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Expert Reviews 1 of 9
By Mike Hanley
February 18, 2009
Anyone who thinks you can have too much of a good thing isn't familiar with the car business. Volvo's good thing has been the XC90 midsize luxury crossover, which debuted as a 2003 model and quickly became the brand's best-selling model. Now, Volvo is repackaging the successful XC90 formula for the compact luxury crossover crowd with the new XC60. It hits dealerships in March.
Even though it's Volvo's first foray into this growing segment, the XC60 is well executed overall. From its stylish design and upscale cabin to its sporty performance and numerous safety features, the XC60 impresses in all the right areas. Its gas mileage, however, may be a sticking point for some. Sleek Looks The new XC60 is one of the sleekest luxury crossovers available. The windshield flows smoothly into the roofline, and the back of the crossover is gracefully finished with a forward-swept D-pillar. The XC60 features tall, slender taillights, as do a number of Volvos — including the XC70 and C30 — but these are perhaps the most distinctive yet. They feature a slim line of LEDs that follow the outline of the roof pillar and are quite eye-catching.
The front of the XC60 likewise has strong styling cues, like a large mesh grille and bulging hood. Volvo uses lighting to good effect here, too, with thin, slanted running lights set on either side of the grille. Audi and BMW have shown how unique lighting can serve as a styling cue, and Volvo appears to be following suit. All XC60s have standard 18-inch alloy wheels, but 19-inch alloy rims are available through Volvo's vehicle accessory program. T6 Means Turbo Power The XC60's sole trim level is the T6, and it's powered by a turbocharged, 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder engine that makes 281 horsepower and 295 pounds-feet of torque. By the numbers, it's one of the more powerful base engines available in a compact luxury crossover, and it felt plenty strong on the hilly roads outside San Francisco where I tested the crossover.
Helping matters on those hills was the engine's abundant torque at low rpm. Even with the engine spinning at only 2,400 rpm, pressing the gas pedal brings an immediate strong dose of acceleration, without a hint of turbo lag. The engine makes the XC60 one quick crossover when accelerating hard from a standstill, and it also feels strong at freeway speeds.
The turbo engine pairs with a six-speed automatic transmission that includes Sport and clutchless-manual modes. Most shifts are smooth and refined, but I experienced a couple of jerks during my drive. The Sport mode is less inclined to upshift, which keeps the engine revving faster, and it seemed best suited to the task of winding mountain roads; the engine never feels bogged down when accelerating out of a slow corner.
The XC60 has standard all-wheel drive. It's based on front-wheel drive, but it can apportion power to the rear wheels when necessary. The XC60 doesn't include any low-range gearing for serious offroad use, but it does have 9.1 inches of ground clearance. For a vehicle that doesn't look like it rides especially high off the ground and isn't difficult to step into, that's quite a bit of clearance.
Volvo expects the EPA to estimate the XC60's gas mileage at 16/22 mpg city/highway, which puts it behind many of its competitors.
Luxury Crossover Gas Mileage (city/highway, mpg)*
2009 BMW X3
2009 Audi Q5
2008 Infiniti EX35
2009 Acura RDX
2010 Volvo XC60
2009 Land Rover LR2
2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK350
*Gas mileage estimates are sorted by highway mpg figures for four-wheel-drive models.
Volvo won't confirm the possibility of a less powerful, more efficient engine becoming available later to attract value-oriented shoppers, but adding one at some point would make a lot of sense. Ride & Handling The XC60 offers sporty handling performance — the suspension keeps body roll nicely controlled. It must be noted, though, that the XC60 I drove was a European-spec model equipped with firmer suspension tuning than U.S. models will have; Michael Cottone, XC60 product launch manager, said spring rates on U.S. models will be 10 to 15 percent softer, and I think that's a smart move.
There's no doubt California has some gorgeous roads — we drove on a few of them when we hit the coastal highways north of San Francisco — but the roads are also beautiful for their smoothness. Most were shuffleboard smooth. Compare that to Chicago, where Cars.com is based, or any number of Midwestern cities where the potholes on winter-ravaged roads are big enough to swallow a wheel whole. Even on California's mostly good roads, a few minor rough spots resulted in sharp responses from the suspension that could be felt in the cabin. The softened suspension for the U.S. market will likely improve ride quality, better aligning the XC60 with luxury-buyer expectations.
