Home > Cars > Review: Volvo updates its image with the 2013…

Review: Volvo updates its image with the 2013 XC60, but leaves tech in 2001

2013 volvo xc60 front angleWe like to imagine Volvo is so obsessed with safety, that the walls of its executive offices are lined with padding, every table corner has baby bumpers for added protection, everyone wears a helmet, and nap time is held promptly every afternoon at 2:00. Yes, Volvo is known for its safety record, and probably one of the reasons why it remains Sweden’s only major automaker – and no Koenigsegg you don’t count, but you are oh so pretty.

Speaking of pretty, Volvo has turned things around dramatically in the style department. With its designers penning some of the most provocative designs in the history of the brand; it’s no longer Swedish women we lust after, but now the country’s cars, too.

Of course the XC60 isn’t the company’s top selling vehicle just because of its pretty face; it’s actually a very capable crossover SUV with brains to match.

We recently set out to discover whether the 2013 XC60 is indeed the type of vehicle worth living with. Or if it’s only worth a one night stand in Stockholm

Cavernous, just not very cool 

While it’s easy to identify the XC60’s exterior as adventurous, the interior is a different story. Less head-turning and more yawn-inducing; there isn’t anything particularly dazzling going on here. Yes our review model featured a lovely panoramic sunroof and a smart two-tone leather finish. And yes generous swathes of metallic brightwork help spruce up the lackluster  interior. But if our opinion amounts to anything (and it must if you’re reading this), insomniacs would be better served spending a few moments inside the XC60’s cabin to catch some Z’s instead of reaching for a bottle of Ambien. Too harsh? Maybe. But Volvo styles itself as a luxury brand, so we feel compelled to judged it accordingly, especially when Audi, BMW, Lexus, and Mercedes-Benz are all killing it in this department.

2013 volvo xc60 interior steering dash

The XC60’s cabin might fail to attain the levels of luxury of a Mercedes GLK350 or the Apple-like minimalism of an Audi Q5, but it’s a smartly designed one if nothing else. Up front the dash takes on the familiar Volvo “floating center stack” layout, which provides a little space behind the console, and is a perfect spot for smaller items. There’s also the semi-translucent “mode man” pictogram that makes operating climate controls a breeze (no pun intended). The only low point here, however, is the array of small audio buttons that can be cumbersome to operate while driving.

More than its styling quirks, though, the XC60 provides a great deal of livability to both drivers and passengers alike. Upfront, seating is comfortable with eight-way driver and front-passenger power seats. In the back, a great deal of leg, shoulder, and headroom is afforded passengers, making it one of the roomiest cabins in its class. Our review unit also included the optional ($900) climate package with heated rear seats. So backseat brigands can keep their tushes warm, too.

What about its cargo utility? Well that’s pretty generous, too. With a voluminous 67 cubic feet, the XC60 beats out the 2013 GLK (54.7), the 2013 Audi Q5 (57.4), and the BMW X3 (63.3), swallowing up your ski gear, groceries, and whatever else you throw its way without breaking a sweat.

Tech that doesn’t make much Sensus

The XC60 is mixed-bag when it comes to tech features. A bona-fide computer on wheels it is not, nor is it – by any stretch – a prehistoric auto powered by calloused cavemen feet.

2013 volvo xc60 MP3 dockStandard audio offerings in the XC60 T6 include a high performance eight-speaker sound system with 4×40 watt amplifier, and in-dash single CD player capable of WMA and MP3 playback. Drivers wishing to burn their music onto CDs can go nuts. For those not content with the technology of 2001, USB and AUX inputs are located conveniently in the center console for easy smartphone or iPod connectivity. We suppose the 10 of you with a Zune will be fine as well.

While the standard system is adequate, audio purists are encourage to opt for Volvo’s 12-speaker, 650 watt premium sound system. Available in the $4,600 Platinum Trim, it’s bundled with a number of goodies such as a rearview backup camera (complete with trajectory lines), power liftgate, and navigation (more on that in a bit).

