DENVER, Colorado—Like the Swedish DJs cranking out gold record after gold record these days, Volvo is on a bit of a run. It started back in 2015, as the then-new XC90 SUV was winning awards and accolades from numerous worldwide automotive governing bodies.
It continued thru the V90 Cross Country wagon’s debut in early ’17, and on the surface, the latest hit single to emerge from Gothenburg, the 2018 XC60 compact crossover, looks to be topping the charts again. It’d better, if it hopes to keep the sales figures of its predecessor – the highest-selling Volvo in Europe – trending upwards.
To help make sure they get it right, Volvo is offering the XC60 in three flavours, all with AWD as standard: T5 ($45,900); T6 ($52,200); and plug-in hybrid T8 ($69,550).
We were especially interested in the PHEV for its obvious environmental features, but also because it makes as much power – 400 hp, 472 lb-ft – as the XC90 does while weighing almost 1,000 kg less. In addition to being efficient, it could very well be the performance monster of the group.
Looking like a tantalizing mix between the V90 wagon and XC90 SUV, the ’18 XC60 arrives with all the telltale new Volvo signatures: “Thor’s Hammer” DRLs, chrome rhombus grille, chiselled beltline, aggressive front fascia, and aggressive wheels, especially on R-Design models.
In R-Design especially, the XC60 looks as far removed from the compact-luxury-crossover segment in which it competes as you’ll get; it gets silver-coloured wing mirrors, special 21-inch wheels, and a different grille design from other models. A flick of an eye had me believing I was looking at a hatchback on numerous occasions, so tautly-pulled are the body panels, so well-defined are the proportions.
It’s another example of how, along with recent Lexus models, Volvo is an industry leader in styling right now, across the board. I couldn’t stop looking at the R-Design, especially in “Bursting Blue” metallic. It’s not technically part of Volvo’s Polestar performance division (yet), but it looks like it could make that jump in a heartbeat.
Try as I might, I couldn’t find too much to fault with the exterior styling, and the only thing that raised an eyebrow was a mythical 22-inch wheel option, one we unfortunately didn’t get to see in person. Still, considering how great the 21-inch (and “lowly” 20-inch) wheels look, I can’t imagine needing the 22s, for all you’re going to get is a crashier ride.
We had the chance to test two distinct flavours of XC60: the R-Design and Inscription models (base models are called “Momentum”).
The R-Design, for its part, gets one colour option: charcoal seats with contrasting white stitching. It looks very handsome and tuxedo-like, no doubt, but maybe a sprinkling of colour choices would be nice. What about some body-matching stitching, for example? Maybe if a Polestar edition gets built—
Other features of the R-Design interior package are a little more notable, namely the thicker sports seats with taller side bolsters. Are they a little too extreme for a compact luxury crossover? Perhaps, but there’s a reason there’s other trim options. The items in the R-Design do an excellent job of keeping your body in check as you shift left and right, and for me, felt comfortable without being overbearing.
Other R-Design touches include carbon inlays, aluminum sports pedals, and various R-Design badges sprinkled throughout.
The Inscription trim offers you a little more choice, but the Amber Nappa leather seats we had in our tester are probably the way I’d go. They just seem so sumptuous in their tint I feel I’d always be wishing I’d “gotten the brown” if I didn’t.
Another nice detail Inscription adds is the Orrefors crystal shift lever. I never knew something so small (about two inches tall) could have such an effect, but being central to the whole cockpit and all, the shift lever is impossible to miss. I do wish it was more like other electronic shifters, however; instead of just clicking once down from park to drive, or one up for reverse, you have to click down twice for drive, and once for reverse.
That may seem like a nothing detail, but it’s awkward to the point of being somewhat jarring as you hit the throttle thinking you’ve selected “drive,” only to rev the thing ‘till the cows come home as you’re still stuck in neutral.
Almost as eye-catching as the crystalline shifter is the 9.2-inch infotainment touchscreen, which, as in most modern Volvos, pretty much dominates the entire centre stack. It’s a responsive affair with a slick interface, great graphics, and pretty intuitive – if a little overloaded with content – menus.
You’ll be making a lot of use of the “home” button, I can assure you. It’s also your link to the superb (but optional, for $3,250 no matter which trim you select) Bowers & Wilkins audio system that displayed exceptional audio fidelity even when cranked up to 11. Especially in “Concert Hall” sound mode, whose development saw Volvo actually taking measurements at the Gothenburg Concert Hall in an effort to replicate those sounds in any car that uses the system. The speakers themselves look spectacular, too, from the circular tweeter at the top of the dash to the luscious door speakers.
Pretty much everything is controlled from the screen, from your electronic driver aids to your climate control. There are a select few redundant buttons mounted below for defrost and basic music controls, but that’s about it.
There are also steering wheel buttons, but they’re confusing in that they’re not really labelled, as such; there’s just a bunch of very Ikea symbols on there that you have to just learn to use through guessing and testing. That’s not so bad for the audio controls on the right spoke, but it’s a little tougher to decode the controls on the left spoke, which control some of the driver aids, including Volvo’s proprietary Pilot Assist safety suite.
Activated by pressing right on the left spoke’s directional pad, Pilot Assist basically turns every driver aid on, from adaptive cruise, to auto brake, to active lane-keep assist as long as you’re travelling between 31 and 62 mph (50 and 100 km/h). Of course, if you’re trying to stay as far away from the autonomous autos bandwagon is possible, you can switch it off and activate each individual aid yourself. Me? At first I thought this was what I was going to do, but I ended up finding the aids to be mostly non-invasive.
