Many of us have a somewhat interesting (or uninteresting, depending on how you look at it) view of what Volvo represents. Safety being the number one priority, and utilitarian function coming well before the aesthetic form of what one would consider “stylish”. For decades, many embraced the upright bricks with the peace of mind offered by their seemingly unbreakable safety record. Durable and straight-forward (literally), you can still find older Volvos all over the world – many of them in great mechanical shape. Many enthusiast-oriented models featuring forced-induction were affectionately known as the “Turbo Bricks”.
It was in the 1990s when Volvos started to change. While safety was still of utmost importance, front-drive became the norm, and soft curves started making an appearance in their family design language. Volvo’s current cars feature a very different style compared to the past, but many familial cues remain, such as the broad “shoulders” and the high-mount taillights on their wagons and utility vehicles. Now free from Ford and under new Chinese ownership, Volvo now has the resources (read: money) it needed to do things their own way.
The XC60 was first introduced to North America in 2010. Created largely to cater to North American SUV-loving interests, it is sold alongside the excellent XC70 tall-wagon. The XC60 is available in both front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive formats – though turbos are a requirement if you check the all-wheel-drive option box. Being a premium SUV, it comes decently equipped, but there are still many options available – mostly in the tech goodie department. Satellite navigation, for instance, is only available in the top-shelf Platinum packages. My tester was the 2014 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD Platinum, painted in an appropriate Ice White. This includes everything except for the R-design cosmetic upgrades. Pricing starts at $52,850. The Technology package on my tester, which includes things such as radar cruise control, collision warning, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, and auto high-beam, adds another $1,500.
Volvo sure does love to throw in the proverbial kitchen sink when it comes to active and passive safety systems. Each component is assigned its own short-form acronym. Within the Technology package alone, is the following: ACC, CWAB, DA, DAC, DSTC, LDW, RSI, SIPS, and WHIPS. Consumers who do their own research will eventually come to understand what all this alphabet soup means, but to the casual observer, more letters can only mean more features and therefore more safety systems.
Outside, the XC60 undergoes a slight cosmetic refresh for the 2014 model year. The most obvious changes are to the headlights and daytime running lights. Slightly reconfigured, the daytime running lights now reside lower down in the bumper. The exhaust tailpipes are now integrated into the rear bumper cover, for a cleaner appearance. Volvo’s “Zephyrus” 18-inch wheels do a reasonable job filling up the wheel wells. R-Design models step up to a 20” wheel. There’s even a little blue Polestar emblem on the rear tailgate, which would suggest a more sporting attitude, but there’s little to explain why the badge is even there in the first place. I feel it is a badge more fitting on one of the R-Design models.
Inside, typically excellent Swedish leather seats ensure long-haul comfort, and the trademark European-style minimalist dashboard layout doesn’t distract you with gimmicks. The instrument cluster is all-digital now and can be configured in three ways: a normal mode with the speedometer front and centre, an Eco mode that emphasizes real-time and average fuel economy, and a Power mode that replaces the speedometer with a large tachometer, and adds a “Power” gauge to the right side of the cluster. One of the more interesting items is the option to fold down the rear headrests. This can be useful when reversing, to improve your view out the back window. The other benefit is being able to suddenly wake up any slumbering passengers by dropping the headrests on them. This is a great way to keep everybody alert, but not necessarily happy with the driver.
What makes the T6 models special is what’s under the hood. Mounted transversely, is a 3.0L turbocharged inline-six engine. The compact powerplant produces an even 300 horsepower and 325 lb-ft of torque. The XC60 moves with serious, yet silky smooth authority. The midrange torque delivery is effortless and a downshift is rarely required to pass at highway speeds. It feels faster than the quoted 6.9s 0-100km/h time would suggest. It is paired up with a six-speed automatic transmission. It gets the job done, never seeming confused as to what gear to be in, but many competing European automakers offer seven and eight-speed transmissions that help improve both performance and efficiency. Considering the XC60’s unconventional powertrain layout, I think it is unlikely we will see a more advanced transmission offered in the short-term. The horsepower is sent to all four wheels via a Haldex all-wheel-drive system. Mainly a reactive front-biased system, power can be sent to the rear wheels whenever the front wheels start to slip.
With such a useful powerband, I did spend quite a bit of time within the turbo boost. The XC60 T6 AWD is rated at 11.9L/100km in the city and 8.3L/100km on the highway. In the cold that we have been seeing in Toronto lately, I managed an average of 12.3L/100km. Premium fuel is recommended, and the tank will accept 70L.
In real-world usage, the XC60 is easy to live with. Visibility is generally good in all directions, including the all-important blind spots over your shoulder. The use of the numerous safety systems is largely optional – it is easy to disable many of the assists via the centre console. However, there wasn’t a way to fully disable the traction and stability controls. The Sport mode, enabled by the gear selector, makes for spirited performance and response, but I found the throttle to be far too jumpy in this mode – it was a little difficult to launch the car smoothly from a stop.
The 2014 refresh of the XC60 keeps Volvo’s midsize offering relevant in a very crowded field of premium choices. Competing with the T6 model specifically is the Audi Q5 3.0T, BMW X3 xDrive35i, and Mercedes-Benz GLK350. From Japan, the Lexus RX350 and Acura RDX offer somewhat similar configurations for a little less money. The larger German and Japanese brands have a lot of money in the marketing supporting the brand – something I feel isn’t quite the case at Volvo. As good a product the XC60 is, if people don’t have this notion pop up in their head at first thought, then some work needs to be done. Considering how popular its competitors are in the urban landscape, Volvo needs to do a better job getting the word out to the street.
Many people are still attracted to the Volvo lineup thanks to their bulletproof safety record. One example is Volvo’s flagship SUV, the XC90. Despite being around for more than ten years, it still manages to earn a recent Top Safety Pick+ award from the American Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It’s this kind of reputation for having the right priorities combined with the slightly offbeat nature of the Volvo brand itself that attracts a very specific kind of customer – one that is making a good, educated choice with the XC60.
2014 Volvo XC60 T6 Platinum Gallery