Bluetooth hands-free calling is standard in all trims, while voice-activated  navigation is included in the Platinum Trim. 

Why, in 2013, a system that requires only one step – call, insert name – is not standardized, boggles the mind.

Bluetooth audio streaming is handled superbly by Volvo’s Sensus system, and is probably the best we have encountered to date. During our evaluation, not once did we experience a loss of streaming signal between mobile and machine, and Volvo’s system kept pace with every track change; keeping up easily with artist and track titles. What’s more, your phone doesn’t have to be cabled for the streaming to work, so assuming you have the data connection to afford it, streaming music apps such as Spotify and Pandora is extremely easy.

Sadly, hands-free calling and voice-activated navigation is a chore, and really exposes Volvo’s aging setup.

Placing a call requires a press of the voice-activation button on the steering wheel, then speaking the name aloud, confirming a number from a list of names and numbers (which was actually only ever one name and number, leaving us to question why we need to confirm this to begin with. Our guess: Volvo execs must be collecting all the hair people are pulling out) then confirming that that is indeed the correct number until finally the call is placed. Why, in 2013, a system that requires only one step – call, insert name – is not standardized, boggles the mind.

Thankfully inputting addresses via voice is a little easier, but still requires multiple strings of information and then that information being confirmed before moving on to the next step. Truthfully, you’ll save more time pulling over to the side of the road, whipping out your phone and using Google Maps – Apple Maps if you’re a sadist – than you would tinkering with the voice-controlled nav interface.

Likewise, searching through POIs (Points of Interest) has you reading long lists and then confirming a line number rather than saying “directions to location.” At one point we were left flipping through the 26 (yes 26!) pages of search results before finally finding the major grocery chain we were searching for. This is not only annoying, it’s border-line torture – and unsafe to boot; ironic considering Volvo’s fanatical devotion to the latter.

All of that is a shame really because the Sensus system is fairly intuitive in most areas. The large seven-inch LCD is also very vivid and easy to decipher day or night. It might not be as robust as Cadillac’s CUE system or Mercedes’ mbrace, but it never feels as clunky either, except, of course, when it comes to the maze-like labyrinth that is the hands-free calling and navigation interface.

Stingy Swedes

Volvo still prides itself on its high standard of safety in each vehicle. And what better way to showcase that than with a number of standard safety features, right? Wrong. For all its obsession with safety, Volvo is miserly when it comes to including standard safety tech.

Leading the charge is City Safety. As we detailed back in our 2013 S60 tech review, City Safety integrates with a number of cameras and sensors located at the front of the vehicle, and will automatically apply braking pressure when it detects a collision is imminent, and the vehicle is traveling above two mph and below 31 mph. Volvo recently increased this speed threshold from 19 mph to 31, so it reasons to believe that the limit will continue to increase as the technology is further refined.

City Safety is designed to intervene as late as possible, so if the vehicle senses you’re steering or braking on your own, it won’t actually kick in. As you can imagine, testing this out on the road requires a rather large leap of faith, but with enough courage, we were able to test it out in an empty parking lot with a  94 Toyota Corolla that’s seen its fair share of scuffles.

Of course most will hope to never have to use it. Still, City Safety provides some peace of mind for drivers with safety at the top of their lists.

The XC60 also offers a number of safety features that were not included in our $48,000 review model. Major exclusions include: collision warning with full auto brake; pedestrian detection; driver alert control; lane departure warning; and blind spot detection. However, all of the above – save for blind spot detection, which is a $700 option – are included in the Technology Package ($2,100).

Some of items listed are excusable, while others at this price point — like lane departure warnings and blindspot detection — are not.

Makeover – Swedish style

Think of Volvo. Now think of a word that starts with the letter “s” that you associate with Volvo. If you came up with either “Swedish” or “Safety” you’re incorrect. Thanks for playing. No, Volvo is sexy, and the automaker has come a long way from the mind-numbing bank vaults you see piloted around town by ironically mustachioed hipsters wearing Arcade Fire tees.

