To be good, a small luxury SUV needs to be a family car, a utility vehicle and a commuter car, and the reworked 2015 Volvo XC60 does all that. It provides an upscale environment and a dash of surprise — both on the window sticker and under the hood.
For 2015, the XC60 gets a number of new powertrains — teamed with confusing trim level names carried over from 2014 — and a dazzling new gauge cluster. In fact, the T6 version we tested might have too much power for its own good, but that just means shoppers can save a bit of cash and still get one of the best models in the segment.
Exterior & Styling
You don't buy a luxury SUV if you want radical styling. Most are sedate, if not a tad boring. The XC60's design leans toward the sophisticated side, with a contemporary front and a rather avant-garde rear. It's those vertical taillights that are the signature style of the XC60.
Overall, the Volvo has as much appeal as any in this class, whether it's the Acura RDX, Audi Q5, BMW X3, Cadillac SRX, Lexus RX350 or Mercedes-Benz GLK.
How It Drives
Two of the Volvo's five available engines are new, and these Drive-E efficient turbocharged engines are the biggest enhancements for 2015. Both, however, are teamed only with front-wheel drive. The base XC60 is now the T5 Drive-E, which packs a turbocharged, 2.0-liter inline-four-cylinder engine good for 240 horsepower and 258 pounds-feet of torque. In the past, T5 signified a turbocharged five-cylinder — hence the letter T and the number 5.
That doesn't seem to matter to Volvo in 2015, but it may confuse shoppers, especially ones who own an older T5. Those drivers will, however, be happier with the new mileage, at 24/31/27 mpg city/highway/combined. Acura's RDX, BMW's X3 and Mercedes-Benz' GLK have similar or more power, but none breaks 28 mpg on the highway. Compare the four here.
Another version of this 2.0-liter four-cylinder tops the range, called the T6 Drive-E. It's not only turbocharged but also supercharged, reaching impressive figures of 302 hp and 295 pounds-feet of torque. It replaces a turbocharged six-cylinder that was close in power, at 300 hp and 325 pounds-feet of torque, but fell well behind in fuel economy. The 2015 T6 Drive-E — the model we tested for this review — is rated 22/30/25 mpg.
On the street, that's a lot of power for this type of vehicle. It's nice to have in certain situations, especially passing on the highway, but it's a bit uncontrolled when going from a dead stop. The front tires spin relatively easily when pushed only a bit harder than the norm. There's also a bit of torque steer when taking crisp turns. But the T6 Drive-E is surprisingly fun to drive, which isn't normally the case in this class, no matter how strong the engine.
Most drivers will likely be quite satisfied with the front-wheel-drive T5's power.
No matter the engine, the XC60's ride quality really impresses, with a luxuriously soft ride that many in this class don't achieve. Road and wind noise are minimal at highway speeds.
The only sore point in terms of both power and mileage will come when a shopper wants all-wheel drive. The XC60's three all-wheel-drive models carry over older engines and have names similar to the new power plants. There's the 3.2 all-wheel-drive model that features a 3.2-liter inline-six-cylinder and is the only XC60 without turbocharging. Next comes the T6 all-wheel-drive and T6 all-wheel-drive R-Design, both of which feature a turbocharged, 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder. Those two produce 300 and 325 hp, respectively, and I found that the 2014 R-Design was also too powerful for this class when I tested it.
The all-wheel-drive models' mileage ratings also suffer. The 3.2 all-wheel-drive comes in at 18/25/20 mpg, while the two T6 all-wheel-drives have identical ratings of 17/24/20 mpg.
All 2015 XC60s, however, run on regular gasoline, a big plus.
Swedish design is usually simplistic by nature, but don't let the rather mundane styling keep you from thinking the XC60 is a true luxury car. The available leather seats are exceptionally comfortable, with a nice feel to the material, which is done in a two-tone look with nice stitching throughout the cabin.
Everywhere you look and touch, whether it's on the doors or dash, items are finished in substantial metal or metal-looking trim.
The backseat felt far roomier than the specs suggest. The numbers place it toward the bottom of the pack in terms of legroom and shoulder room, but my 6-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter — still in large car seats — had plenty of room and were able to walk across from one side to the other. Headroom throughout the cabin is impressive even with the optional, large panoramic moonroof that takes a chunk out of interior height.
Ergonomics & Electronics
Besides the engine options, the other major shift for 2015 is the addition of an all-digital gauge cluster. It replaces a simple yet elegant two-gauge layout I always appreciated. Digital gauge clusters are becoming more common and are used by Cadillac and Jaguar, among other automakers.
Dead center, a large ringed display houses a configurable speedometer and tachometer; a full menu appears when called up using controls on the turn-signal stalk. Two "wing" displays flanking the main display house various information that can also be customized with simple controls. There are also three color and layout themes from which drivers can select.
It's a well-executed look and feel, and all the controls are quite good, but I found operating the trip computer to be the most confounding aspect of the whole system.
Volvo's straightforward multimedia system, on the other hand, has a fan in me. A 7-inch screen — small compared with many competitors — has above-average resolution, and you control selections using a knob with two inset buttons. The scrolling and selecting is intuitive and fast versus using touch-screen controls.
While the available navigation isn't as good as in some others in this class, the rest of the functions, like phone and audio, work just fine. The optional Premium Sound System produces spectacular range even at high volumes and is worth adding.
Cargo & Storage
Cargo space is impressive. Not only are dimensions robust, at 30.8 cubic feet with the rear seats in place and 67.4 cubic feet with them folded flat — besting most competitors — but the cargo floor is quite low to the ground, making loading large items easy.
The rear seats also fold completely flat, flush with the cargo floor, which isn't always the case.
There are numerous cubbies sprinkled throughout the cabin for both front and rear occupants.
In the past, Volvo was synonymous with safety, but many other automakers have caught up in terms of crash-test ratings and safety systems. Still, by most measures the XC60 still ranks high in safety.
The 2015 Volvo XC60 earned a five-star overall crash-test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, while the 2014 model received the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's Top Safety Pick+ award, that organization's highest rating. IIHS has not released 2015 results at this time, but because the XC60 hasn't been structurally redesigned, the earlier tests are likely to be deemed valid for the 2015 model.
The XC60 has a number of available preventative safety features, like a blind spot warning system, cross traffic alert, forward collision warning and lane departure warning. There's also a pedestrian/cyclist detection system that can apply the brakes when someone happens across the SUV's path.
You can find a full list of safety features here.
Value in Its Class
Power, fuel economy, a luxurious interior, a large cargo area and its safety pedigree should influence any shopper to consider the XC60. Its price also happens to be right in each trim level.
Comparing the most basic T5 Drive-E XC60, which costs $36,675, it's a few thousand less than equivalent BMW and Mercedes options and a bit more than the Acura RDX. Prices range all the way to $50,725 for the T6 R-Design Platinum (prices include destination charges). The wide array of powertrain options gives more shoppers a point of entry to the model.
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