Volvo Canada flew me and other automotive journalists to Denver, Colorado to drive the all new 2018 Volvo XC60. The XC60 is Volvo’s latest participation to the current compact luxury crossover boom, one in which it aims at upping its current market share from 3.9 percent to seven.
Full disclosure: Volvo wanted us to drive the XC60, so they flew us to Denver to do so.
It comes as no surprise that the XC60’s crosshairs are aimed directly at established German rivals such as the Audi Q5, BMW X3, and Mercedes-Benz GLC. Except, this Volvo has a special weapon up its sleeve: a 400-hp, plug-in hybrid T8 version. During my drive throughout the picturesque Colorado countryside, I had the opportunity to get plenty of seat time between both T8 and T6 versions, which not only differentiate themselves by their claimed power figures and efficiency, but also by their entirely different driving dynamics.
When I told Volvo spokespeople that I found the XC60 resembles a baby XC90, they responded by telling me that this is an entirely new vehicle from the ground up, with entirely different platform and suspension tuning. They were about half right. Granted, the suspension has been heavily reworked for this vehicle, but when you look past the public-relations jargon, you quickly notice a full battalion of mechanical and aesthetic similarities between the two, which, to Volvo’s credit, isn’t a bad thing at all.
Taking cues from the design success of the larger XC90, the mid-sized XC60 comes through as a tightly packaged and beautifully designed little trucklet, with short front and rear overhangs, and an uplifted rear end adorned with the iconic Volvo vertical taillights. Up front, you’ve got Volvo’s now familiar corporate maw, decorated with the prominent Volvo grille and Thor’s Hammer LED headlights.
Available in three flavors: Momentum, R-Design, and Inscription, at first glance, you’d swear this is an XC90. Look closer, however, and the XC60 appears more squatted down, with a slightly lower roofline, giving it a more aggressive stance as it’s coming down the road.
Like the 90 cluster cars and trucks (XC90, S90, V90), the XC60 respects Volvo’s philosophy of one engine, one engine bay, and one firewall for the entire lineup. It also rides on Volvo’s Scalable Platform Architecture (SPA), again, the same one that underpins the 90 cluster vehicles, but slightly reworked for packaging reasons. All new Volvos are more-or-less the same car underneath.This means the XC60 benefits from the same front double wishbone suspension layout as its larger siblings, as well as the same drivetrain family of highly efficient Drive-E engines: T5, T6, and T8 plug-in hybrid, all of which are bolted onto the same eight-speed automatic gearbox.The smaller, entry level T5, which is actually a 250-horsepower, 2.0-liter, turbocharged four, wasn’t available during our drive. Volvo focused this event on the attention-grabbing T8, but also had some T6’s lying around for us to compare.
XC60 T8 Inscription
My drive began with the XC60 T8 Inscription, which is the top-of-the line model trim that comes packed with fancy options such as 22-inch wheels, a Bowers & Wilkins sound system, and an air supension – essentially, the same bit of kit as on an XC90 Inscription.
The T8 is hands-down the most interesting variant in the XC60 lineup. Well, at least, on paper it is. What impresses here is that the same twin-unit setup that propels the 5,100-pound XC90 now sits under the hood of a svelter, more compact, and lighter package. It also hasn’t been downgraded in power, so the 2.0-liter turbocharged, and supercharged four, which also happens to be bolted onto two electric motors, still churns out a lofty 400 horsepower and 472 lb-ft of combined twist.Volvo spokespeople were pleased to brag about their hybrid crossover’s efficiency, how it can run on pure electricity alone for about 15 miles, and that it will pull up to 52 mpg combined. But the coolest bragging right was about performance. Volvo says the XC60 T8 will sprint from 0-60 mph in 4.8 seconds, which is on par with performance-oriented rivals such as a Porsche Macan S.We, the members of the press were stoked, impressed, baffled. The moment I heard these claims, I rushed out of the conference ahead of everyone to get first grabs on the said Volvo Porsche-fighters that were sitting outside our hotel – “the white ones” – a Volvo employee informed me.
I jumped in, turned the diamond-cut, center-mounted starter dial, got the Swedish glass-covered shifter into gear, made sure my butt was secure in the immensely comfortable Maroon Brown Nappa leather seats, and headed straight to the Rockies to see what’s what.
