The automotive industry is a lot like the fashion world; to quote Heidi Klum, “one day you’re in, the next day you’re out.” The Volvo XC60 is a lot like the designer who got kicked off Project Runway, not because he wasn’t good, but because he wasn’t as good or better than the others. To be fair, the 2016 Volvo XC60 is sitting on the same platform it was from eight years ago — that’s an eon in automotive time. We are promised a new XC60 for 2017; one that will be on the same Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) as the awesome new XC90 and beautiful S90 world-class luxury vehicles Volvo is producing now.
Not that the XC60 is a terrible ride; it’s just that its age is showing. The design still looks good, with Volvo’s well-known grille and strong rear shoulders. Nor can we complain about the Drive-E engine, which features a combination of supercharging and turbocharging to create a powerplant that gives great torque on the low-end and good horsepower up top. (Click here to read more about the Drive-E engines.) The XC60 produces 302 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque at a low 2,100 rpm. There’s plenty of go-power for passing, hill climbing and stoplight departures.
If you’ve never driven the new XC90, you would be mostly satisfied with the XC60. The interior reeks of Scandinavian design: clean, uncluttered and practical. The thick leather and silk-metal steering wheel feels solid in your hands, the Linear natural finish walnut wood inlay trim ($400 option) is cool and smooth to the touch (and also pretty), and the Harman/kardon audio system’s sound quality is superb.
So what’s the problem? Mostly it’s the little things that add up to something big. We have to preface this first by saying we just got out of a 2016 Kia Sorento, also AWD, also with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder, and also the top trim level. Because the $34,000 Sorento was all new, the features and technology inside interior trumped the $43,950 (without options; with it’s $52,506) XC60. For instance, the Sensus system on the Volvo works well, but the screen is really small, is set back in the dash, and the controls are through knobs on the center console. The Kia’s UVO system with touchscreen is much more user-friendly and intuitive. But if you bring the XC90’s iPad-ish touchscreen into the equation, and if the next-gen XC60 gets that (which it should), it easily will blow away the competition.
In a world where soft touch in automotive interiors is king, the XC60 also falls short. The armrest padding is thin, the window sills and front dash are hard, and even the high-quality leather seats lack the softness of, say, the Bridge of Weir leather in the Lincoln MKC or MKX competitors. The power seats don’t allow you to move up high enough to have your arm level with the upper part of the door trim, which makes you feel as if you’re either sitting in a hole, or in a normal sedan instead of an SUV/crossover. Another older-tech feature that might give you second thoughts is the noticeable defroster lines in the windshield, which can be distracting on days when you’re driving straight into the sun. And our least-favorite feature in the XC60, or any car, for that matter, is the safety belt height adjuster that isn’t adjustable. Years ago, Volvo (and at that time Saab) felt that it knew the correct location of the upper edge of the seatbelt for optimum protection and accurate deployment of the airbag. However, all this boomerang-shaped guide really did is make shorter people angry and chafe them across the neck. Volvo has learned, judging by the new models, that one-size does not fit all and now is using the traditional slide-type height adjusters like everyone else. Sometimes it’s good to be innovative, but other times it’s best to follow the crowd, especially if it knows what it’s doing.
Mind you, there are plenty of features on the XC60 to like; for instance, all the safety, which is where Volvo will never let you down. The XC60 was the first Volvo to feature City Safety, which will do the braking for you in the event of an imminent collision if you’re too spaced out to do it yourself. The XC60 also offers standard whiplash and side protection systems, a full complement of airbags, and a high-strength-steel safety cage for occupant protection. In addition, a technology package adds Adaptive Cruise Control with Queue Assist, lane departure warning, collision warning with full auto braking, pedestrian/cyclist detection with auto-brake distance alert, and other lesser but important safety items.
On the road, the XC60 stays composed in turns at speed and hard driving. The Sport mode delivers a stiff ride, but the seats provide enough support. The steering feels tight and responsive, but after a few hours driving, we wished there was a comfort setting for the suspension.
We didn’t get a chance to experience the AWD system during this loan due to really nice weather, but we’ve experienced it before, and the grip provided is worthy. We also believe the $4,400 Platinum Package, although pricy, is worthwhile, which includes the aforementioned H/K audio system, tech package, convenience package, power tailgate and more.
We are big fans of Volvo, and have been for years. We are excited about all the great new products, its comeback in the marketplace, the clean, new designs, the impressive SPA platform and all the safety technology that it’s introducing. Plus, the free maintenance program for three years is exceptional. We can’t wait for the next iteration of the XC60 to receive all the goodies that it’s due. In the meantime, if your heart is set on an XC60, and can’t wait for the new model, you can probably talk your way into a bargain with this one.
Photography courtesy Volvo Cars North America, Inc.