By on March 1, 2010

Over the bridge and through the woods till mödrars hus vi gor. When Volvo first started their love affair with jacked up wagons equipped with AWD and some extra ride height, they had two groups in mind: The Swedes that live in rural Sweden with miles of unpaved dirt roads in the forest which turn to mud in the long dark winter, and the American soccer mom who thinks she needs an SUV like vehicle to cross the puddle in the Neiman Marcus parking lot. Thanks to our recently departed leader Robert Farago, we know how the XC60 does on pavement, but since Volvo offered to give us an XC60 for a week, I decided to take a different approach and review the XC60 in the dirt back-roads of coastal northern California and the icy roads of the Sierra Nevada to see if you can actually combine living off the grid and “Scandinavian luxury.”

On paper the XC60 looks like just what the yuppie doctor ordered. The XC60 boasts a Grand Cherokee and LR2 besting 9.1 inches of ground clearance, the same AWD system as the LR2 (which it should be noted was originally borrowed from Volvo’s S80 to begin with), sexy curves and some rugged looking plastic on the front and rear overhang. At 4174lbs, the XC60 is no lightweight but does somehow manage to be slimmer than both the LR2 and the Grand Cherokee.

Visually the XC60 is actually a departure from the Volvo styling that has been in place since 1999. Volvo’s design department somehow managed to make the XC60 instantly recognizable as a Volvo, yet change the form enough that when parked next to Volvo’s larger XC90 it makes its older brother look ancient.

Inside the XC60 is modern Volvo all the way. The only low point in this otherwise well designed cabin is the Nav system. Volvo used to be known for their trick pop-up nav system, and the coolness factor of the pop-up was a welcome distraction from the basic design of the system. Instead of this arrangement used in all other Volvo models, the Swedish design team crafted an Audi like pod for the nav screen in the center console and moved the screen for the radio up to a strange binnacle on the dash. There are two problems with this: First, the radio controls are way too far from the radio’s screen, and secondly the nav screen looks ill fitted and far too small for the hole they gave it in the dash. Adding insult to injury is the fact that should you not opt for the $1,800 nav system you get a bizarre cubby where the screen should go that tells all your passengers you were too cheap to splurge for the nav. I have been told to expect the new 2011 S60’s totally revamped Nav and audio package in the 2011 XC60, let’s hope so; it can’t get here fast enough.

With the rear seats up the XC60’s sloping rear profile means you are limited to 31cu ft of cargo space which expands to 67 cu ft with the rear seats folded. Compared to the Euro competition the XC60 packs a week’s worth of camping supplies (including water) with relative ease. Once off the beaten track it becomes obvious that the base 17” wheels are more on- than off-road tuned, but fortunately the rest of the suspension is up to the task. Suspension travel is well suited to heavily rutted dirt and mud roads and Volvo kindly supplies approach departure and breakover angles (22, 27 and 22 degrees respectively) which proved useful while navigating the many treacherous roads that litter the Lost Coast region of Northern California. Volvo’s optional skid plates, bumper bars and scuff plates are probably something Volvo should add to their press fleet as it was my mission to go where no $47,000 Euro CUV should ever be taken.

Let’s get things clear from the start, the XC60 is not, and never will be, a rock crawler. If you plan to ford more than a 10”of water or crawl over boulders or logs, then a Wrangler is what you need. If a luxury rock crawler is more your style and you only have $45K to work with, try a used Range Rover. The Haldex AWD system the XC60 uses is capable of delivering a 50/50 power split should it be needed, sending 90% of the power to the front under normal conditions.

Unlike a “true” SUV, the Haldex system operates using a locked center differential (to be honest there is no center diff at all, the transmission has the front and rear power outputs permanently locked), between the rear diff and the transmission lays a Haldex clutch pack that infinitely varies the connection between the transmission and the rear wheels. Power transfer takes less than 1/7th of a tyre rotation should a slip be detected, and the system can vary the clutch pack on its own whenever it feels like it. The system operates as advertised and strikingly well on sand, several inches of mud, steep ruts, a few inches of snow and moderate off-roading. As with many crossover AWD systems, when the going gets icy, the lack of a locking center differential becomes readily apparent. When climbing a steep driveway with an inch of slippery ice coating it, the XC60 spent much of its time spinning the front wheels, it was only when the traction control was disabled that the car shifted power to the rear and made it up the drive. That being said, I clocked over 26 hours on unpaved backcountry roads in the XC60 and didn’t get stuck. There were ditches we had to stop and fill in with logs to traverse, trees that had to be moved out of the way, and jaw-dropped looks from ATV and jacked up Wrangler owners we passed along the way.

