Once upon a time, boxy Volvo wagons cluttered up driveways from New England to Seattle and a handful of hamlets in between, but that's no longer the case.
Well, those wagons are still around, albeit with a little rust these days, but Volvo no longer lets buyers in the United States buy a new station wagon. Sure, there's the pseudo-crossover XC70, which is for all intents and purposes the old V70 with a lift kit, but most buyers looking for five doors and a Volvo badge are buying the vehicle you see here: The XC60.
Slotting in below the venerable – and really, really, really dated – XC90, the XC60 is vastly more modern and, with the addition of an available R-Design package, it's quite a bit more performance-oriented, too.What is it?
XC60 rides on a version of the automaker's primary passenger car platform, which also underpins the S60 and S80 sedans and, you guessed it, the now-verboten V70 wagon.
Introduced in 2008, the XC60 has undeniably been a hit for Volvo. At the bottom end of the spectrum sits a version powered by the company's 3.2-liter straight six, while our T6 tester's badge denoted the presence of a 3.0-liter straight-six turbo unit. We've given this engine high praise in other applications, especially the S60 sedan.
Then there's Volvo's R-Design package, a single-letter denomination the automaker hopes will eventually emulate BMW's M and Mercedes-Benz's AMG. For now, R-Design isn't quite as extensive, but opting for the package does add some styling goodies inside and out, plus a tightened-down suspension and a little underhood tuning from Volvo's Swedish racing partner, Polestar.
That Polestar tuning uprates the standard XC60 T6's 3.0-liter to the tune of an extra 25 horsepower (to 325) and 19 lb-ft. of torque (to 354). Even in standard form, the XC60 T6 is a bit of a hot rod among rivals in the premium class. More power is always welcome, especially since fuel economy remains rated at a decent 17/23 mpg (20 mpg combined).
Beyond that, our tester was optioned up with the luxury-laded Platinum package and all the radar sensors the Navy could hope for with the Climate and Technology package: Adaptive cruise control, a collision warning system capable of bringing the XC60 to a complete stop on its own, pedestrian detection, lane departure warning and more.
As a result, you'll be hard-pressed to find a much better equipped XC60 than our tester.What's it up against?
Like other Volvos, XC60 is value-priced against most rivals, even when fully optioned up like our tester. A similarly-loaded up rival from Germany – like the Audi Q5 or BMW X3 xDrive35i – runs closer to $60,000.
Less like the “box it came in” than Volvo wagons of the past, the XC60 was the first production Volvo to premier the company's current design language. In profile something of a scaled-down XC90, the XC60 is nonetheless far fresher in its detailing.
Up front, big blob headlamps are accented by narrow vertical light bars on either side of a rounded box of a front grille. A pair of black plastic faux vents on either side of the front bumper look like placeholders for an option you didn't order, though they do fill up otherwise unused real estate. Like Volvo wagons of yore, the XC60's tail lamps span the height of the tailgate, a distinctive look that yields obvious benefits in terms of braking visibility for tailgaters. We love Volvo's spread-out V-O-L-V-O badging, a look used decades ago that has come back into vogue at the company's design offices.
We also approve of the tasteful R-Design body kit's ability to simplify the look up front with monochromatic touches throughout. Particularly classy five-spoke wheels look great and fill the XC60's big wheel openings, although their flat spoke design makes them especially prone to curb damage. Park carefully.And on the inside?
Volvo has long been pretty darn good at creating comfortable interiors and the XC60 is no exception. Simple and thoroughly Scandinavian, the XC60's wedgy dashboard features a “floating” center stack that offers some hidden storage. A plethora of buttons proved easy to sort out but tough to operate without a glance; fortunately, the steering wheel-mounted repetitive radio buttons are big and conveniently located.
On the other hand, the XC60's navigation system could use a toggle-type knob for panning across the screen and we found some functions were a bit too deeply buried in the menus. Similarly, once we sorted through the myriad equalizer controls, we found stellar sound from the unbranded audio system.
Tall, chair-like seats feature extra-thick bolstering thanks to the R-Design package. At the rear, passengers are treated to good head and hip room but a bit less knee space than some rivals. And in the way back, the XC60 features a nicely-finished cargo area capable of storing as much as you're likely to carry home from Home Depot or, if you're a demographics department's dream come true, an oh-so-trendy boutique.
With the exception of some cheap plastic around the door handles and limited adornment to the main dashboard, the XC60 looks and feels sufficiently upmarket inside and out.But does it go?
We don't look to premium crossovers like the XC60 for their performance, but this five-door is decidedly sporty. The straight six provides smooth and sonorous acceleration limited only by the occasionally feeble six-speed automatic transmission. Most of the time, the gearbox, which can be shifted manually via the gear lever but not paddles, selects just the right gear, but we occasionally found it reluctant to pop down a cog.
But with a wall of torque on tap from just after throttle tip-in, the gearbox doesn't often need to be called upon.
Aiding the XC60's zippy feel is its direct, nicely-weighted power steering. Though it is light in feedback compared to a true sports car, the XC60's tiller nonetheless rewarded with direct, slack-free responses. XC60's all-wheel-drive system is tuned for a neutral, grip-aiding feel, which gives the crossover good balance even when pushed.
Underneath, the fully independent suspension is tautly sprung, giving it both the advantage of limited lean into corners and the disadvantage of transmitting every single bump to the cabin. User adjustable dynamic shock absorbers would go a long way toward allaying the XC60's Conestoga feel over undulating terrain. If you live where the roads are pock-marked or frost heaved, try before you buy.
But on smooth and curvy blacktop, the XC60 rewarded with a sporty feel not often seen in this segment. Not quite as polished yet ultimately more entertaining to drive than the Acura RDX and BMW X3, the XC60 is the segment's most unexpected hot rod. This isn't your father's – or your college professor's – Volvo wagon.
Given the power on board, the XC60's fuel economy figures of 17/23 mpg are perfectly reasonable. We tagged the EPA's combined estimate of 20 mpg.Leftlane's bottom line
As enthusiasts, we're among the few to lament the passing of the Volvo station wagon in the U.S., but the XC60 is certainly a fair replacement. A strong value especially when not loaded up with goodies, it's a well thought-out family cruiser worthy of serious consideration.
With that kind of use in mind, we'd probably skip on the R-Design package in favor of the standard XC60's more touring-oriented suspension package. But for those of us seeking a little more thrill in our daily commute, the R-Design is a worthy performance machine.2012 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD R-Design base price, $43,700. As tested, $52,675.
Platinum Package, $4,450; Climate and Technology Package, $3,100; Metallic Paint, $550; Destination, $875.
Words and photos by Andrew Ganz.