While the Germans were busy crafting some unquantifiable they call dynamism, inventing new splintered market segments, and haphazardly penning new model nomenclature, their Gothenburg rivals, known for safety and reliability, were quietly reworking themselves as world leaders in luxury car design. For decades Volvo has been known as the staid also-ran, popular among middle-class granola types and college professors looking for more comfort than on offer from your average Subaru. The last generation XC60 has been the company’s most successful model, and they expect to further that trend with the new model, stating a goal of selling 30,000 units annually.
With Volvo’s stellar 90-series models already built on the modular “Scalable Product Architecture” (SPA) platform, it is easy to be confident that the 60-series models would be equally good. Volvo has smartly invested in small-displacement forced induction engines, and they’ve been proven winners in the full-sized segment. Crafting a scaled-down midsize version of the same platform with identical drivetrain offerings is a surefire way to build an immediate winner.
If you’re looking for a modern, attractive, performance-oriented, luxury small SUV, there are a few options to compare to the XC60 T8. An AMG GLE or Porsche Macan Turbo will have the horsepower punch of the Volvo, but at a much higher price point and without the hybrid gubbins. The Japanese electrically-augmented in this segment, namely Acura’s MDX Sport Hybrid and Lexus’ RX450h are in the ballpark on price, but don’t deliver the performance of the Scandanavian sweetheart. No other SUV short of Jaguar’s F-Pace comes close to the beauty packed into the XC60, though the Brit is closer in size to the XC90.
Volvo flew us to Denver, Colorado to drive the new SPA-platform XC60 T6 and T8 back-to-back. Available with the same trio of drivetrain offerings as found in the XC90 (and S90/V90), the new XC60 is 4.7 inches shorter, and the first of the mid-size platform models to come to market. For 2018 all XC60 models will be built in AWD configuration. The T5 model will be the volume mover with a 251 horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged inline four. We were given the opportunity to sample the 2018 XC60 in T6 flavor with the 316 horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged and supercharged inline four, as well as the T8 model which adds an additional 86 horsepower of electric motor propulsion to the rear axle for which Volvo quotes a ‘system horsepower’ number of 400 even. Torque is an even more impressive 472 pound-feet.
The plug-in hybrid XC60 T8 offers a larger battery stack than Volvo has used in recent years, stated at 10.4 kWh up from 9.2 last year. This new battery will be propagated across the Volvo lineup for the 2018 model year as well. With the old battery, the XC90 was capable of about 14 miles of real world EV range. While Volvo hasn’t gotten official test numbers back on the new battery, a larger capacity in a smaller car should yield a bit longer range. Considering that the T8 has a price delta of just over $8,000 to the T6 version, while offering some 80 horsepower more performance, the extra fuel savings a plug-in provides, anyone considering buying a T6 should reconsider the T8 as the correct move. The battery is installed down the spine of the car, ensuring load capacity and interior comfort remains the same – though a bit of center console storage bin depth is lost. According to Volvo, the XC60 T8 is eligible for five-thousand dollars in federal tax credits, bridging the majority of that price gap and making the case for the hybrid.
The T6 we sampled was kitted with the R Design package, giving an attractive and sporty look to the car’s exterior as well as a set of supportive, well-bolstered sport seats that are a smidge too narrow for us to get comfortable. The T8 version on our docket was outfitted in the Swedish equivalent of Savile Row, the Inscription package. This supplied us with a posh/quasi-bespoke exterior appearance with chrome trim everywhere, a different rear fascia, and illuminated door handles. Inside we got a stitched dashboard with gorgeous “driftwood” inlays, included navigation, and a cooled glove compartment. Both packages are available independent of drivetrain choice, and completely change the aesthetic of the XC60.
With 400 horsepower under your right foot’s immediate control, the XC60 T8 is destined for comparison with Porsche’s Macan Turbo. Disregarding the pricing chasm between the two models for a moment, consider the two cars as equals on merit. The Volvo loses out on driving enjoyment, as Porsche’s PDK is superior to the Volvo’s Aisin 8-speed traditional torque converter automatic. The Porsche is also a sportier driving experience than the Volvo, the Macan demonstrating less body roll and a more taut nature than the XC60. That isn’t to say the Volvo is incompetent, it is quite the opposite. As, we suppose, anything capable of a sub-5-second 0-60 sprint might be. The Volvo feels like it takes life a little more seriously than the Porsche does, more measured, exacting.
Even with a new wrapper, the XC60 is as much a product of Volvo as it has ever been. The driving experience has a focus on passive safety with excellent visibility, above average steering feel, and decent road holding ability considering its height, as well as an active safety component with available lane keep assist, radar cruise, head-up-display, and more safety-related acronyms than you would care to count.
The only thing nicer than the XC60’s exterior sheet metal is its interior. The touchpoints are all very nicely appointed, the steering wheel controls are simple and easy, and the infotainment center is easy to read, vibrant, and quick to respond to touch, if not the easiest unit to navigate. The digital instruments are reminiscent of Audi’s ‘Virtual Cockpit’, but with a slightly less impressive visual output. The smaller diameter ‘sport’ steering wheel, available with shifter paddles in the R Design package cars, is a well designed piece, and comfortable to hold on to for hours at a time. The $3000 comfort seat package in our tester proved quite comfortable with heated/vented/massage Nappa leather thrones with power cushion extensions for the heck of it.
If you’re looking for a seriously beautiful, seriously competent, seriously quick, and seriously serious 5-seat SUV with more than adequate power, a near perfect interior, and hybrid sensibilities, consider an XC60 T8 as your next daily driver. If you’re interested in better handling and road holding, as we are, perhaps wait for the S60 sedan or V60 wagon to launch. If the XC60 is any indication, we’d rather have an S60 T8 R Design than a comparable BMW 3-series. Seriously.
Volvo has the Germans and the Japanese up against the wall with their new product line, and the XC60 continues that trend. This is the cold north shooting a friendly warning shot across the bow of their German segment rivals. This is Sweden getting serious. Even the key fob is imbued with the Swedish design philosophy of beauty through simplicity. If there is one thing we learned after a few hours with the XC60 T8, it’s that nobody can out-serious Germans like the Swedes.
In the interest of full disclosure, I was flown to Denver, fed, and lodged by Volvo on behalf of European Car Magazine to test drive the XC60 and S90/V90 (which I also loved). I wrote this article over the summer and it was never published. As European Car Magazine no longer exists, Redusernab has been gracious enough to accept my orphaned work.
[All photos provided by Volvo Cars, unless otherwise stated]