That said, the XC60 offers a lively driving experience for a crossover. It steers with a light touch and offers plenty of power assistance for low-effort driving. The steering firms up nicely at freeway speeds, which aids straight-line driving, and overall the XC60 feels very stable at higher speeds. Like many other European cars, it hardly feels challenged by the pace of traffic. High-Style Cabin The interior features premium materials and some interesting two-tone color schemes, but the thing that really pulls the cabin together — and is one of the XC60's most eye-catching design cues — is the slim center control panel. When finished in optional Nordic Light Oak (aluminum trim is standard), it has an appearance that's unlike anything else in its class; it recalls high-end furniture.
Leather upholstery is standard, and it's available in a two-tone design for no extra charge. My test model had a beige and espresso interior that I found pretty appealing. More important if you're going to be spending a lot of time commuting in the XC60 is that the front bucket seats are supportive, though some people might find them to be a little too firm — especially the backrest cushioning. Both front seats have standard power adjustments, and the driver's seat includes a three-position memory feature.
The backseat is snug, but that's to be expected from a small crossover. Taller adults should be able to make the seat work for a short trip, but don't expect a lot of room to stretch your legs. The 40/20/40-split rear bench seat doesn't slide forward or backward, and the backrest doesn't recline. The backrest sections do, however, fold flat and flush with the cargo floor with little effort. Cargo & Towing The XC60 offers 30.8 cubic feet of cargo room with the backseat up, which is more than the Mercedes-Benz GLK350 (23.3), Land Rover LR2 (26.7) or Acura RDX (28.8) offer. Folding the backseat more than doubles the amount of cargo room, to 67.4 cubic feet, and bests the aforementioned models when their rear seats are folded, but it can't match the BMW X3's 71 cubic feet of total cargo room.
When properly equipped, the XC60 is rated to tow up to 3,300 pounds. That compares with towing capacities of 1,500 pounds for the RDX, 3,500 pounds for the GLK350 and LR2, and 4,400 pounds for the Audi Q5. Safety Volvo is well known for its vehicle-safety efforts, and the XC60 comes standard with a new feature called City Safety, which is designed to prevent or reduce the severity of rear-end collisions. City Safety is a laser-based system that monitors the roadway in front of the vehicle. If it detects that the XC60 is closing on a car and the driver isn't making an effort to avoid a collision, it can automatically brake in an attempt to avoid a crash. Volvo says the system can prevent collisions when the closing speed is lower than 9 mph and lessen their severity if the speed is between 9 and 19 mph.
I had a chance to experience City Safety on a closed course, and it performed as advertised, aggressively braking the vehicle at the last second to avoid a collision with an inflatable "car." Volvo says it will have demonstration areas at dealerships.
It's worth noting that City Safety isn't advanced enough to detect smaller objects, like if a child were to jump in front of the XC60, but Volvo says it's developing a system with that level of capability.
Additional standard features include antilock brakes, side-impact airbags for the front seats, side curtain airbags to cover all door windows, and an electronic stability system. A number of optional safety features are available, too, like blind spot and lane departure warning systems, which are designed to monitor other cars near the XC60, and to alert the driver when the vehicle begins to drift into another lane, respectively.
Also optional is Collision Warning with Auto Brake, which uses radar technology to track the vehicle in front of the XC60 and alert the driver using visual and audible warnings when a collision may occur before automatically applying the brakes if necessary. Whereas City Safety is a low-speed crash-avoidance system, Collision Warning with Auto Brake functions at higher speeds. Features Four packages and a handful of individual options are available for the XC60. The $1,000 Climate Package includes heated front and rear seats, rain-sensing windshield wipers with heated washer-fluid nozzles, and headlight washers. The Convenience Package also costs $1,000 and includes a 12-volt power point and grocery-bag holders for the cargo area, a HomeLink garage door opener, front and rear parking sensors, and a power liftgate.
Choosing the Collision Avoidance Package equips the XC60 with adaptive cruise control, Collision Warning with Auto Brake and lane departure warning for $1,695. The $2,700 Technology Package includes a Dynaudio stereo, a navigation system with real-time traffic information and a backup camera.
Individual options include swiveling bi-xenon headlights ($800), integrated rear booster seats ($495), blind spot warning ($695) and wood trim ($295). For the first three months of sales, Volvo will throw in the panoramic moonroof — normally a $1,200 option — for free. XC60 in the Market The XC60's success hinges on being able to stand out from many other luxury crossovers. There are already capable competitors available, and new models, like the GLK350 and Q5, are also joining the segment this year. Volvo has tried to distinguish its entry by positioning the XC60 as a safety-conscious choice, but it still offers things that engage luxury buyers, like modern but not overblown styling, ample performance and a premium interior with unique design elements. With a base price of $37,200, Volvo won't be able to trumpet the XC60 as the most affordable small luxury crossover available, but given what it has to offer, the automaker shouldn't have to.