On the road the XC60 handles with more prowess than it’s curb weight or FWD-biased drivetrain would suggest, but unfortunately Volvo’s choice of tires isn’t quite up to the task. The Pirelli Scorpions squeal at the slightest provocation and fail to grip when the going gets muddy or icy. Powering this Swedish cute-ute is Volvo’s sweet 3.0L twin-scroll turbo inline 6, which was introduced just a year ago. Quite similar in design to BMW’s new N55 3.0L I-6 engine, the T6 as Volvo calls it, pumps out 281 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque with the typically-Volvo flat torque curve. Mated to an Aisin 6 speed automatic, power delivery is smooth and strong, and with a 0-60 time of 7.4 seconds, one might almost say quick, almost. The XC60 climbs up rugged, un-paved muddy trails with composure, never seeming taxed.

One cannot review a Volvo without discussing Safety. Volvo proudly touts the XC60 as the safest vehicle they have ever built, and my experience with the electronic systems in the XC60 may just bear that out. After Volvo’s PR company handed me the keys to the XC60 I hopped on the freeway for my 30 mile drive home and like any techno-nerd the first thing I did was play with the electronics. The first thing the car did was bing at me and tell me I wasn’t driving in an alert manner. I hate it when my car is right. The second thing the XC60 did was scold me for following too closely with LEDs that reflect on the dash. And the last thing the XC60 did for me was save my bacon.

As traffic slowed, the adaptive cruise control disabled (Volvo’s system turns off and returns control to the driver below 5MPH) and my inattention returned. I was distracted by an accident on the other side of the freeway when the XC60 in rapid succession beeped loudly at me and piled on the brakes, snapping me back to attention. “Auto braking by city safety” appeared on the dash, completing the XC60’s party trick. Effective from approximately 2 to 19MPH, the XC60’s laser scanners detect moving and stationary cars and will either come to a complete stop or at least drastically reduce your speed at the last minute to avoid or reduce the effect of an accident. City safety is standard on the 2010 XC60 and I can safely say, it worked as advertised. Of course Volvo includes a whole host of other electronic nannies that are too numerous to list, but it’s safe to say Volvo’s reputation for building Swedish tanks is alive and well.

The XC60 proves that Volvo can make a dirt road-capable CUV with styling flair and enough electronic nannies to satisfy the risk-adverse in the crowd (not to mention your insurance broker). The real question is if buyers will actually cross-shop the XC60 with its German competition. Stacked up to the Q5, X3 and GLK, the Volvo shines with more power, excellent cargo capacity, unique styling and a suitably upscale interior. Starting at $33,000 for the FWD 235HP, model, our Volvo provided tester hit the nosebleed section at a whopping $47,395. Admittedly this can seem like a bargain when you look at the Q5’s starting price of $37,350 and a similarly equipped price of $51,625, the question is: Can Volvo get you to buy one?

Volvo provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

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36 Comments on “Review: Volvo XC60 Take Two...”

  • avatar

    I love the looks of this little CUV. The taillights are done especially nicely. Not sure about that green though.

    The flat lacquered wood on the interior is nice, but the navigation system is rather pathetic, I agree.

  • avatar

    Volvo loyalists have been counting on the XC60 to save the make. While 9,262 were sold during 2009 in the U.S. (and 61,667 worldwide), only 489 were sold in the U.S. in January. Low inventories, or has the XC60 gotten lost in the crowd?

    TrueDelta will have reliability stats for the XC60 in May.

    Not yet signed up to help with the Car Reliability Survey? Details here:

  • avatar
    fred schumacher

    The article is right about the tires. They’re totally wrong. For bad roads you need high profile tires for compliance and to absorb shock. Those rubber band tires are useless. They’re on there because the manufacturer expects this car to be primarily a suburban cruiser.

    The article also talks of “dirt” roads, but in most of the pictures they look like gravel. There’s a big difference between the two, although most city people call all unpaved roads dirt.

    The last picture shows a water eroded dirt road that looks no different from many roads I’ve taken my Dodge Caravan on. You just have to be careful to ride the ridges. I put slightly oversize, high profile tires on my minivans to get a little more ground clearance and have been down many northern Minnesota logging roads. I have taken out two oil pans, I will admit.

    This Volvo has no more cargo room than my Subaru Forester, which weighs 1,000 pounds less, and it has half the cargo space of my minivans. People that can afford the $50,000 price tag are not the ones to take this car on rough terrain. Those that do will buy a Wrangler or beater pickup for a lot less. On a side note, I’ve never seen one of these 4-wheel drive Volvos on the road with dirt all over them.

  • avatar
    Frayed Knot

    I think that part of the reason for low sales is the overlap with the XC90 in terms of both price and gas mileage. For not much more money (and with various discounts, maybe none at all) and with sacrificing very little MPG, you could get the larger XC90 with the third row.

    At least in our case, this is why the XC60 was not an option for us, even though we really liked it. Of course, in the end, we went with a used MDX, so there you go.

