2015 Volvo XC60 Drive-E first drive: Getting There

photoIt’s painful to watch a good car manufacturer go through hard times. Volvo has been in turmoil for a while, first by being allowed to languish under the Ford umbrella, then by being snatched up by Geely Holdings in China. Volvo also has gone through its share of executives lately. Throw in a lack of new products, plus the search for an identity, and it appeared dismal for a while. Many industry people were wondering if Volvo was going to join Saab in the “has been” automotive realm. Fortunately, Geely so far has been allotting Volvo the resources and the ability to stay in the game by providing funding to the tune of $11 billion, allowing technical independence, and a goal of delivering the largest refresh in Volvo history. A great designer in Thomas Ingenlath, a determined new U.S. president in Tony Nicolosi, and an all-new four-cylinder engine lineup is helping Volvo get back on track.

Volvo was all too happy to show off the new lineup of engines recently in Las Vegas, Nevada, in its freshened vehicles: the XC60, S60 and V60 wagon. As it turns out, four out of our five CarBuzzard team members were on the trip, so we divided up the bounty. This review covers the XC60, while Matras tackles the V60, Boldt reports on the S60 sedan, and Moorhead gives an in-depth look at the new Drive-E engines.

The XC60 is one of three crossover SUVs from Volvo. The XC70 leans more toward the wagon design, while the XC90 will be a stunning new seven-passenger full-size SUV when it’s reintroduced later this year. The XC60 is Volvo’s newest vehicle, and although introduced just four years ago, it quickly became the company’s second best seller behind the S60 sedan.

All XC60 models received a major exterior and interior freshening for 2014, so little has changed for 2015. This family-oriented crossover features six packages, which range from the Climate Package that delivers heated everything, a Technology Package (highly recommended) that includes all the state-of-the-art Volvo safety goodies like Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection with Full Auto Brake, a BLIS (Blind Spot Information System) grouping, and an Inscription Package on T6 AWD models only. This includes luxury upgrades like higher-quality leather seats, power lumbar, Modern Wood inlays, and more.

Other upgrades to the XC60 for 2014 model year include standard Corner Traction Control (torque vectoring). CTC works in conjunction with the stability and traction control systems to add torque to the outside drive wheel while at the same time braking the inner drive wheel to help power the car through the turn. We are seeing more vehicles everyday add some level of torque vectoring, which makes corner handing a lot more fun, as well as safer by providing extra grip where needed.

124743_9_10The truly big news for the XC60 is what’s residing under the hood for 2015. Two new engines include a T6 with Drive-E technology, and a new T5 also with Drive-E. We will discuss these engines without going into great detail, as you can read all about Volvo’s new Drive-E engines by clicking here.

The new T6 engine is the more powerful of the two, featuring a turbocharged   supercharged four-cylinder powerplant. It’s a unique way to use the power together for optimum performance. In the T6 Drive-E engine, it produces 302 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. The T5 is based on the same engine design, but is only turbocharged. It makes 245 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. Like some other Volvo engines, however, the T5 Drive-E offers an overboost function that will bring the peak torque to 280 lb-ft. The overboost provides about 10 seconds of an extra burst of power when you romp on the pedal; just enough to get you past that truck in a passing situation. Overboosting is a great way to add extra power when needed, but hold it back under regular conditions to help save on fuel. Another way to help with fuel efficiency is a start/stop function that shuts off the engine when the vehicle is stopped, and lights up again as soon as you remove your foot from the brake pedal.

And speaking of saving on fuel, the T6 in the XC60 gets 22 city and 30 mpg on the highway, with the T5 getting 24 city and 30-mpg highway. The bottom line is the new Drive-E inline fours get about the same power, but with drastically better fuel efficiency. So good, in fact, that it beats all the competitors in the class, including the BMW X3 xDrive 28i, Acura RDX, Mercedes GLK and Audi Q5 2.0T Quattro.

While Volvo is known for all-wheel drive, for the 2015 XC60, the new Drive-E engines will only be offered with front-drive configurations. For more on the logic behind this, check out the other Drive-E reviews at CarBuzzard. While those who want Drive-E will lament the lack of an all-wheel-drive option, customers can still get an all-wheel drive XC60, albeit with the “legacy” six-cylinder engines: a 3.2-liter V6 of 240 horsepower and a 3.0-liter T6 with 300 horsepower and 325 lb-ft of torque.

All the new Drive-E engines will be matched to an eight-speed transmission, and be paired with electric power steering. All good news on paper, but how does it equate to ride and handling? During our drive experience with the new Drive-E engines, we were impressed at the overall refinement of the engine when it came to noise, vibration and harshness, as well as the power and smooth shifting. Because the XC60 is a bit older than the S60 and V60, under load, you do tend to hear the four-cylinder engine working a bit harder, but once the speeds level off, it’s as quiet as any six cylinder.

The start/stop feature was a little abrupt and noticeable, but it can be defeated by pushing a button on the center console. In the XC60, and this vehicle only, when the vehicle stopped at a light and the engine shut down with auto start/stop, the steering power also disappeared. According to Volvo engineers, the XC60 has electrohydraulic steering instead of the pure electric power assist steering in the S60 and V60, which causes this semi steering lockup to occur. It is a non issue in the other 60 series vehicles we drove. The ride quality remains quite Volvo: smooth, controlled, and right up there with other European luxury vehicles.

What’s nice about Volvo is that the cars offer upscale features, but come in more reasonably priced. The XC60, which will account for about a third of all 60 series sales, starts at $35,750 for the T5 Drive-E model, and $40,050 for the higher end and more powerful T6 with Drive-E.

Volvo’s new Drive-E engines are a great way to start the company’s renaissance, and we applaud the fact that Volvos are uniquely Volvo, a brand that stands out for being safety conscious, innovative, and fun to drive.