While wagons have served as the automaker’s bread and butter, it’s no surprise given their decline the need for a proper, pint-sized sport ‘ute from Volvo. With its balanced proportions, raked profile, and unique “rocket ship” taillights, the XC60 is a beautiful balance of Swedish style and sensibility.If anything, it looks like a beefed up car; a quality that will surely please the burgeoning CUV crow who would rather keep away from anything remotely truck-like. Undoubtedly some won’t take to the design, but we have no qualms jumping inside this Swedish beauty.

One thirsty turbo

The 2013 Volvo XC60 is offered with three different drivetrain options: The base model ($34,350) comes with a 3.2-liter inline six cylinder that produces 240 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque. Power is sent to the front wheels and mated to a six-speed automatic; all-wheel-drive can be optioned, however, for $2,000, which will certainly serve cold-climate and mountain-going buyers better.

Next in line – and the review model we received – is the T6 ($40,650). Adding some much needed gusto to Volvo’s enigmatic crossover, the T6 cranks out 300 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque courtesy of a turbocharged, 3.0-liter inline six. All-wheel drive is standard, and features the same six-speed transmission found in the base model.

Of course if it’s Swedish speed you desire, Volvo offers a go-fast version with its T6 R-Design ($44,850). Here horsepower is ratcheted-up to 325 while lb-ft of torque jumps to 354. While we haven’t driven the T6 R-Design yet, the standard T6 provided more than enough pickup for everyday driving. So whatever motoring thrills await the plucky pilot in an R-Design will undoubtedly be even more memorable and satisfying.

2013 volvo xc60 powertrain

Crossovers like the XC60 aren’t renowned for their stellar fuel economy. And while they naturally tend to fair better than larger, full-blown SUVs, the XC60 is decidedly average when it comes to fuel frugality. EPA estimates pegged our T6 AWD at 17 mpg in the city, 23 mpg on the highway, and 20 mpg. That’s lower than nearly all of its segment competitors, with both the 3.0-liter Audi Q5 and BMW X3 xDrive35i beating it overall with 18/21/26 and 19/21/26 respectively.

Mountain mashing awaits you

Despite its lanky proportions, and given its near two-ton curb weight, the 2013 Volvo XC60 is remarkably quick and surprisingly nimble. Emphatically mashing on the accelerator will bring a grin to even the sourest of curmudgeons. Corners are less satisfying because of a slightly pillowy feel but still adequate and comfortable in most situations.

The Haldrex developed all-wheel-drive never caved under pressure, and during off-road stress test kept the vehicle confidently planted. The XC60 has about 9.1-inches of ground clearance so wandering off the beaten path shouldn’t be an issue, nor should moderate amounts of mud or snow – so get adventurous.

2013 volvo xc60 handling driving dynamics

Of course, like most crossover customers, chances are that your driving environment will consist of Costco lots instead of cutback canyons, for which the XC60 is equally up to the task; in fact, it offers up one of the smoothest highway rides we’ve experienced in a luxury crossover, with minimal cabin noise and peppy acceleration to boot. Just make sure you stick with the T6 over the base. Or hell – go Swedish balls to the wall with the R Design.

Finish Line

Overall the 2013 XC60 is a compelling choice if you’re looking to break into the luxury segment. On offer is a spacious, well-designed style and safety machine that can tackle virtually every driving condition thrown its way. The T6’s engine is a plucky and pleasurable – albeit a tad too thirsty, and the audio streaming interface is the best we’ve encountered.

A few low-notes, like a sterile interior and clunky voice controls, don’t detract from the experience too much, but for drivers wanting out and out luxury and a more robust tech experience, better options hail from Germany. Just be prepared to pay.

Highs

  • Zippy turbocharged engine with excellent acceleration
  • Interior layout is functional and comfortable
  • Stylish exterior without being too eccentric

Lows

  • Fuel economy is a little disappointing
  • Safety tech features are hidden away in options and packages
  • Interior is unexciting

Get our Top Stories delivered to your inbox: