Test Drive

2018 Volvo XC60 Test Drive Review: Luxury Without Aggression

Instead of adding 'sporty' features no one needs, Volvo built a luxury masterpiece.

Almost overnight, SUVs have shifted from utilitarian runabouts with questionable handling characteristics to all-in-one speed machines for consumers who enjoy riding high in the sky. Automakers have gone through the trouble of equipping SUVs with turbocharged engines, steering wheel mounted paddle shifters, and sport modes: all for naught. Most of these features will go unnoticed by the average consumer who just wants something comfortable with a raised ride height. Enter Volvo—doing luxury the right way without any of the silly “sport” pretense.

The XC60 is Volvo’s smallest SUV model (at least until the XC40 arrives in the US). It competes in a crowded segment amongst compact luxury SUVs such as the Acura RDX, Audi Q5, BMW X3, Cadillac XT5, Lexus RX, Mercedes GLC, and Porsche Macan, among others.

Like these other SUVs, the XC60 offers seating for five and a sedan-like ride thanks to a shared platform with the upcoming V60 wagon and S60 sedan. Volvo gave the XC60 a complete overhaul for 2017, aligning it with other models in the lineup. The XC60 is available with pretty much every engine option in the Volvo range, starting with the T5, which uses a 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine producing 240 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. My 2018 tester was a T6 Inscription, adding a supercharger for a total of 316 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. The range topper is the T8 plug-in hybrid drivetrain with a total of 400 hp and 472 lb-ft of torque, or an available Polestar tune with 421 hp.

All XC60 models send power to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic. The EPA rates my T6 model at 21/27/23 mpg city/highway/combined, though I only managed a little over 20 mpg during my week of testing. I have not sampled the other drivetrains, but based on my experience with the T6, I would not hesitate to save money and opt for the T5. The T6 offers prodigious passing power to overtake traffic without shoving passengers into their seats. The T5, shaving $3,400 off the price, only gets one mpg more than the more powerful T6 drivetrain. So why opt for the less powerful drivetrain? As you'll see, it is easy to get carried away with the options list on the XC60.

The Inscription is the highest trim level, available at a starting price of $44,900 with a variety of features: bright chrome bars in the front grill, chrome side trim, integrated tailpipes, a 12.3-inch instrument panel display, Sensus navigation, four-zone climate control, front seat extenders, driftwood inlays, keyless entry and tailgate, LED front fog lights with cornering lights, drive mode settings, cooled glove box, and illuminated door handles. My test car also had a few optional packages adding up to an as-tested price of $63,290. The $2,000 Convenience Package adds Volvo’s adaptive cruise control with Pilot Assist, comparable to the highly publicized Auto Pilot from Tesla, among other features.

The $1,100 Vision Package adds blind spot detection, cross traffic alert, front and rear park assist, and auto dimming mirrors. The $1,900 Advanced Package rolls in a 360-degree camera, heads-up display, full LED headlights, and headlight washer. My favorite package is the $3,000 Luxury Seat package, which adds Nappa leather upholstery, heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, and a massage function. The car had a few a la carte options, too, such as the $1,800 air suspension, $595 metallic paint, and $3,200 Bowers and Wilkins Premium Sound. That last option may sound like a bit much to spend on a stereo, but the 15-speaker system will impress even the most opinionated audiophile.

It would be difficult for me to walk out of the Volvo dealership without checking the box on almost all of the available options. Loaded to the brim, the XC60 Inscription is a luxury experience befitting of a $100,000 price tag, but price conscious buyers may have to go easy with the options list. Whilst other SUVs try to stupefy buyers on the test-drive with seldom-used paddle shifters and sport modes, the XC60 focuses on relaxing the driver and keeping them comfortable no matter the circumstance. In the XC60, even the most infuriating traffic jam would simply sink into insignificance.

The Pilot Assist system keeps the car a set distance from the car in front, and even steers itself on a reasonably straight road—though the system still requires drivers to keep their hands on the wheel. Comfort acts as the default drive mode, with Eco, Off-road, Dynamic, and Individual also available through a unique spinning dial. In Dynamic mode, the steering gets slightly heavier and the throttle becomes as responsive as a fruit fly on caffeine. Power can be slightly difficult to access in normal mode, but comes on with excellent response in Dynamic mode. Just tap the throttle and the car surges forward with 316 hp of Swedish power.

The XC60 isn’t a particularly rapid car at 6.6 seconds from 0-60 mph, but it can keep up with the hot hatchback you traded in to buy it. The four-corner air suspension was a delight, keeping me isolated from any imperfections in the road surface. I would have preferred more feedback from the wheel, though buyers in this segment typically aren’t searching for sports car steering. I pray Volvo will start to introduce sporty Polestar variants of its models to address the lack of steering feel. My second gripe was with the brakes, which were a bit difficult to modulate thanks to an uneven pedal feel.

On the inside, the XC60 treats its occupants to one of the best interiors on the market. It doesn’t exude the same over-the-top elegance of a Mercedes or the technology overload of an Audi, but it bathes its passengers in the warm embrace of Swedish simplicity. My one complaint with the interior is the similarity between Volvo models. Step inside any Volvo and it is difficult to pinpoint exactly which mode you are sitting in. It's easy for me to forgive Volvo for making its cars look so similar on the inside, considering Volvo’s Sensus infotainment system is my new favorite next to the giant touchscreen system found in the Tesla models.

Sensus is incredibly easy to use and even includes my favorite options: Android Auto and Apple Car Play. Volvo made the intelligent decision to allow both phone systems to run in the background without taking over the entire screen. As I noted in my review of the V90 Cross Country, the touchscreen is highly responsive and can even be operated using gloves or a stylus. Almost every car function is controlled on the touchscreen, with only a few select physical buttons for hazard lights, front and rear defrost, and basic audio controls. As in the V90, my only complaint with this system is its slow response when the car first starts up.

Volvo was clever to program the screen to turn on when the door is opened (probably to give it a head start), but the system is still extremely sluggish if the car is started with any level of haste. When I threw the car into reverse after turning the ignition, I noticed the backup camera failed to engage on several occasions. This is likely a software issue with an easy fix, but this is my second Volvo test car to exhibit this flaw. Minor complaints aside, the XC60 is a luxury crossover I would highly recommend. The center console is downright cavernous, and the storage in the door pockets is generous as well. Buyers who want their SUV to drive like a sports car should look elsewhere: this is an all-luxury experience.

The XC60 is a traditional luxury experience, devoid of silly features like paddle shifters, boost gauges, or useless sport modes. Buyers searching for a pure luxury experience, who don't care about steering feel or race track lap times, should take a long look at the Volvo XC60.

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