The Volvo XC60 T6 AWD is one of the best-driving, most comfortable, safest, and best-engineered vehicles on the road today. The only slight mark against this powerful SUV is that the Volvo S60 outshines it for safety and acceleration — a few antiquated features that Volvo needs to resolve in the next model year.
It’s not every day that you come away from a week-long test and realize you have driven one of the best cars on the road. And we have driven some really good ones lately: the Audi A8, the Ford Explorer, and the Nissan Juke were all leaders in their class. The Volvo XC60 has that extra “something” that sets it apart.
First, a word about price: We drove the highest-end version of the 2010 XC60, the T6 AWD R-Design, with a 300-horespower engine and $38,400 price tag. There is a non-R-Design version that also has a 300-hp engine, but our XC60 T6 has a turbo-charged engine that puts out 325-lb-ft of torque at 6200 rpm, the R-Design that is not a T6 AWD has 236-lb-ft of torque. So we had the best of both worlds: the T6 turbo and the R-Design styling. Scandinavian luxury comes at a premium, of course: The entry-level Ford Explorer is $26,190. A more apt comparison is the BMW X6 crossover that starts at about $52,000.
The R-Design emblem adds some styling accents to the vehicle and a few extra color options. The striking red of our test car was actually a little too much for our tastes – we like the rugged styling of the XC60, which now has more of a full SUV design and matches up with crossovers like the Ford Edge and Chevy Equinox. We think this more rugged design looks better in a darker color, like blue or black.
One thing is clear about the styling: Volvo is going for a distinctive look. The front profile has that muscular Volvo look, but the side profile is sporty and angular. It’s really one of the most striking vehicles on the road. Inside, we found the R-Design styling provided some cool additions: a chunky leather steering wheel that felt like they borrowed it from a Corvette Z06 and leather seats with a two-color design. The R-Design also has 20-inch aluminum wheels and dual-exhaust.
Best driving experience?
There are no options for enabling true 4×4, which makes the XC60 more like a crossover than a traditional off-roader. Strangely, the XC60 drives nothing like a crossover. The Edge and Equinox both have a boxy feel that makes you wonder if you could tip on a tight corner, and both drive more like sedans than sports cars. The XC60 drives like a “cross” between a rugged SUV and a sports car with engine torque to get you where you need to go. What’s rather amazing about the Geartronic transmission is that it is so butter-smooth. From a standing position accelerating up to 60mph, the XC60 just doesn’t seem to shift at all. You can use the manual shifter to downshift and the XC60 barely notices that either. Comparing the transmission in the XC60 to the Edge and Equinox, there is a startling difference: the XC60 is much much smoother. This is one of the few vehicles we’d drive with the manual shifter for sheer enjoyment.
That said, the ride is not perfect for every passenger. One thing we noticed is that the rear middle seat is almost unforgiveable – it seems made for a child safety seat. You feel every bump in the road and the hard plastic is unbearable. The other four seats are much more comfortable. Another slight ding on the XC60 is that you do end up sacrificing a bit of comfort for the meaty size. This vehicle weighs an astounding 4200 pounds, so it is heavier than the Cadillac Escalade. Some drivers love that tank feel – especially on slippery roads. Others find that driving a heavy European car feels a bit too much like you are rolling around on conveyor belts.
Still, our driving experience was ideal – the XC60 is responsive and barely noticed curves in the road. The powerful engine and torque helps in situations where you need to quickly pass another car or when you want to take a quick, winding detour. The A8 was a bit more comfortable on tight corners at high-speed, though.
Safety features galore
Okay, so Volvo has staked a claim offering the best safety features, and for the most part the XC60 lives up the hype. Actually, the S60 – which we will be testing in a few weeks – has a few extra features including the ability to detect pedestrians passing in front of the car and braking appropriately. The XC60 introduced a new feature called City Safety, and we were keen to test it out in various conditions.
The basic idea is that, while many vehicles offer adaptive cruise control at highway speeds, automatically slowing and speeding up according to the vehicle in front of you, the XC60 does this around town. You can adjust the distance between you and the car in front – either just a few car lengths or up to about a block away. In our tests, we found the XC60 mostly performed as desired. The adaptive cruise does not work at very low speeds and will warn you that it is not engaged by flashing a red light above the steering wheel on the dash. That’s actually a different safety feature for crash avoidance: if you fail to apply the brakes and the XC60 senses an imminent crash, the car will apply the brakes for you. For the City Safety feature, the XC60 detected cars accurately, slowed to a safe speed accordingly, and sped up again.
Yet, we ended up wanting this feature to work even to a full stop. That’s the dream of autonomous driving: you click the cruise button and the car manages the speed for you. There were times when we felt we were playing chicken with the City Safety feature and would apply the brakes early to avoid any potential dangers. We wondered if some drivers might actually pay less attention to the road and rely on City Safety too much, although we found it was more helpful when cars suddenly slowed down. This “urban adaptive cruise” is a step in the right direction.
The XC60 also has a lane departure warning system which worked flawlessly, even on snowy roads. There is no prevention system that gets you back into your lane by braking (like on the Infiniti M37x) or turning the steering wheel for you (like on the Mercedes-Benz E-350). The XC60 also does not have blind-spot detection for passing cars. There is a rear-view camera that looked almost high-def.
The real reason why we think the XC60 is one of the safest cars on the road is not because of the high-tech features. The massive weight and reinforced metal materials just make the XC60 more trustworthy. The added collision avoidance system and City Safety features make it even safer.
One slight complaint with the XC60 is that this vehicle uses a more antiquated navigation system. To control the nav, you have to use a jog dial that is behind the steering wheel. Adding a destination and controlling the nav features is surprisingly complicated, with too many superfluous features we’d never use. For example, you can scroll and zoom around the screen any way you want, but most drivers just need to find an address and get there quickly. The voice guidance is also a little too snotty for our tastes. Ford does a much better job with its nav system.
Another oddity is that the XC60 also uses an antiquated keyfob. To start the car, you have to push the keyfob into a slot and then push a button. This defeats the purpose of having a keyless start in the first place. We found we would walk up to the XC60, take out the keyfob, unlock the car, put the key back in a pocket thinking we would have to push a button to start it, then realize we had to get the key out again.
Okay, so those are minor gripes. Did we mention the smooth-as-butter transmission? The heft and size of this incredibly safe vehicle? The turbo-charged engine that accelerated to 60 in about 7 seconds? That’s amazing for a car that is intended for long road trips and not Sunday afternoon races. There is no questioning the overall driving experience or safety features on the XC60 – we came away with a few complaints here and there, but the XC60 reminded us all over again what superior engineering can mean for livening up a daily commute.