As an Elvis fan, I have to say that the singer created an enormous body of completely unlistenable music. The Hollywood years are particularly execrable, generating as they did an entire canon of crap. In the same sense, Volvo. In recent history, the American-owned Swedish automaker has unleashed a range of vehicles that did little more than remind us how far the iconic brand has fallen. For example, Volvo’s minivan, which—oh wait. They didn’t make a minivan. Right. Volvo’s XC SUVs arrived late, with the wrong engines, with a rep for tank-like build quality and unimpeachable reliability that was only obvious by its absence. Ditto Volvo’s sedans. And now, Volvo’s ’68 Comeback Special: the XC60.
First, let’s get something into the open: I don’t like CUVs. I understand that an elevated driving position creates a sense of control and (perceived) safety. But if I’m high, I want to be mighty. Or, at the very least, driving something that’s mighty big inside. Every CUV I’ve driven was either a gas-sucking lard ass, a poorly packaged gas-sucking lard ass or a joyless hybrid.
The moment I laid eyes on the Volvo XC60, I felt my anti-car-on-stilts position softening. The crossover’s press shots make the model look goofy (you shouldn’t see the ones I didn’t publish). In the metal, the XC60 is as perfectly sized and proportioned as a Steinway piano. The Swede’s shape and stance—boasting better ground clearance than many trucks—generates a look that’s solid without being stolid; projecting macho ruggedness and dynamism.
Volvo gets credit for attaching a brand-faithful snout to a highly raked windshield without creating an acre of dashtop plastic or A pillars that could support Trump Tower. The XC60′s profile is appropriately outdoorsy, in a diminutive but not dainty sort of way. The XC60′s rear is also particularly well wrought. It’s got that Land Rover take stuff anywhere thing happening, and mellifluously melds melted tail lamps with a roof spoiler and shark fin.
Taken as a whole, I’ll take it.
Inside, rental car. I so didn’t want it to be so. XC60 buyers who share this desire will find it easy enough to generate the necessary suspension of disbelief to con themselves that they’re driving a premium product. The Volvo’s interior design is fastidious. The controls are ergonomically sound and appropriately Ikea-like. The jaunty little LCD screen popping up from the top of the XC60′s dash is as cute as Wall-E’s itty bitty face. Sure, there’s no surprise and delight, but c’mon, it’s a Volvo. The brand that schlepped a thousand minimalists.
Yeah, well, it’s a $40K Volvo. Swedish style, careful craftsmanship and totally flat-folding rear seats can’t mask the XC60′s low-rent materials’ quality. Equally dire: the switch-gear operates with all the satisfaction of a lowfat deep-fried peanut butter sandwich. Let’s hope the XC60′s haptically hideous plastics are Ford tough; I can’t think of any other reason to remind yourself you overpaid for a Volvo. Not to put too fine a point on it, the Volvo XC60′s interior is “Blue Hawaii” to the Audi Q5 cabin’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”
The XC60′s engine is a hit. The 281hp 3.0-liter in-line six sounds distinctly MOR, and there’s a touch of turbo-lag from the git-go. But once underway, there’s a hoon of torque underfoot: 295 lb·ft. @ 1,500-4,800 rpm. The XC60′s stable yard is never, ever shy of horses. Which is just as well for a four-plus-one seater that burns gas at 15/22 mpg.
In terms of actual hoonery, the XC60′s grip and composure will leave you wanting better seat bolstering. Once again, damn the man who invented all-season tires. Thanks to its overly stiff rubber, the XC60 is just that little bit too hard riding. It ruins any chance of an upscale vibe, serving an unwelcome reminder that the XC60 shares its underlying architecture with the ill-fated Land Rover LR2.
Do I have to mention safety? How about this: if you can find a Volvo XC60 without the $1695 Technology Package (Adaptive Cruise Control, Collision Warning with Auto-Brake, Distance Alert, Lane Departure Warning and Driver Alert Control), that’s the way to go. In other words, file all those gizmos under “more electronic shit that will go wrong” and “more evidence that Volvo’s brand managers don’t get it.”
For under $30K, Volvo would sell XC60s all day long. Even in the current economic climate. Even if Wo Fat buys the brand. Knocking on $40K, Volvo’s high-priced cute ute is almost as inadvisable as a Lincoln MKS. But not quite. ‘Cause the XC60 is a “real” Volvo—provided it goes the distance mechanically.
If not, well, the King of Rock and Roll ended his career in a blaze of self-parody, picking invisible bugs off his arms as he tried (and failed) to remember lyrics he’d been performing for twenty years. I’d hate to see Volvo go the same way. But I wouldn’t be surprised.