes 300 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque; while the R-Design model using that engine is tuned to bring 325 horsepower.
Safety has been Volvo’s thing forever. The XC60 gets Top Safety Pick+ from the IIHS, and nearly a clean sweep from NHTSA, missing by one star in the rollover test. Its City Safety system alerts the driver to an imminent collision and brakes to prevent low-speed rear-enders. The system recently added Pedestrian Detection and Cyclist Detection.
Over its seven years, the Volvo XC60 has maintained the same look, with only a new nose for 2013. Yet the chiseled lines, rakish angles and upswept beltline remain distinctive and don’t look too dated.
Among crossovers, the Volvo looks more like a car or wagon than the vast majority of them. Its overall proportions are well balanced. The XC60 is higher than it appears, and that’s no small design trick. The nose is low and crisp, and the bumpers are slim. The grille features a chrome diagonal bar that’s the Volvo symbol, understated, unlike the Acura shiny wedge or Lexus in-your-face spindle.
There are no artificial scallops like cupcake icing. It’s not insecure or screaming for attention like a BMW. You’ll find no moldings in the wheel arches, or fake vents like in a Buick. The XC60 is simply handsome and mature, while being far more rugged and capable (with all-wheel drive) than it suggests.
The Volvo XC60 cabin is Scandinavian to the core, bless its clean and functional heart. It’s quiet and the front seats are supremely comfortable. The floating center stack with real dials on its console is a relief. The center stack is canted toward the driver, with a clear Thin-Film Transistor (TFT) display of the gauges and instruments. The black dashboard is relatively plain, devoid of glitz, business-like; it avoids confusion, it’s about driving, not game-playing. If the standard black leather interior appears too sober, two-tone leather is available.
Three kids fit fine in the back, but not three adults. Legroom is not ample, but headroom is generous. There is a good 30 feet of cargo space behind the rear seat, which folds flat, although not completely flat.
The XC60 handles a lot like the S60 sedan, which is to say secure. However there is a big difference in handling between the front-wheel-drive models with the lighter Drive-E engines and the all-wheel-drive versions with the inline five and sixes. Actually, each of the five powertrains has different handling.
The Drive-E T5 has almost no torque steer, while the Drive-E T6 has enough that you can feel the stability control system in a tug of war with it. (Torque steer, common on front-wheel-drive cars, is traditionally felt as a tug on the steering wheel when accelerating.) Both the T5 and T6 Drive-E models are better balanced than the all-wheel-drive cars with their heavier engines, which translates to heavier and slower steering.
But with the rugged Haldex all-wheel drive you also get nine inches of ground clearance, and passage through deep snow and mud. The T5 all-wheel-drive with the 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine is not as quick as models with the six-cylinder engines. And with the turbo 3.0-liter, the R-Design is a bonafide sports sedan.
The Drive-E engines with 8-speed automatics are designed for great fuel mileage while delivering good performance. The transmission shifts a lot in order to keep the engine at peak efficiency around 1500 rpm, but the shifts are smooth as silk. When we floored it, the transmission leaped down an amazing four gears to drive the engine toward 5000 rpm, but that’s what it was designed to do. In the T6 Drive-E, you can feel the muscle in the front wheels, but the yank of torque steer is mostly controlled by the electronics.
The Drive-E models have Sport and Eco+ modes to adjust the throttle for power or economy. There is also a start-stop system that’s fast and unobtrusive, almost as good as Mercedes and better than BMW.
The XC60 stays planted in fast corners and doesn’t feel like a tall vehicle in tight ones. Excluding the R-Design, you can’t quite call it sporty, but it is responsive. The ride is firm, maybe not as smooth as many other crossovers, but still forgiving on rough roads and better prepared for driving fun or challenges. However the ride is pretty rough with the optional 20-inch alloy wheels and low-profile tires, and can wear on you.
It’s hard to go wrong with the Volvo XC60, as long as you choose the right model for your needs. T5 or T6, front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, power or economy, it’s all there in the powertrains. Responsive handling, smooth transmission, stylish exterior, beautiful cabin with superb front seats, functional easy instrumentation, and good cargo space. And of course the safety.
Driving impressions by John Voelcker, The Car Connection. Sam Moses contributed to this report.