Sadly, once on the road, the T8 didn’t feel as fast as its numbers suggest. Stomp the accelerator pedal, and there’s still the awkward delay from the combination of drive-by-wire throttle, turbo lag, and the automatic transmission. This is typical of all new Volvos. Add to this a powertrain that was tuned more for high-speed cruising rather than Nürburgring-setting lap times, and you end up with a crossover that has very little desire to carry you, or your gear around quickly.
Sure, you’ll be going fast in the XC60 T8, and it knows how to carry speed effortlessly, but you’ll never really notice it, which means you’ll never really want to floor it, which in turn makes this a somewhat more boring alternative to a Macan. But, and it’s a big but: man this thing is relaxed and enjoyable to spend some time in. In typical Volvo fashion, the XC60’s interior is a party mix of high quality materials, mind-blowingly attractive Swedish design, and insane attention to detail. The important thing to remember here, is that the levels of refinement and luxury weren’t toned down from Volvo’s more expensive cars. The right section of the dashboard is decorated in a one-piece brushed aluminum ribbon, which can be covered in driftwood, or other fancy materials, all while discretely housing a cute little Swedish flag. And the touch-screen infotainment system that dominates the center stack remains easy to comprehend and quick to respond.
In T8 form, the XC60 feels heavy in the bends. The air suspension does help at keeping things smooth, and the suspension setup is largely improved over the 90 cars, proving to be less stiff, more compliant, and easier to live with across the three available drive modes.
The XC60’s chassis feels composed and nimble, turn in is sharp, but body roll remains prominent, largely due to the excessive weight the complex drivetrain needs to cope with, and the steering wheel feels over-assisted.
From a technology standpoint, the T8 is an impressive machine, and a glimpse of things to come in Volvo’s promised electrified future. But there’s still work to do here to make it feel like a unified unit. In that respect, the Acura MDX Sport Hybrid executes its seamless performance much better. As far as driving dynamics go, the XC60 T8 wouldn’t be my model of choice.
XC60 T6 R-Design
This is the one I’d go for: the T6 R-Design. As with the rest of the Volvo lineup, the R-Design trim doesn’t add much in the performance department, it’s mostly an aesthetics package that comes with a pretty set of 19-inch wheels, some sportier body elements like a revised grille, as well as a package of vibrant paintjobs – Volvo calls this blue Bursting Blue Metallic. I know, I love it too. This is one of the best looking utility vehicles I’ve seen in years.Although R-Design can be had with all three engines, the one that better matches its running shoe looks is by far the T6, the one Volvo expects to sell the most of. T6, like in the 90 cars, means 2.0-liters of displacement with a turbo and supercharger strapped onto it. Power is rated at 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. While it only blasts to 100 km/h in about 5.7 seconds, the T6 proved to be the more enjoyable to throw around the Colorado canyons.
That’s due to the fact that the vehicle doesn’t need to carry an overweight battery pack underneath its body, nor a pair of electric motors. Less weight and complication allow you to fully appreciate Volvo’s efforts in suspension tuning. The T6 feels like an entire different vehicle in the twisties, it’s light, less ponderous and more tactile. It turns in quicker, will allow you to push it further in a tight bend before it’s front wheels start giving up, and body motions are kept low.
The simpler drivetrain is also quicker to react. Yes, that annoying delay is still present, but throttle response is significantly better. Sadly, this engine still sounds like a vacuum cleaner. I never thought I’d say this, but perhaps some simulated engine noises would give this trucklet more soul.
That said, for enthusiasts in search of engaging driving dynamics in their crossover, there’s a lot to like here. I’d be curious to see how easily this XC60 T6 can keep up with an Audi SQ5 on roads like the ones outside of Denver.
Pricing for the 2018 Volvo XC60 kicks off at $41,500 ($45,900 CAN) for a Momentum T5. The pretty face R-Design T6 starts at $48,200 ($52,200), while the top-flight Inscription T8 stickers at $56,700 ($69,550). All three engines can be had with each trim category. For the moment, all XC60’s come standard with all-wheel-drive. A front-wheel-drive option will arrive later down the road, as well as a Polestar-optimized T8 variant.
With three distinct powertrain configurations and trim levels suited for all types of consumers, Volvo has a solid recipe on its hands to take a nice firm bite out of the highly lucrative compact luxury crossover pie. The XC60 is stylish, well put together, and performs like the best Europe has to offer. Most importantly, its fresh new face should help Volvo maintain the solid brand momentum it’s picked up in recent years.
[Images: William Clavey]
William Clavey is an automotive journalist from Montréal, Québec, Canada. He runs claveyscorner.com