For car fans accustomed to loving the brand of cars that used to look like the box they came in, the latest Volvo products are sculptured, sensuous, Swedish machines. Chinese owner Gheely Motors has brought life to the premium brand that Ford once abandoned in a fire sale.
Unfortunately, many of Volvo’s loyal fans moved on to other products during the “lean years” as Volvos just weren’t competitive. Subaru comes to mind as one of the automakers that gained the Volvo station wagon crowd — those drivers who cherish function over form, value over velocity. With Subaru sales continuing to rocket up the sales charts, I doubt many converted Volvo owners are looking over their shoulders in remorse, especially since it appears that Volvo’s new ownership is stridently moving the brand to a more premium presentation. With large sales in China, plus an emphasis toward electrification, Volvo is now chasing Audi and Mercedes customers.
At the start of Volvo’s turnaround, at least in the American marketplace, the first-generation XC60 appeared. A compact class crossover, the first XC60 proved to be a refreshingly competent product; many pundits deemed the XC60 the best Volvo in the lineup for several years. The same might be said today, as the second-generation XC60 checks a lot of boxes and gift wraps many of them quite nicely.
First, it should be noted that the XC60 is really two distinct crossovers, with quite different target audiences. Sized comparable to a BMW X3 or Audi Q5, the Volvo also matches up against the Mercedes GLC, Lincoln MKC, Lexus NX and Cadillac’s new XT4. Several of these rivals use 2.0-liter turbo-power as a standard engine. Base model Volvo T5s come with a 250-hp version of the brand’s highly technical 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Pricing here starts at $41,500 with a heavy dose of standard gear: AWD, leather seating, panoramic roof, Apple/Android compatibility and some electronic driving aids. Next up is the T6 with a 316-hp version of the same engine, aided by supercharging. Our sample was a T8, the supercharged and turbocharged engine gaining two electric motors — one in the eight-speed transaxle, one in the rear axle — Volvo calls it Twin-engine Powertrain — that provide a total of 400 neck-snapping horsepower. Add a 10.4-kWH lithium-ion battery pack under the rear seat and this plug-in hybrid can travel up to 18 miles solely on electric juice before automatically switching to hybrid-mode.
There are, however, some drawbacks. The electric motors and batteries add over 400 pounds, pushing XC60 weight to over 4,700 pounds, the most in the segment. The gasoline tank shrinks by four gallons, which limits hybrid-operating range and negating some of the electric-only gain, and with 400 hp on tap, you might be tempted to exploit this torquey power more frequently, as this Volvo is as quick as a Porsche Macan. Our realized economy was barely 26 mpg for our 750 miles together, quite a bit less than some other less expensive hybrid offerings.
And then there’s the price. The T8 starts at $52,900 before you plunge into all of those delicious features that are so desirable. Inscription trim, with Driftwood décor, special exterior trim, navigation and a hands-free power tailgate — add $3,800. Adaptive cruise, heated wiper blades, power folding second row seats and semi-autonomous drive system — add $2,000. More safety, like cross-traffic alert, park assist, blind-spot detection and auto-dimming mirrors — another $1,100. But you can’t possibly leave out the delightful Nappa Leather massaging seats with selectable lumbar and heated steering wheel; they’re just $3,000. Curve-following headlamps, surround-view camera, sign recognition, graphical heads-up display, headlight washers — just $1,800. All in as shown: $71,590.
The Inscription level interior is much more upscale than base T5 models; on some levels it beats Audi. The leather seating is fabulous, with thigh extenders to help back support. The cabin is quiet at road speeds. While feeling slightly detached from the total driving experience compared to the German offerings — perhaps isolated is an apt description — there is no denying the plush competence exhibited. Fix the touchy brakes, though, too much front-end dive even with slight braking, and 98 percent of drivers will be pleased.
Techno-geeks will be engulfed by the 9-inch Sensus touchscreen and its various functions and apps — your owner’s manual is even digital, no printed version — while your neighbors will gripe about that rich-looking new car you bought. Wink too when someone asks why the T8 has a NASCAR-style lower front splitter; just don’t tell them how fast the T8 whisks you around — with or without electric power.
With ample power, crafted interior, eye-catching exterior styling and smooth compliance all wrapped in a package brimming with technology, this is not your grandfather’s Volvo.