The renaissance at Volvo is in full swing. Flush with funds and a supportive owner, its products over the past few years have proven you don’t need to look to Germany to see a luxury car maker at the top of its game. This corner of the market is now all about the swanky SUV, and the 2018 XC60—tested here in its 400hp T8 plug-in hybrid version—makes a strong case that Sweden is leading the pack.
The new era started when Ford sold Volvo in 2010. Freed from American corporate micromanagement, new owner Geely took a hands-off approach, giving Volvo the resources it needed to develop all-new engines and vehicle architectures. It came up with what it calls the Scalable Product Architecture, a highly flexible starting base for all of its medium and large vehicles. The first SPA vehicles were all big ones: the XC90, a three-row SUV that arrived in 2014; then more recently the S90 sedan and V90 station wagons. All are fine vehicles, but with the XC60, the stakes are higher—it’s far and away the company’s best-selling model.
Solid bone structure
There’s no denying the XC60 is a handsome-looking thing. Its SPA bone structure lays out a shape about 10 inches shorter than the bigger Volvo SUV, and it’s slightly narrower and shorter, yet the proportions look—if anything—more elegant. Under the skin is the same mix of high-strength steels, including an extensive use of boron steel in the passenger cell.
Here in the US, we get a choice of three different powertrains in the XC60, each of which uses a version of the same 2.0L forced-induction, four-cylinder gasoline engine. In the T5 (which starts at $41,500), it’s a 250hp turbocharged engine, while the $44,900 T6 gets a turbocharger and a supercharger, good for 316hp. Both of these send that power to all four wheels via an eight-speed gearbox. The range-topping T8—$52,900—is a plug-in hybrid. There’s still a super- and turbocharged 2.0L engine up front, which provides 313hp, but that is only sent to the front wheels. Power to the rear wheels is via an 87hp (65kW) electric motor, fed by a 10.4kWh lithium-ion battery.
As with the XC90 PHEV, the XC60 positions its battery pack along the centerline of the car. This means the mass is contained relatively low down and within the wheelbase, which is good for polar moments of inertia and the advantage of architecture that was designed with electrification in mind, compared to plug-in hybrid SUVs like the BMW X5 or Porsche Cayenne where the batteries had to be fitted underneath the cargo area.
The Swedish good looks continue on the inside. Volvo nerds will notice that the air vents are more similar to those in the S90 sedan than the XC90 SUV, but truth be told, the cabins of all the SPA cars look similar. That’s no bad thing, in my opinion. Our highly specced test car—a T8 Inscription with a rather hefty $71,590 sticker price—came with a $3,000 Luxury Seat pack that adds wonderful brown Nappa leather, heated and ventilated front massaging seats, heated rear seats, and a heated steering wheel. The fit and finish of everything is of a high quality, and I adore the little whimsical touches like the Swedish flag tab stitched into the seam of the passenger seat.
Gizmos and gadgets
Regardless of spec, all XC60s come with Volvo’s rather great Sensus infotainment system and a suite of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) under the name City Safety, which includes low- and high-speed collision warning/emergency braking and pedestrian, cyclist, and large animal detection. But some of the ADAS features are locked up in options packages. For example, you need to pay for the $2,000 Convenience package to get Pilot Assist II, the semi-autonomous combination of adaptive cruise control and lane keeping. (Lane keep assist is actually standard equipment on all XC60s, though.)
Blind-spot monitors, cross-traffic alerts, and parking assists come with the Vision package ($1,100). Another $1,900 gets you 360-degree parking cameras, a graphical heads-up display, and active matrix LED headlights in the Advanced package. That adds up to a nice, even $5,000, which is a lot, but it’s also the same amount that Tesla will ask you for if you want enhanced autopilot on a Model 3, which everyone seems to accept as a good deal (and, in this case, you get a few things that Tesla won’t have, like a heads-up display).
Volvo says that, compared to the 90 series cars, the XC60 (and the other 60 series vehicles that are coming) feature a more aggressive driving feel. But even if the XC60 T8 can rival a Porsche Macan Turbo when it comes to power output—both have 400hp, remember—this is still a Volvo and not a Porsche. As with the XC90 T8, the XC60 does not encourage you to speed—even though 0 to 60mph takes 4.6 seconds—but it does feel a little more engaging to drive. In fact, if you can find a surface with low enough grip, it will drift quite happily as long as you turn off traction and stability control.
Of course, absent driving on a frozen lake, XC60 drivers are unlikely to try that out. I discovered this when Volvo let me try an XC60 fitted with one of those low-grip training systems (an extra set of computer-controlled castors that raises the car up and reduces the amount of grip the tires have). That demo was actually to demonstrate the effectiveness of the car’s safety systems, and I can report they worked well—at the hint of oversteer, everything gets reined in, and separate tests also showed that the car remains controllable and able to steer to avoid objects when the brakes’ antilock triggers. As you’d expect.
However, outside of these controlled conditions and on the mean streets in and around Washington, DC, if anything I found some of the systems over-intrusive. In particular, the collision mitigation. On two occasions, a light tap of the brake while driving must have given the car’s electronic brains the idea that I was about to hit something. Instead of scrubbing off 2 to 3mph as I intended, the collision mitigation must have triggered—the car braked heavily and pretensioned the seatbelts as it did so. Explaining to my wife that it was the car and not me that suddenly caused her to be pinned to her seat was a fun conversation the second time, let me tell you.
Barring that somewhat over-eager reaction, life with the T8 was pleasant enough. There is abundant cargo room (29.7 cubic feet/841L) with the rear seats folded flat. The ride was compliant and coped with broken surfaces and potholes (our car was fitted with the $1,800 optional air suspension). Visibility from inside was good, and the cabin felt spacious and airy thanks to the huge moonroof (standard to all XC60s). Pilot Assist II is very good at working with the driver to take a little of the strain out of traffic jams, and the seat massagers were excellent. (I don’t think I’d spec them on a car I ordered, but I find I make plenty of use of them every time I drive a car that has them fitted.)
However, as with the larger XC90, I’m not entirely sure the more expensive T8 PHEV version is worth the $8,000 premium over the T6 model, even though it is eligible for a $5,000 IRS tax credit. The hybrid is rated at 26mpg combined (I managed about 24mpg over a week but only had a chance to charge the battery once). But the T6 is not that much worse at 23mpg. And while the T6 is less powerful, it also weighs 550lbs/249kg less.
Absent that question over the relative value for money of the hybrid T8 versus the T6, the XC60 makes a remarkably compelling case for itself. If you’re looking for a luxury SUV, you need to take a look at this Volvo.
Listing image by Jonathan Gitlin