The verdict: The 2018 Volvo XC60 is a new benchmark for small luxury SUVs.
Versus the competiton: A full redesign transforms the once semi-nice Volvo XC60 into a full-blown luxury SUV able to go head to head with the Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class, Audi Q5 and Lexus NX.
Like its bigger brother — the seven-seat Volvo XC90 that we named our Best of 2016 — the five-seat 2018 Volvo XC60 is a whole new SUV compared with its predecessor. Compare the 2018 to the 2017 XC60 here.
It’s amazing how much is shared between the XC60 and XC90: engines, a lot of the chassis, much of the interior and most features. The XC60 feels like a mini-XC90, and that’s a good thing considering how gushy we get when we talk about the Best of 2016 winner we owned for a year. The kicker is that I think the Volvo XC60 is the better buy if you don’t need the third-row seat.
I drove multiple versions of the new XC60 at a preview event in Denver (per our ethics policy, Cars.com pays for its own airfare and lodging). This review covers the regular and plug-in-hybrid versions.
How It Drives
The Volvo XC60 comes in three flavors: the T5 (250-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder), the T6 (316 hp from a supercharged and turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder) and T8 plug-in hybrid (313-hp, supercharged and turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder paired with an electric motor and battery pack to boost total output to 400 hp). All powertrain options require premium 91-octane-or-above gasoline for optimal performance, according to the XC60’s owner’s manual, which is the norm for luxury SUVs.
These are the same engines as in the XC90, but the XC60 is around 300 pounds lighter, so the T6 and T8 versions I drove were more responsive and punchier than the XC90. The XC60 accelerates to 60 mph quicker than the XC90 in every version, and not by a small measure: Volvo says the XC60 T5, T6 and T8 hit 60 mph in 6.4, 5.6 and 4.9 seconds, respectively, while the XC90’s versions of the same do it in 7.5, 6.1 and 5.3 seconds, respectively.
I didn’t observe a huge difference in passing power between the XC60’s 316-hp T6 and 400-hp T8, but from a stop and at lower speeds, the T8 provides instant acceleration and greater punch. Even though the T8 has a combined 84 more horsepower than the T6, its hybrid innards add more than 500 pounds of curb weight, lifting it to 4,599 pounds versus the T6’s 4,045 pounds.
What the plug-in hybrid gets you is an EPA-estimated 17 miles of electric operation on a full charge, followed by combined gas mileage of 26 mpg; both of those numbers are slightly lower than the 2018 XC90 T8. The XC60 T8’s mileage rating also isn’t dramatically better than the non-hybrids’. The T5 gets an estimated 22/28/24 mpg city/highway/combined, and the T6 is rated 21/27/23 mpg; that’s similar to other four-cylinders in the class but with a little more punch from the meatier 2.0-liter. If you’re on the fence, the T8 plug-in hybrid’s available maximum $5,002 federal tax credit might help seal the deal.
The Volvo XC60’s ride quality, with its optional air suspension and adjustable firmness, recalls the XC90: firm but not uncomfortable. (Volvo didn’t provide any standard-suspension SUVs for us to drive.) The Volvo XC60 is a touch sportier than the XC90, with firmer steering and tighter handling that lets it manage mountain roads without feeling out of place, but it doesn’t attack corners like a Porsche Macan S, BMW X4 M40i or Audi SQ5. Drivability isn’t the XC60’s greatest strength, but it will be perfectly respectable to most.
The Volvo XC60’s greatest strength is its warm, stylish interior, with enough high-quality materials to challenge the best interiors in the class, including the Audi Q5 and pricier Porsche Macan. The Volvo’s optional soft Nappa leather seats, genuine wood trim and all the sunlight streaming in through the standard panoramic moonroof create an airy, pleasant space in which to drive. Leather seating is standard, unlike competitors such asthe Mercedes GLC-Class and Lexus NX, which have leatherette (imitation leather) standard. Compare the XC60 with its competitors here. The interior mostly looks like an Volvo XC90 but with a new accent panel that runs across the dashboard from door to door and can be appointed with real wood. The wood, with grain you can feel, is accented by a matte aluminum-esque border; both add new dimensions to an otherwise familiar interior.
The backseat is more comfortable than the outgoing Volvo XC60’s, with increased legroom and a supportive seating position. Under the outboard cushions is a little cavelike storage space for phones, tablets or other pocket items. It’s unique to the XC60, though I’m not convinced of its usefulness. Is it where your devices are supposed to go when their batteries die? Because, as with the Volvo XC90, there are no USB ports in the backseat for device charging; there’s just a single 12-volt cigarette-lighter-style outlet. To be fair, they’re not a widely available feature in the class, but rear USB ports aren’t uncommon in non-luxury compact SUVs like a Mazda CX-5. (And if you like luxury cars, the CX-5 is worth a look.)
The Volvo XC60 has a decidedly smaller footprint than the XC90. It’s 10.3 inches shorter nose to tail, 4.2 inches narrower and 4.6 inches shorter in height. Total cargo volume is lower, too, but perhaps not as much as you’d expect: A maximum of 63.3 cubic feet with the rear seats folded is still plenty for the XC60, while the XC90 has 85.7 cubic feet. Perhaps this will help you visualize the cargo room a little easier: Volvo says it’s 80.3 inches from the back of the front seats to the liftgate in the Volvo XC90 and 68.7 inches in the XC60. The XC60’s cargo area is flat, wide and comes with a standard power liftgate. Plus, the available air suspension has a position that lowers the rear for easier cargo loading, just like the XC90.
Also like the XC90, the XC60’s technology game is strong; its optional semi-autonomous Pilot Assist II is a must-have feature for commuting in stop-and-go traffic. The system keeps the XC60 centered in its lane more firmly than the original Pilot Assist in our XC90 (the system has since been upgraded in the 2017 XC90), and there’s greater resistance in the steering wheel, giving it more of an autonomous feeling. Pilot Assist II still requires hands on the wheel, but as before, the car brakes, accelerates and provides steering assistance on gently curving roads to relieve the tensions of heavy commuting.
Volvo’s huge, vertically oriented touchscreen is also a carryover from the XC90. It works similarly here, which means it requires a thorough dive into the owner’s manual to learn its capabilities, plus a lot of time fumbling around looking for icons before you become familiar with switching between audio sources or activating or adjusting the car’s many tech features; it’s not something you instantly understand and use. Still, the screen has a big cool factor and the resolution is top-notch; once you’re familiarized, it’s an impressive and responsive system.
The Volvo XC60 had not been crash-tested at the time of publication. Standard safety features are impressive, including forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking that recognizes cyclists, pedestrians and large animals. There’s also a lane-departure-prevention system, rear collision warning and a backup camera. Optional equipment includes blind spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert and 360-degree cameras. Top-down 360-degree cameras aren’t uncommon, but the XC60’s is one of the best, with high resolution and a large screen.
Worth the Money?
The XC60’s starting price of $42,495 for a T5 is a bargain. It comes with that sweet interior, all-wheel drive, a panoramic moonroof and the aforementioned standard safety features. I mostly drove the high-end Inscription trim level of the T6, which starts at $49,695 and adds navigation, a digital-display instrument panel, four-zone climate control and more. The ones I tested with Pilot Assist, Nappa leather, a rocking Bowers & Wilkins stereo, a head-up display, blind spot monitoring and much more tallied up to around $60,000.
The XC60 can command $60,000 and still feel reasonable considering its styling, quality and the technology inside. It isn’t any less luxurious than an XC90, just smaller and less expensive. If you don’t need a third row, the XC60 is the way to go.