Once a staple on American roadways, family wagons have dwindled in number to just a few measly Stateside offerings in the last few years. Where vehicles like the Subaru Legacy wagon, Mercedes C-Class wagon, Audi A4 Avant, and Dodge Magnum once roamed the land proud and free, the wagon landscape has been all but deserted, leaving only a few options for crossover-averse buyers to choose from.
The Volvo V60 is the newcomer to the nearly extinct bodystyle, joining the BMW 3 Series wagon and soon-departed Acura TSX Sport Wagon as the last remaining vestiges of a once-robust breed.
The 3 Series is built for dads who wished they had two fewer children and still hope to cling to their sporting youth. The Acura is made for those who’ve never heard of BMW. And the Volvo is a different beast entirely; it combines Swedish style and American sensibility into a distinctive, handsome, and ostensibly sporty package.
Looks, usability, and tech
The V60 might be one of the few wagons left on the American roads today, but I dare say it’s the best looking of the bunch. The front end falls in line with the rest of the new, swoopy Volvo design language. The side profile screams safe and sporty. And the rear draws in elements of the now-infamous Volvo P1800 ES shooting brake of the early 1970s, which makes my heart flutter.
Stepping into the V60, the first thing a driver will likely notice, aside from the distinctive and incredibly Swedish dash, are the wondrously comfortable seats. While not new to the Volvo brand – the Swedes have long aimed to take on even Lay-Z-Boy for most comfortable seating – the V60s buckets remind that automotive seating can be slim, spare, and striking, but also cozy.
Push the ignition button on the dash and the digital instrument cluster comes to life with red and blue hues. The tachometer is centralized in the cluster with a digital speedometer at the center, which is flanked by water temp and turbo boost gauges. Flip on a turn signal, which has a retro design like that of a 1950s Ford, and a little green indicator illuminates. It’s clear even upon startup that Volvo was keen to make its newest U.S. entrant stand out from the crowd.
Stepping into the V60, the first things a driver will likely notice are the wondrously comfortable seats.
As for tech, at the top of the center console occupants will find a no-nonsense infotainment system. It’s soon to be replaced by Volvo’s all new, state-of-the-art system, which will debut on the new XC90. The current one at the heart of the V60 is excellent.
Unlike so many of its competitors, the Volvo system is simply and uncomplicated. Users will find Bluetooth pairing simple as well as operating the navigation and other systems. If there’s one complaint I have for the V60s infotainment is that the touchscreen feels too small and far removed from the driver. Tall drivers will likely find themselves having to lean in to touch the screen. I know complaining about a small screen being too far away is like quoting Woody Allen: “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible … and such small portions.”
Volvo loves acronyms
Choosing what will power your V60 is only slightly less complicated than filling out a 1040-EZ form for your taxes. Volvo is in the midst of a transition period, leaving the wagon with an identity crisis.
The V60 is offered in three levels: T5 Drive-E, T5 AWD, and T6 AWD R-Design. A new 2.0-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine – that Volvo spent $11 billion developing – powers the first T5 on the list. A turbocharged 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine powers the second T5 on the list. That alluring T6 AWD R-Design – the fastest Volvo wagon ever made – packs a 325-hp inline turbocharged six-cylinder.
Confused? Well, just wait. It gets worse.
Volvo offers those attractive new 2.0-liter engines only in front-wheel drive models. That’s because the new powertrain doesn’t fit in the current platform with all-wheel drive. That means buyers will have to either choose the all-new engine architecture … or all-wheel drive.
In T5 form, the Drive-E 2.0 produces 240 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, which is sent to the front wheels through a new eight-speed automatic transmission. The EPA has estimated the T5 Drive-E four-banger to achieve 25 mpg city, 37 mpg highway, with a combined score of 29 mpg.
Although it’s relatively efficient, the 2.0 can still push the sporty Swedish sled to 60 in 6.1 seconds and onto a top speed of 130 mph.
Behind the wheel
On the road, the Volvo’s T5 Drive-E power delivery is linear, unlike turbocharged Volvos from the past, which suffered from serious turbo lag. However, the engine doesn’t feel as refined as BMW’s 240-hp turbo 2.0 four. At times I felt like a mechanic mistakenly poured a bag of gravel into the engine in place of oil, as the engine notes that permeated the cabin felt extremely unrefined. Regardless, power delivery is satisfying and the shifts on the new eight-speed automatic are buttery.
The Volvo’s T5 Drive-E power delivery is linear, unlike turbocharged Volvos from the past.
That’s where my compliments for the driving dynamics of the V60 end, however. The electronic power steering, for example, reacts entirely to the opposite of what any driver would ever want: It feels heavy at idle and becomes increasingly light as the vehicle speed increases or corners become more frequent. Yes, it can be adjusted in the infotainment unit, but even on the sportiest setting, I felt the steering feel lacked a pulse.
The turning radius, too, is dismal. The V60 isn’t a big car. But it turns like a dump truck. I felt like Austin Powers making multiple-point turns in and out of parking structures in the Swedish sled. Add a couple screaming kids in the car and this could quickly turn disastrous, as attention is quickly drawn away from tight parking. Volvo will soon have a solution to that issue, but it’s still a few years off.
Then we come to perhaps the most important part of any car: the brakes. For a self-proclaimed safety-obsessed company, Volvo’s brakes are rather atrocious. The brakes work fine to stop the car … a few times. However, they feel extremely squishy and after a short stint of spirited driving, the brakes are quickly returned to the molten metal form from which they once came.
Lastly, we come to the fuel economy. Although the EPA has bestowed upon the V60 a very impressive fuel-efficiency rating, I wasn’t able to achieve mpg numbers anywhere close. I saw an average of 18 mpg during my time with the V60 – a far cry short of the alleged 29.
If – like me – a buyer is hoping the handsome, athletic looks of the V60 hint at a sleeper sports wagon, they’ll likely be disappointed. The V60 is a sleeker family hauler than cunning sports machine.
I will fully admit, however, I am likely not the target buyer for the V60. Driving enthusiasts like me are much better suited to the V60 T6 AWD R-Design Platinum, but even that six-cylinder monster falls flat for true motoring nirvana seekers.
For a Volvo-y driver, however, like those concerned with style, comfort, and safety, I suspect the V60 is worthy of their adoration and hard-earned cash.
The interior – like the exterior – is a knockout. It rides smooth and comfortable at or below the speed limit. And it’s one of the safest cars on the planet. Plus, drivers can enjoy one of the finest European cars on the road without getting a pretentious German logo on the front. Volvo in many ways flies below the radar. Many, I suspect, find that appealing. I’m just not that guy. I wish I were, but I’m not.
So if you’re a tech-happy dad who has more interest in getting somewhere in comfort, the Volvo V60 will be an absolute delight. If you’re looking to get there really fast, however, get the BMW 3 Series wagon.
- Sleek and distinctive exterior styling
- Far more usable than a sedan or crossover
- Smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic
- Interior design right out of a high-concept Scandinavian design firm
- Easily overwhelmed and overheated brakes
- Fuel-efficiency rating not exactly realistic
- New Drive-E engines not offered with all-wheel drive