A few months ago I tested BMW's 3 Series wagon to see if it could really satisfy all the needs of a modern family. Namely, my family, which owns two wagons and is a fan of the body style.
When the new 2015 Volvo V60 came through Cars.com's Chicago office to test, I couldn't say no to giving it a few days with the clan to see if it improved on the luxury wagon formula. It certainly had high points, but these premium wagons aren't without flaws.
Wagon aficionados were excited to see Volvo revive the V60 years after the S60 sedan got a fresh treatment in the states. New for 2015, it is priced almost identically to the company's well-rounded XC60 SUV, which I tested a week or so earlier.
The trade-offs between the two body styles are pretty cut and dry. On the road, the V60 handles better, while the XC60 has a more comfortable ride. In the driveway, the V60 is more stylish outside, while the XC60 is roomier inside.
As summer arrived in the Midwest, my wife and I wanted our kids, ages 6 and 5, learning how to ride bikes sans training wheels, so we could enjoy the rest of the warm weather from two wheels. That meant packing both the XC60 and V60 with their bikes to head to good training grounds around town.
2015 Volvo V60 (above)
2015 Volvo XC60 (above)
My son's bike was a bit bigger and went in first, with my daughter's following it. The XC60 had no trouble swallowing both, and the load floor wasn't so high that I couldn't reach all the way in to take out the larger bike.
The wagon was even better in terms of load-floor height, but the rakish roofline cut into the real-life cargo room severely. It took a lot of wrangling to get both bikes to fit in the V60.
Having the more-accessible cargo area was nice, though. My daughter enjoyed climbing up and sitting back there with the tailgate open, watching my son do laps around a deserted parking lot while she waited her turn for instruction.
What you discover in these luxury wagons is that while the wagon body style might scream "I've got a family," they really don't pack many family-friendly features. Mainstream SUVs from Hyundai or Jeep seem to offer more with plenty of cubbies and cupholders, hooks for bags and sporting equipment, and even an array of dealer accessories that families will like.
One feature Volvo knocks out of the park for kids is putting rear vents into the pillar between the front and back doors. This gives each kid a bit more control of how cool they want to be while being chauffeured from park to birthday party to library to the occasional after-dinner trip to the ice-cream parlor. I realize this has been a regular Volvo feature for years, but that doesn't mean that kids aren't the biggest benefactors.
Volvo also offers built-in booster seats in both the XC60 and V60, but I haven't been able to try them out myself. Dodge is the only other automaker that offers them.
One nice thing about Volvos is they generally allow for an easy fit when it comes to car seats. Both my daughter's larger convertible and my son's smaller high-back booster fit nicely. There wasn't much room in the back, though, for them to get across the backseat from one side to the other, which is a common maneuver for us when there's only one adult to open the rear doors. However, it was roomier than the BMW 3 Series wagon.
A built-in retractable divider for the cargo area, which stowed in a hard metal case on the seatbacks, meant I had to run the car seats' tether straps over the case to latch them into their respective tether anchors. This made me worry a little bit about fit, but both car seats seemed secure.
As much as I'd like to say I'd always opt for the wagon, it wasn't hard for me to agree with my wife and kids on which vehicle they liked better. While the BMW's performance and styling far surpassed an X3, for example, the same couldn't quite be said for the V60 versus the XC60.
In the end, it's the cargo room that would sell me on the XC60 SUV. The more comfortable ride sold my wife on the XC60, and my kids were sold on the additional backseat space. We all loved the vibrant blue paint job.
The nearly identical prices will likely sway car-shopping families the way of the SUV too.
Cars.com photos by David Thomas and Jennifer Newman