Volvo's unique situation – the only automaker to offer two different sizes of wagon in the U.S. – makes us think of blackjack. When a player is dealt two cards with the same rank, they are allowed to split the cards into two hands, doubling their bet. In most cases, splitting either diminishes a winning hand or multiplies by two the horror of a crappy one. But some splits are highly favorable, particularly aces. And after driving the V60 through Spain, we believe that its addition to the automaker's lineup, with the larger V90, is akin to splitting a pair of aces.
The V60 has much in common with its big brother. It rides on the same Scalable Product Architecture platform, it sports the same inviting-yet-minimal Scandinavian interior, and it hosts the same 8-speed transmission and twin-charged (turbocharged and supercharged) 316 horsepower T6 motor and all-wheel-drive system. A 250 hp turbocharged T5 front-driver will also be available at launch, and a 400-hp plug-in hybrid will follow.
Its biggest differences are dimensional – it is seven inches shorter overall than the V90, though it has only 2.7 fewer inches between the wheels – and stylistic. One on hand, it maintains recognizable family cues in its T-shaped headlamps, tailgate-engulfing taillamps, concave barred grille, and angularly scalloped flanks. On the other, its truncated length and beltline uptick in the rear doors lends it a more spry and athletic demeanor. Also, its broader greenhouse, more upright A-pillars, and flatter cargo hatch provide it with some of Volvo's most familiar, but long vanquished, heritage feature: boxiness. Not that anyone with eyes would mistake it for a vintage 240.
No one would mistake the driving experience for that of a vintage Volvo, either. The combination of similar power, shorter overhangs, and around 200 pounds less weight makes the V60 feel sportier than the V90. In fact, it has a genuine liveliness that was particularly expressive on our route through the coast, mountains, and towns around Barcelona. The V60 is plenty quick (0-60 in 5.8 seconds for the T6 AWD), and its reduced length makes it feel more nimble through the Montserrat mountains twisties. Even with the optional 19-inch wheels on the upscale Inscription package car we drove, it was well damped enough for long cruises on the Autovías. Its heavy breathing engine doesn't feel quite as taxed in this application as it does in bigger, heavier ones.
We were fortunate during our Spanish sojourn to mostly not have the opportunity to test out the standard safety features integrated into the V60. These are similar to the suite of systems in the 90-series vehicles that prevent it from crashing or being crashed into by oncoming, following, or side-traversing vehicles. Of particular interest was the City Safety with Autobrake technology, which is supposed to help the driver not run over pedestrians, bikers, and animals, as much as they might want to. This technology can be a bit aggressive at times. When backing up through a flooded Spanish street, the car thought the water behind us was a hard obstacle. The dash-mounted lights went all pachinko parlor and the car did a full ABS panic stop. And when driving through a local Catalonian roundabout, the sensors mistook a parking lot full of used cars for an oncoming obstacle and flashed us a major collision warning.
We did spend quite a bit of time experimenting with Volvo's latest incarnation of its driver assistance technology, Pilot Assist. Like all of these systems, it works best (rather, only) on roads with clear and unbroken markings, and we were relatively impressed with the V60's ability follow at an overly cautious distance, and not drive over a cliff. The system does like to hug the outside line of a given lane, which is not ideal for our life-loving temperament. We wish there was a preference setting for this. Volvo claims that the most recent version has been upgraded to better handle curves, an assertion that may very well be true given that previous versions sometimes approached non-linear stretches of road the way an infant approaches baking a soufflé. Despite our inability to master it, the proper line through a curve is often expressed to us as a kind of replicable formula. Can this not be programmed into a car?
Maybe it doesn't matter. No one is ever going to track a V60, or even pound it through winding foothill vineyard roads like we did. What people will, and should, do is sit in this thing for a long stretch and take a road trip. Volvo has always had some of the best seats in the industry, and the new ones in the V60 are stellar, and look especially good in the optional City Weave Textile upholstery, which is a rich and nubby gray plaid, available as a no-cost option only with the lower-priced "Momentum" trim package. (The optional perforated, massaging, sport-bolstered, Nappa-leather seats in the "Inscription" package are also very nice.)
Momentum is probably the wise move anyway, from a value perspective. (Pricing on the V60 has not yet been announced. We expect it to be a few grand more than the $38,250 base price of the outgoing, and ancient, V60.) While it doesn't come standard with some trick features like the redundant LCD nav screen between the speedo and tach, the Harmon Kardon stereo, or some of the aforementioned safety systems, it does have a panoramic sunroof, a power liftgate, heated front seats, adaptive cruise, and the big 9-inch vertical tablet infotainment screen in the center console. Now that Apple CarPlay has finally given up its beef with Google/Waze and will allow those to integrate, the need for an expensive manufacturer's system is obviated, and you can option up other geegaws as you see fit.
In fact, the V60 is so good, and so good looking, that it almost makes us question our eternal affection for the V90. Given that many wagon buyers fit into the rich-but-reserved psychographic known as "stealth wealth," we suppose there will always be a subgroup who want the bigger, more expensive one. If we were spending our own imaginary money, we'd be tempted to go for its smaller, cheaper, fraternal twin. Hitting blackjack on split aces doesn't yield the 150-percent payout premium merited by a "natural" blackjack, but it still delivers a pair of wins.