The verdict: Volvo has kept the 2017 XC60 compact SUV reasonably up to date for an aging design, but there’s no question it pales in comparison to the multi-award-winning full-size XC90 that represents Volvo’s new direction.
Versus the competition: Running changes have kept the XC60 competitive in terms of efficiency, active-safety equipment and other ways a list of features might suggest, but a closer look reveals its age.
We suspect the next-generation Volvo XC60 will appear at an auto show soon, and knowing how much Volvo has invested in its XC90 (which Cars.com awarded our highest honor, naming it Best of 2016) and its new S90 sedan, I’m surprised the company has improved the XC60 as much as it has over the past few model years. The XC60 is based on an old platform, from back when Volvo was part of the Ford Motor Co. brand portfolio, and it’s not long for this world.
Gone entirely are the five- and six-cylinder engines, leaving just two versions of the Drive-E 2.0-liter four-cylinder. Rather than cylinder counts, T5 now refers to the less powerful engine and T6 to the more powerful one. These changes contribute to a condensed list of trims, down from 16 last year to seven for 2017. The XC60’s “editions” now include Dynamic and Inscription, both with either engine (T5 or T6) and front- or all-wheel drive, plus the top trim: T6 AWD R-Design. All trims have added formerly optional features as standard equipment for 2017. Most notably, the base model adds a backup camera, blind spot warning, a panoramic moonroof, leather seats, navigation and more. We tested a T6 AWD Inscription.
Competing compact SUVs include the Acura RDX, Cadillac XT5 and Lincoln MKC (see them compared with the Volvo here).
The Volvo XC60 isn’t a bad-looking SUV. It’s far from the boxy shapes for which Volvo was once known, but it’s still a bit outdated, especially when viewed alongside the well-regarded XC90 and its Thor’s Hammer-style headlights (newly standard for 2017).
Even with optional 20-inch alloy wheels (replacing the T6 AWD Inscription’s standard 19s), our car rode reasonably well — firmly, but not overly so versus competitors. It isn’t a marvel of comfort like an Volvo XC90 with air springs and adaptive shock absorbers, but neither is it as rock-hard as the XC90 feels without that optional suspension. The XC60 offers no such adaptive suspension, nor does the Acura. One is an option on the Cadillac and Lincoln, the latter of which needs it least.
The Volvo XC60 doesn’t feel sporty. Though its curb weight compares within the class, it feels heavy in turns, perhaps due to steering that’s generally numb and devoid of feedback — at least positive feedback. In hard cornering, mid-corner bumps jerk the steering wheel almost violently. It’s sort of the worst of both worlds in that regard. Bearing in mind that handling isn’t one of the many things for which we’ve praised the XC90, the XC60 still feels a step behind. It doesn’t help that the 60’s all-wheel drive doesn’t send more power to the rear wheels for a more balanced, rear-wheel-drive feel like some modern AWD systems do. It feels reactive, which is fine for foul weather but doesn’t provide engaging dynamics.
If I were to choose among the stated competitors on the basis of sportier dynamics, I’d go with the poise and effortless handling of the MKC, followed by the RDX.
The Volvo XC60 T6 we tested has the same optional engine as our loaded, long-term XC90: a turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that produces 302 horsepower (that’s 14 hp less than the engine makes in the XC90). It performs well here, giving the XC60 some guts and working well with the eight-speed automatic transmission. (The six-speed has been discontinued from the trims that still had it last year.) If anything, it responds more quickly to jabs at the accelerator than the 90 does. Though it delivers lots of goods for a wee block, this engine sounds pretty raunchy. It’s gravelly in the XC90 and even worse in the 60.
The updated engines preserve competitive fuel economy. At worst, the AWD T6 (the stronger engine) gets an EPA-estimated 20/27/22 mpg city/highway/combined on premium gasoline. (One of our editors observed 25.9 mpg after a 520-mile road trip, mostly on highways.) With AWD, the Acura and Cadillac are rated 22 and 21 mpg combined, respectively, though the Caddy makes up some cost by operating on regular gas. With FWD, the Acura and Cadillac get 23 and 22 mpg combined, respectively. With the 240-hp, T5 version of the Volvo engine, the FWD Volvo XC60 T5 is rated as high as 23/30/26 mpg, with a combined figure that’s closer to the highway figure than it is in many vehicles. This engine also accepts regular gas. When saddled with AWD, the T5 gets a respectable 20/29/23 mpg fuel economy.
The new Volvo XC60 has the pluses common to Volvos, including excellent front-seat comfort. The now-standard leather upholstery is a big plus; competing models start with imitation leather. Interior quality is mixed. One editor noted how the high-quality materials on the doors extend all the way to the floor rather than turning cheap below eye level, but the cabin overall has a feel best described as premium rather than outright luxury. The XC90 has transcended that, now matching the best that European brands offer.
Another staple from a company that values outward visibility, the Volvo XC60 has remote-collapsing rear head restraints. If you look back and find that raised head restraints obscure your view and the seats aren’t occupied, a dashboard button will knock them down. It’s a better design than most vehicles have because the head restraints hinge forward and therefore must be raised in order to sit down. Many modern cars have head restraints that nest down into the seat to improve visibility, but that doesn’t ensure passengers will raise them to provide the intended protection.
I can’t praise a company dedicated to outward visibility without pointing out my distaste for the XC60’s optional heated windshield, which incorporates squiggly heating-element wires. I think it’s mildly distracting during the day and like having a botched Lasik job at night. Some people don’t mind it, and others don’t until I bring it to their attention (I’m here to help). Unfortunately, it’s in an option package tied to the heated steering wheel, windshield washer nozzles, and front and rear heated seats. Heated front seats are a stand-alone option, but if you want the other things, you’re stuck with squigglefest.
