Volvo has seen better days. Just a few short years ago, the Swedish automaker was the lone bright spot in Ford's European luxury operation, boasting impressive sales and actual profits. Fast-forward to 2009, and the situation couldn't be more different. Sales are downright depressing, revenues are worse, and the automaker has a "For Sale" sign on the front lawn, yet nobody has bothered to show up for the open house. For Volvo to have a legitimate chance of survival, all future products have to be home runs, beginning with the XC60 crossover.
The XC60 slots below the XC70 wagon and the XC90 crossover, finally giving Volvo a player in the lucrative entry-level luxury crossover realm. The stalwarts of the segment – the Lexus RX and Acura MDX – play to consumer's needs and desires, offering superior reliability, inoffensive looks, maxed out interiors, and top-notch tech options. Looking at the XC60 from afar, the newest Volvo passes the appearance and interior test, but does it have enough to get customers back into Volvo showrooms? Make the jump to find out.
Photos Copyright ©2009 Chris Paukert / Weblogs, Inc.
Our XC60 tester was an all-wheel drive T6 model with a price tag of $42,250, which includes Volvo's $2,700 multimedia package with a high-end Dolby Surround Sound system, navigation, and a backup camera, as well as a $1,000 climate package bringing with it heated seats and washer fluid, rain sensing wipers and an air quality system. The panoramic moonroof on our tester normally carries a price tag of $1,200, but it is currently being added to all XC60s free of charge.
From the outside, the XC60 is all Volvo, with an XC90-like nose and clean, uncluttered lines accentuated by broad shoulders. Though the XC60 shares plenty of design cues with its larger sibling, the smaller crossover pulls off the corporate Volvo look more gracefully and easily competes with its segment-mates where inoffensiveness tends to trump dynamic styling.
With a six-speed automatic transmission handling shifting duties and delivering the 3.0-liter inline-six's 281 horsepower and 295 lb-ft to all four wheels, the XC60 feels a bit heavy off the line, but there's plenty of pop available once you get all 4,174 pounds moving forward. Although topping the two-ton mark hardly makes the XC60 a bantamweight, it's the lightest crossover among its competitors, and when you slip the transmission into manual mode, the XC60 delivers even more punch from a standstill, though we'd still recommend shying away from stoplight drags. On the fuel economy front, we averaged 18.2 mpg in mixed driving, which puts the XC60 in the middle-of-the-pack for AWD crossovers of this size.
The platform underpinning XC60 is shared with several vehicles, including the Land Rover LR2 and the Ford Mondeo. While notably more edgy than the larger XC90, this smaller Volvo still errs more on the side of cruiser than corner cutter. However, Volvo didn't engineer a wallowing pig. The XC60's AWD system and sturdy suspension still manage to keep the CUV's motions in check, with confidence-inspiring grip and minimal roll. More importantly, the XC60 can be driven long distances in comfort, though its overall ride quality is stiffer than some of its competitors – a compromise we're willing to take if it means we're not scraping the side mirrors through the bends.
And since the XC60 carries the Volvo name, it comes equipped with just about every safety feature available on a production vehicle. Our tester came without adaptive cruise control or a heads-up warning display, but the standard equipment alone was plenty impressive, with the XC60 arriving with an armada of airbags, seatbelt pretensioners front and rear, and so on.
Whether you're a young family or an empty-nester, if you're shopping luxury crossovers and reading Autoblog, chances are you're looking for a rewarding driving experience and plenty of cargo space to fit your things and friends. The XC60 is five inches shorter than the Lexus RX, yet its wheelbase is over an inch longer and its track is an inch wider. Practically speaking, interior space is nearly as good, with total passenger volume within two cubic feet of the RX – the only major difference in metrics being in terms of cargo space.
Volvo took pains to ensure that its newest offering was fitted with high quality, soft touch materials that reward the road warrior behind the wheel. We applaud the use of king's thrones that double as front seats, as the leather-wrapped chairs are among the best in the business. The massive Vista moonroof, with its vast amount of glass and large opening area is a delight, and when you consider its included in the MSRP, it makes the deal that much sweeter. Buttons, knobs, and HVAC controls are also pleasantly intuitive and well within the grasp of even the shortest of arms, making the the XC60's cockpit easily one of the best in its class. But as much as we liked the execution of the XC60's interior, Volvo's navigation system is easily some of the worst mapping tech we've experienced in years.
Unlike most modern sat-nav units, the Volvo's unit isn't a touchscreen, nor doesn't benefit from a knob near the shifter or pack any buttons in the immediate area surrounding the display. Instead, nestled away in the center console, you'll find... a remote control. When that's lost forever (and it will be), you'll have to rely on an even more ill-advised joystick array mounted on the back of a steering wheel spoke. No matter the input method, neither interface is particularly intuitive and the software behind it is dreadfully antiquated. If Ford's nav system is a PhD, General Motors' an associate's degree, and BMW's iDrive a high school equivalency diploma, Volvo's system lands somewhere south of an incomplete on an elementary school geography quiz. It's that bad, and even worse considering Ford set the new standard for ease-of-use with its Sync setup.
But sat-nav issues aside, the XC60 is solid entry into the midsize luxury crossover segment. It looks good, drives well, has a warm, inviting interior and comes with Volvo's reputation for cutting-edge safety. If a good navigation system is on your must-have list, look elsewhere, but if you're ready to upsize your aging wagon or downsize from a hulking SUV, the XC60 is a clear contender – and even then, it's a Garmin or TomTom away from a strong podium finish.
Second Look: Volvo XC60 T6 AWD
Shunk couldn't be more right – the XC60's nav system is an utter disaster. As we understand it, the company was aiming for the safest possible system by setting the smallish display deep into the dashboard (ostensibly to avoid striking it during an accident), but a long reach meant that it couldn't employ touchscreen technology, and Volvo evidently declined to go with an all-in-one controller. As a result, the Swedes went with a frankly infuriating steering wheel joystick/button setup, something you'll want to ditch immediately for the generic-looking wireless remote control. If the idea was to be as safe as possible and keep the driver's hands on the wheel, Volvo has failed. And besides, since their programmers have locked out most of the more user-intensive higher functions while moving (address entry, etc.), what's the harm in giving a more intuitive solution? Perhaps they were trying to discourage GPS use altogether. If that's the case, they have succeeded handsomely.
Moving beyond mapping, this author loved the rest of the XC60's simple controls, ample size and striking two-tone leather. Admittedly, there are an abundance of textures at work inside, and although this many finishes could have looked overwhelming and/or mismatched, Volvo has pulled things off nicely. This is a rich interior that's every bit the measure of its fellow European and Japanese competitors... minus the nav and perhaps the somewhat grainy eight-bit looking stereo readout atop the instrument panel.
Performance-wise, the XC60 makes a good case for itself, as it's among the very quickest studies in its class, though nobody will call the turbocharged six-cylinder's soundtrack 'sonorous.' Better still, it corners with surprising alacrity – a performance attribute that Volvo isn't readily known for. We'd venture to say that this is one of the best handling crossovers in its segment, right up there with the Audi Q5 and BMW X3 (the latter of which endures a stiff-legged ride and a dated interior).
All-in, the XC60 offers good value for the money. It's a very clever package even without Volvo's proprietary active safety bits – lane departure warning, City Safety auto-stop, etc. – all of which featured on this author's tester (the car shown in the photos). If Volvo is trying to craft quicker, more precise-handling automobiles that are better able to avoid potential accidents in the first place, well, we're all in favor of this new "active safety" campaign.
- Chris Paukert
Photos Copyright ©2009 Chris Paukert / Weblogs, Inc.