On the Road Review: Volvo XC60R Crossover

Ardent Volvo fans must be asking themselves if this legendary brand is going to make a comeback in the USA. Volvo sales have been languishing for several years since the Ford Motor Co. unceremoniously jettisoned the brand. Now owned by a Chinese consortium (Volvo Truck is a separate company), Volvo is making an effort to regain lost fans — and car buyers.

Several new vehicles are in the pipeline this year, perhaps keyed most by the all-new XC90 midsize crossover. With greater emphasis on crossovers — especially in premium/luxury brands — Volvo won’t be left out of this growth as it has been for the past five years.

Also new is the XC60R — a sportier version of the top-selling XC60, a crossover that we have previously called Volvo’s best car in America. Adding the venerable 3.0-liter Turbo-six engine (325 hp), plus some racy-looking 20-inch blacked-out wheels and strategic aluminum trim, gives the compact class XC60 significantly more street presence. Painted a luscious Passion Red, our sample wagon oozed style and performance like no previous Volvo.

While Volvo will stake its future on multiple turbocharged engines, four, five and six cylinders, this in-line six uses continuously variable valve timing and a twin-scroll single turbo to make seamless power anytime and anywhere on the tachometer. Engineers have refined the turbo-engine’s power delivery so well, that the 4,300-pound ‘R’ actually felt lively whenever you tickled the right pedal — no matter at what speed.

Teamed with a fluid six-speed automatic and full-time AWD, the Volvo XC60R was a polished driver. It is not sporty like a BMW X3 might feel, but it also is not flaccid like an aged Buick. The ‘R’ produced the right combination, the right balance of ride and handling that will make most drivers confident of their purchasing choice.

With a 109-inch wheelbase, the XC60 has 2 inches less chassis length than the Audi Q5 or BMW X3 — its two primary rivals. Overall length is almost exact, 182 inches; only 1 inch longer than a Subaru Forester. The Volvo is the heaviest of the three premium crossovers described here — 100 pounds over the Audi, 150-pounds over the BMW — yet the numerous safety pieces, stiffer construction and extra features of the Volvo push it 900 pounds over the Forester.

Weight, or mass, has a cost in fuel economy, as engines just have to work harder to move more material. In this sense, the XC60R seems to sacrifice economy for power and versatility, as our actual fuel economy of 19.5 mpg did not match the EPA estimates: 17/24/20 mpg. Premium fuel is recommended.

Stepping back to the base XC60 with a turbo-four will obviously improve that equation, and probably come closer to matching the 20/28-mpg estimates of the Audi and BMW. But then, you will not have the smile on your face from exercising the turbo-six, a steamroller powerplant that seems terribly frustrated that electronics stunt its rapid run to top speed.

For decades, Volvo buyers selected the brand for its stodgy safety image. Styling was subjective and Volvo owners just preferred boxy. As times changed, and the demand for greater volume forced new and better styling emphasis, newer Volvo’s have been more appealing both visually, and emotionally. The XC60’s interior clearly demonstrates some of these efforts.

Using the higher hip-point that is fast-becoming the expected norm for drivers who want greater visibility and chair-like seating comfort, not only in crossovers but in cars as well, the XC60R offers supportive leather bucket seats that afford good outward views front or back. The back seat seems snug at first, but it is quite supportive, and users will appreciate the personal space provided. Fit and finish as well as material selections reflect a premium feel.

Our test car came with an optional pet/package cargo cage. If you ferry large dogs frequently, or slippery packages, this adjustable cage could be invaluable. If you don’t do either task, the visual obstructions of the cage negate any improved cargo versatility. Rear seats easily fold, the power liftgate is relatively swift and the XC60’s cargo hold appears to be larger than most, lacking the styling compromises of racier looking wagons.

A glance at the front of the Volvo reveals a rectangular box on the left side of the grille, plus three small sensors inside the rearview mirror housing. These electronic eyes and sensors provide the data for the numerous driving aids available on the XC60R, the alphabet soup acronyms that proliferate throughout the auto industry.

In the XC60R, these include a lane-departure warning system that sounded an audible warning every time you wandered across the painted line that vaguely reminded me of the action tone in Lee Majors’ “Six Million Dollar Man” episodes. If you fail to heed braking traffic up front, or some other impending obstacle, the Volvo also flashes a bright red light onto the windshield, sounds another alarm, and will actually start braking if you don’t. Don’t be tailgating in the Volvo; it doesn’t like it — at all.

These sensors also give you laser-guided cruise control — accelerating and braking automatically, automatic high-beam headlamps, plus blind spot detection and parking sensors. If you are an errant driver, you can hear a cascade of bells and whistles alerting you to the errors of your ways.

Other subtleties: the shaped roof racks are audible, but less than one might suspect, the console needs more versatility and space, but the heated steering wheel is great and the controls are generally quite accessible and convenient to use. With keyless access and ignition, owners also can enter the car at any of the five doors by just touching the finger pads on the handles. Smart, and convenient.

On the plus side, the XC60R is a smooth operator with robust power. The cabin is efficiently comfortable, with good visibility. Ladled with options and safety gear, the base XC becomes a real premium crossover that rivals Lincoln, Lexus and Audi.

The flip side is that the fuel economy is so-so with that pleasing turbo-power on tap, and, selecting these safety and luxury features pushes the price into Audi/BMW/Mercedes territory. With a smaller retail footprint, that is a challenge that Volvo’s dealers and marketers will have to work extra hard to conquer in order for sales to grow.

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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