Adding to lane keep assist – which just tweaks the steering – is road run-off mitigation and protection. In addition to the steering, this system also dabs the brakes if it feels like you’re going too far off track too quickly. We never got to the point where it had to step in, but it was good to know we had it nevertheless.
We started the day in the R-Design car, licking out chops as we got ready to put its 316-hp 295-lb-ft turbo-four to good use.
Power is fed through a traditional eight-speed automatic no matter which trim, so you’ve got a healthy handful of ratios to work with in order to get the most out of the powerplant. There’s no paddle shift option – a bit of a shame, especially in this trim – but you can shift gears manually via the lever if you so please, and it’s pleasingly responsive. It’s a big step up over older Volvos, whose six-speed autos were starting to feel positively ancient.
The switch to R-Design spec also adds suspension tuning (a double-wishbone front end, and an integral-link rear set-up with optional air suspension) which is good, especially considering the chassis and suspension in the ’18 XC60 has already been tweaked to help keep the body as neutral as possible both in the bends and during braking and acceleration manoeuvres.
Volvo emphasized the chassis development during their presentation, so to see if they could walk the walk, I paid special attention to my body movements as I drove. In a nutshell, I didn’t see the need for the more deeply-bolstered seats it comes with. With that in mind, I got to sit back and enjoy the ride, accompanied by a bit of a special growl—not only do the R-Design’s twin tailpipes look different from other models, they’re a little more ornery, too.
I guess if I had to I would ask for a slightly more aggressive steering ratio in the R-Design than other models, but that’s a finely split hair.
The drive experience in the T8 is a bit of a different animal, but not as much as I’d thought. The XC60 T8 makes the same power as the (much) heavier XC90 T8, so I expected the XC60 to leave the gates like a bat out of hell. While it’s not slow, it didn’t quit set my hair on fire like that. Not that it needs to – after all, few people buy a PHEV for the performance – but I was looking to Volvo to shirk its somewhat conservative image with a hybrid that really sings.
Then again, it gets all the PHEV bit right; you should be able to cruise in EV mode for around 30 km (this number is not yet official, per Volvo, but expect something along those lines) and get all the benefits that come with that, like a smooth, quiet ride, as well as the peace of mind that comes with knowing you’re burning a few less hydrocarbons.
Other than providing EV motoring, the T8’s motor also provides the AWD, as it’s mounted to the rear axle and there’s no driveshaft to speak of. According to Volvo, this hardly affects the T8’s capabilities as they roughly equal that of the brand’s more traditional AWD offerings.
The T5 momentum model starts at just a little more than competitors like the Lexus NX Series or Acura RDX, but undercuts base models of the BMW X3 and Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class by about $3,000 on the latter, and about $7,000 on the former. Heck, even the second-best XC60 T6 model starts at around the same price as the base X3. That’s a proper good value.
Add the gas-saving options of the T8 – something none of the competition even offers at this juncture – and you can see how the XC60 is actually quite compelling on the value front.
It’s compelling on many fronts, actually, from the styling, to the powertrain to the chassis and interior tech. I love how Volvo has managed to take a vehicle segment that often gets under-styled and added some great flair thanks to some very smart detailing.
Add Volvo’s penchant for safety, and you can see how the XC60 has quite the remarkable arsenal required to compete in this competitive segment. Now we’re just waiting for Avicii’s re-mix of “Little Red Corvette” entitled “Lilla blå Volvo (Li’l Blue Volvo)”.
The Volvo S90
Not only did we try the XC60, we also had some time in the Volvo at the opposite end of the spectrum, the S90 sedan. While it looks the same, it’s no longer exactly like the wonderful S90 we saw last year; for 2018, all S90 models available in Canada will be the AWD long-wheelbase variety, which adds 115mm of additional rear legroom. All Canadian S90s are now fabricated in China, but don’t for a second think that’s affected their build quality.
Indeed, one look inside our tester shows the wonderful, supple leather seen in the Swedish-built XC60 has returned, as had gorgeous open-pore ash inserts (among others), great lighting, and the same high-gloss audio and infotainment.
It is colossal in the back, too, if we’re talking legroom; headroom hasn’t changed much, and I and my six-foot-three frame was asking for a little more. The rear seats can’t be adjusted, but if you happen to be behind the front passenger, you can get some kneespace by sliding their seat forward, and then moving your butt forward so your head’s not touching the roof. Not a bad compromise.
If you prefer, as I do, to do the chauffeuring as opposed to being chauffeured, then there’s news for you, too. First, know that I couldn’t sense the dynamics being changed one iota from the shorter-wheelbase model. The turning radius may be a bigger, but I was still impressed by what the S90 LWB could pull off.
After that, it’s just more Volvo smoothness from the 316-hp 295-lb-ft T6 turbo four. You can also get a T5 option (250, 258) but that’s not the big story: that has to be the addition of the T8 PHEV to the S90 lineup, as Volvo continues to try and make good on its “only electrified vehicles by 2020” promise.
Yes, PHEVs count under the “electrified” banner, and the “electrified” edict does not necessarily spell the end of the gas engine at Volvo. In fact, Volvo talks about three levels of “electrification”: full EV, plug-in EV, and mild hybrid. Cars that fall under that last designation will get light electric assistance – to help power the accessories and climate control system, perhaps – as well as other energy-saving additions like engine auto-stop and so forth. Either way: exciting times are ahead for Volvo.
Disclosure—This writer’s travel and accommodations were provided by the automaker for the purposes of this first-drive review.