  • avatar

    Nothing to see here, keep moving.


  • avatar

    It’s amazing how much this looks like the new Kia Sorento or Hyundai Tuscan tailights withstanding. I wonder who cribbed who’s styling. I would bet it’s Hyundai since they now use Volvos HVAC sitting human control in there new Sonota on the dash.

  • avatar

    As I look out my window at mounds of snow under a leaden gray sky, thank you for the reminder that somewhere skies are blue and water is liquid.

    • 0 avatar

      The skies are blue today, should be a high of 60F, NO more midwest winters for me, thank you.

      This Volvo would be great for offroading around here (western WA), where most of the soils have been left behind by glaciers and are gravelly enough not to hold one up very much if they’re rain-soaked. In fact I used to embarrass 4×4 drivers regularly by hitting the trails in my Monza 2+2 V8, sometimes with my daughter asleep in her car seat beside me. Around here there are enough forests that narrowness is an important factor in a vehicle’s trail capability.

      There are plenty of places, though, like Iowa or the Nevada desert, where the soil turns to soupy bottomless slime at the first hint of rain, where it might not make the grade.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    Keep dissing soccer moms who shop at Neiman Marcus at your peril…my wife is one who does the other occasionally. I showed her this review…

    Did I mention she also is a crack shot at the target range?

    A raison d’etre for this vehicle is contained in your review. It has the ground clearance and most of the capability of a Grand Cherokee in a safer, more efficient package. Nuff said.

  • avatar

    Excuse me, but who the hell wants this thing? What happened to traditionally styled station wagons that had…style! There is no such thing as a “crossover” vehicle. They are tall station wagons called crossovers because no car maker can bring themselves to say “wagon”. They are ugly, bulbous people movers that look like they were designed for fat people. When did the morbidly obese become determinants of automotive styling?

  • avatar

    Thnx for explaining how a modern HALDEX works. Surprising that its electronic clutch only controls power sent to Rear wheels, which seems inferior to Subaru systems that vary power sent to front _and_ back.

    Then again, KIA introduced a new AWD system that works the same way as this HALDEX, and has the same problems.

    VW’s claimed they will have a new version of HALDEX in 2012. Will this new system better divvy up power to front _and_ back?

    As for buying an XC60, no thanks. Too few dealers and too many bad weather conditions in the NW for that sort of car. Lastly, lo-profile tires the Euros are so much in love with make little sense on our pothole-filled roads.

    • 0 avatar

      Haldex is designed for transverse mounted front drivers. Using a center diff would require a 90 degree joint between engine and diff, and then another one between diff and front wheels. As Haldex is basically a fwd with the capability to send power rear on need, going to a center diff setup would increase the number of 90 degree joints from 0 to 2 most of the time.

      On a Subie, with its longitudinal engine, you have one 90 degree turn whether you use a center diff or not. So the cost / benefit is different.

      That being said, other than on their more expensive/powerful models, Subie don’t use a center diff either. On most models, the fronts are always driven at transmission output speeds, with a viscous coupling to the rear functioning as kind of a “soft” locker, functionally similar to an imaginary mechanical Haldex with the clutch clamped, say 90%. And I believe Subie’s latest wonder is very much a sensor and clutch pack driven, predominantly front wheel drive, arrangement, like Haldex; which along with a CVT seems to give some pretty impressive mileage wrt size and awd ability of the cars it’s fitted to.

      The V6 Outback, which I guess would be the model most likely cross shopped by XC60 intenders, do have a center diff, with a slight static rear bias, as far as I know. Similar to Torsen equipped Audi Quattros.

  • avatar

    So first thing to go is the tires. Snows for winter and something “better” for the rest of the year depending on how you actually use the vehicle. Of course that makes it no different than any other vehicle.

  • avatar
    Alex Dykes

    I should note for the record that the press car that Volvo supplied was the gold/brown coloured vehicle, the sage green XC60 was a different car obtained from a local dealer a few months later. The press car was taken to the Lost Coast, the dealer car was taken to the Sierra Nevada for cold weather testing.

  • avatar
    Kyle Schellenberg

    Thanks for the review, I dig this vehicle.

    People tend to keep to their stereotypes so I’m sure there have been plenty of Yin assessments on how vehicles like this are “not intended for off-road use” offset by the Yang comments of “any car could do that”.

    Years ago, we rented a remote cottage and I drove down a one mile rock strewn road in my Integra. I could have walked faster than it took for my car to crawl through, and my muffler got completely crushed. Not a pleasant experience. Fast forward a few years and I drove my CR-V (not recognized for off-road prowess) through a muddy farmer’s field littered with big rocks in pursuit of a delinquent heifer and I didn’t feel any nervousness.