Interior space is comparable to the Lincoln MKC but a few cubic feet shy of the Acura and Cadillac. Across the board, seating dimensions vary little among these models. A panoramic moonroof, which is common in more recently redesigned models, was a surprising plus in the XC60 we drove that made the interior feel even roomier.
Another feature that’s been almost exclusive to Volvos is optional integrated booster seats, a stand-alone option. The outboard rear seats’ bottom cushions can be raised to two different heights to accommodate children 45-55 inches tall and 50-80 pounds, or higher for kids measuring 37-46 inches and 35-55 pounds. Aside from being positioned optimally to fit an occupant in the geometric sense (removable seats vary in this regard), they can of course vanish entirely for a larger passenger — without taking up space elsewhere in the SUV, as a separate booster seat would.
To see how well such external boosters and other child-safety seats fit in the Volvo XC60, check out our Car Seat Check of the 2016 model, which still applies to the 2017.
Perhaps the clearest distinction between the XC60 and Volvo’s newer efforts are the dashboard controls. Where the XC90 has the most touchscreen-centric control setup this side of a Tesla — with just a few physical buttons — the 60 still has many mechanical buttons and a small display. If you don’t want a touchscreen controlling nearly every function in your car, this model might be for you, as it has many direct-access buttons for both vehicle and multimedia features.
That’s not to say it’s the most ergonomic or modern example of its type, though. I’ve always found the system’s rotary selection ring on the right too far away and too hard to the touch, and the two push-buttons within it are awkward to press.
The system has one of the most modern SiriusXM Satellite Radio enhancements: the ability to see the artist and song currently playing on other stations. The problem is, you have to push a button to change from a list of station names to a list of artists to a list of songs. It’s a little too easy to accidentally pull up “Lullaby” by Nickelback instead of Leonard Cohen’s song of the same name. No one wants that.
The XC90’s touchscreen format simply implements this SiriusXM feature better. New isn’t necessarily better in all cases, though: I still don’t care for the touch-sensitive buttons and the menu structure of the XT5’s Cadillac User Experience touchscreen system, and the RDX similarly offers a poorly thought-out, complex control system with two displays (one a touchscreen) and a multifunction knob. If you look at the executions independently, though, you’ll find the XC90’s modern system to be a particularly well-executed one of its type and the XC60’s to be less so among older designs. (Having been pummeled for its use of touch-sensitive panels and a glitchy touchscreen system, Lincoln has cleaned up its act and moved on to Sync 3, which is now one of the best such systems on the market.)
Dig deeper and you’ll find that some of the ways the Volvo XC60 looks competitive are better only on paper. It may have a USB port, but more would be better, and it doesn’t have Apple CarPlay, which is offered on the XC90, the Acura and the Cadillac. (Sadly, Android Auto comes only on the Cadillac.) It offers a Wi-Fi hot spot — complimentary for six months or 3GB of data — but the system relies on a 3G cellular connection rather than the faster 4G you’ll find in the XC90 and the Cadillac XT5. 4G is what we’re accustomed to on current smartphones and is necessary for streaming video.
With 30.8 cubic feet of cargo volume behind the backseat and 67.4 cubic feet with the backseat folded, the XC60 is among the roomier models in its class, though not dramatically so. The XT5 comes close, at 30.0/63.0 cubic feet, followed by the RDX (26.1/61.3) and MKC (25.2/53.1). The Volvo’s 40/20/40-split backseat gives maximum flexibility.
In-cabin storage is average, with a good-sized glove compartment and door pockets. Though the space under the center armrest is limited, an area behind the center control panel can accommodate a purse or the like (a Volvo design that was discontinued in the XC90).
This isn’t the best class for towing a trailer, but the XC60’s capacity is on the high side — 3,500 pounds, matching the Cadillac. The Lincoln starts at 2,000 pounds and maxes at 3,000 in some trims (equipped with a trailering option). The Acura manages a mere 1,500 pounds.
The XC60 earned the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s highest rating of good (out of a possible good, acceptable, fair or poor) in all crashworthiness tests, making it one of many models in the organization’s mid-size luxury SUV class to score well. It also earned five out of five stars overall from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The Volvo XC60’s complement of active-safety features is generous. In addition to a backup camera and rear parking sensors, standard features include blind spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert and City Safety, a forward collision warning system with automatic emergency braking that’s designed to work at speeds of 31 mph or less. Buyers can choose an option package that adds all-speed emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, driver alertness warning and lane departure warning. It also includes adaptive cruise control — not technically a safety feature, but one that eases driver fatigue.
All the above features worked well for me — at least in the way of no false alarms. The systems knew where other vehicles were and which were legitimate threats rather than just nearby. The adaptive cruise control was super smooth and operated all the way to a stop. Unfortunately, the XC60 lacks the XC90’s Pilot Assist feature, which combines the adaptive cruise with well-executed lane-centering (like automatic steering assist for highway driving). I also appreciated the dashboard button that activated our test vehicle’s optional 360-degree camera system — a must when nosing into a parking space. (The XC90 requires you to sweep the touchscreen to another menu first.)
Using onboard cellular technology, the XC60 provides automatic collision notification, including six months free.
See all the XC60’s safety features here.
The Volvo XC60 represents value in a way that’s common among older designs: It’s been loaded with more and more standard features to remain attractive, not the least of which is leather upholstery. Where it falls behind is in the value inherent in the most modern features, many of which are on display in more recent Volvo models such as the XC90 and S90, as well as in direct class competitors. Ultimately, whether you’ll purchase a 2017, wait to see what the 2018 looks like or instead consider a competing brand will depend on how you feel about these features — especially the controls and multimedia.