    Additional ground clearance and decent suspension is a greater equalizer than a macked-out 4WD system for most situations.

  • avatar

    I wish those tailgate-scolder LEDs were standard in every vehicle, with 100 volts to the driver’s seat if you don’t back off after 5 seconds.

    • 0 avatar

      No kidding!! I followed another 9-3 Sportcombi the other night (same type and position of LED tailights) and those suckers are BRIGHT! And right at eyelevel too. I love the 100 volt idea – I just use the rear fog light to fend off tailgaters.

      With any luck they will help me keep from getting rear-ended twice like I did in my 9-5 wagon. The second time the day after getting it back from being fixed from the first time.

    • 0 avatar

      I remember attaching a rear facing mirror behind the seats of my S2000, just right so that average SUV/truck height headlights would reflect back at anticipated SUV/truck driver eye height, while cop car headlights would reflect way above cop cars.

      It might have been placebo, but I do think it worked :)

  • avatar

    I have the pop-up nav system in my car — controls are on the back of the right-hand side of the steering wheel, or on a separate IR remote if there’s a passenger with a control fetish. The screen is decidedly a generation behind in resolution and the CCF backlight is slow to warm up — LEDs would be a big improvement. So would an update in the Navetq software…

  • avatar

    I bring this up again (I noted it in the 1st review) because it hasn’t been addressed in the 2011 model either.

    Compare the start/stop button of the XC60 (right of steering wheel):

    To that of 2011 Hyundai Sonata at half the price:

    For $50k CDN, I expect some bling and attention to detail.

    That start/stop button is a sore sight in the otherwise okay looking interior of the XC60. You can avoid the awful navigation by opting out, but you can’t avoid the start/stop ugly button.

  • avatar
    Alex Dykes

    I honestly don’t have an issue with the start/stop button. It feels well sorted and it does match the type of other buttons in the car. If it were a highly polished round button it would be out of place. One thing I can agree on is the position of the slot, if you don’t get the keyless drive option you have to insert it in the slot. My tester had keyless drive but in these pictures I did have the key in the slot for representation.

  • avatar

    So how does a XC60 T6 compare to a XC70 T6?

  • avatar

    May I pick a nit? The power is not varied “infinitely” between the front and rear. That would imply that a trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion ……. horsepower could be sent to either end. The correct term is “continuously”.

    I have no use for the safety nannies. They are only of benefit to the slobs who drive around will cell phones stuck in their ears and their heads stuck where the sun doesn’t shine.

  • avatar
    Alex Dykes

    They are variations on the same theme. The XC70 has a slightly lower ground clearance, doesn’t have the City Safety system (yet) and has a slightly different interior. The XC70 has a larger cargo capacity (its longer), its a bit lighter, bit less rear leg room.

  • avatar

    This is a beautiful SUV. Ford hit it on the head.

    Having said that, and speaking directly from the center of it’s target market, I won’t look twice at it other than from a distance. I simply don’t know when it’ll start coming off the lots covered in lead paint…

    • 0 avatar
      Kyle Schellenberg

      No, I think you’re referencing the “XP”60. As long as you don’t let your kids lick the car, they should be okay.

    • 0 avatar

      Volvo has actually spent time and money on non-toxic interior materials. Informed moms(their target market) know this. It will be interesting to see how Geely/Volvo manage to get the price down to Accord/Camry levels while maintaining their strengths(perceived and real).

  • avatar

    Nice car but too small. Would rather have a T6 V70 but that’s not happening anytime soon.

    I will keep my XC90, thank you.

  • avatar

    nice write up, the XC60’s City Safety is a cool thing to have as backup. i repeat as backup.

    i think it’s nifty car, but can’t forgive their choice of Nav system.

    maybe now with Geely, they can have a wider choice of parts bin to choose from. install VW’s MMI, and the xc60 is easily the best in class…

  • avatar

    You can almost see the car in the pictures. Who did your photo shoot — Weegee?

  • avatar

    it is just wonderful SUV that cross any way wherever you want to go. . I’m the owner of offering custom auto services, just found this topic was interesting thoroughly enjoyed, well written on volvo XC60

  • avatar

    Its pretty but the only way to buy one of these is off a CARMAXX LOT AND DON’T PAY MORE THEN 35K FOR IT.

    BTW I live in the sticks[50ACRES] and drive a 4WD Explorer E Bauer which suits my needs and I paid 34k for it IN 1999. i have gotten 335k miles outta her; she shows no rust but I have been through 1 tranny. DO ALL OF THOSE ELECTRONIC GIZMOS hold up over a 10 year period
    That and how much does it cost to service it…at the dealer would be my main concern. my truck getting close to the end of its life around 400k miles..maybe they will revise the xc90 by then. Don’t believe this one can handle my ‘cargo’ needs..

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