Review: 2015.5 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD

Jul 17, 2015 04:10 PM EDT | Nick Jaynes

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Volvos, it's been said, are just four-wheeled boxes built to carry around air bags. While this was true for a couple decades, the brand can't be so crassly and simply pigeonholed anymore. You see, Volvo hasn't let go of its safety obsession; they've simply rather rounded out the bodylines of its cars in order to modernize and separate itself from its once solely utilitarian designs.

The XC60 crossover perhaps best exemplifies the result of this style shift. Though it shares its bones with the S60 sedan, the XC60 offers buyers a bit more ground clearance and a lot more interior volume in a very handsome package. Certainly sleeker, and a big departure from Volvos of the past, the XC60 is weighted down with not just air bags – it has XX of them – but also radar and camera-based safety systems.

The XC60 I drove this week had been fitted with the best safety systems the Swedes have to offer, including Cross Traffic Alert (CTA), Lane Change Merge Aid (LCMA), Blind Spot Information System (BLIS), and many, many others. Arguably, these systems are hugely helpful in the right circumstances and exceedingly relevant in today's computerized car market. That said, my experience with them was dominated not by feelings of gratitude and relief as they save me from disaster, but rather frustration with the constant barrage of chimes and flashing warning lights.

Thankfully, these annoyances were overshadowed by at least a few bits of brilliance. Before we get to any overarching themes, let's discuss the details, successes, and downfalls of the streamlined Swedish crossover.

The XC60 offers a slew of powertrain options for the 2016 model year, from a few of the brand's "Drive-E" 4-cylinder engines to a 5- and 6-cylinder engine. Buyers can also choose front- or all-wheel drive (AWD).

The confusing bit about the engine and drive wheel options is Volvo's use of the T5 and T6 moniker across all engine lines. A T6 can be a 4-cylinder as well as a 6-cylinder, depending on the model. The best way to figure out which one is which, though, is to find out if it's AWD. If it is, it's not a Drive-E engine, as those don't mate to all-wheel drive in the XC60.

The XC60 T6 AWD I tested had a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder producing 300 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque and a 6-speed automatic transmission, which sends power to all four wheels through a Haldex AWD system. This model of XC60 has been rated to achieve 17 mpg city, 24 mpg highway, with a combined score of 20 mpg. And it's worth noting that current Volvos are tuned to run on 87-octane "regular" gasoline here in the U.S., unlike other European competitors that require 91-octane "super."

Of all the standout features of the XC60 none, save the safety tech, is quite as palpable as its comfortable seating, which are so plush, they're worthy of their own vignette. But neither you nor I have time for that. Suffice it to say, then, they're amongst the most comfortable not only in the segment but also in the industry – including Rolls-Royce. And, for me, its unparalleled comfort might be reason enough to sign on the line for the XC60. They weren't just comfortable either; my press demonstrator had been fitted with black and light gray two-tone leather, which was really something to behold and distinguishes the Volvo brand in the crowded world of European crossovers.

A cushy seat, however, is just the beginning of the XC60's tale of tranquility. The driving position is an up-right one, allowing the driver to have an excellent field of vision in all directions. The suspension absorbs bumps - specifically potholes - as if they weren't even there, without, mind you, being overly wallow-y in the corners. And the cabin is exceptionally quiet, even on the extremely noisy Oregon freeways.

In terms of drivability, which, let's be honest likely isn't a concern for a Volvo buyer, is good but not as good as some German crossovers. The steering offers moderate heft but doesn't give a lot of feedback and the ratio is relatively quick but the turning radius quite wide. The brakes are strong but can sometimes be overwhelmed, which is a common problem for the current Volvo range. Acceleration in Drive mode is quick but not astounding. Sport mode is certainly quicker but a driver will definitely get the sense the XC60 is accelerating quickly not because it wants to - or was built to - but rather because it's being forced. For jaw-rearranging torque, buyers will need to look to the Polestar-tuned Volvos, which better match the accelerative properties of, say, a BMW X3 35 xDrive.

All the standard stuff is pretty darn enjoyable. It's the extras where the XC60 drew me in and simultaneously repelled me. Let's start with my first impression of the crossover: build quality.

Because I'm a millennial, the first thing I do when I plop down into a car – no matter the make – is turn the bass all the way up on the sound system. I do this for two reasons: 1. I am a jerk and 2. because it's a quick way to tease out any interior malfunctions. Low-end cars usually emit more rattles than higher-end ones do, as you might well assume. Not the XC60, though, its Harmon Kardon Premium Sound System with its 8 speakers pumping out 160W got the interior trim alight with vibration. As soon as I cranked the dial, the loose bits started to rattle like exhaust on an old Datsun. This was... disconcerting.

Admittedly, a more sensible tuning of the bass revealed fewer rattles. Even still, it was the most trim noises I'd ever heard on a new car - especially one with just shy of 6,000 miles on the clock. This complaint, I reckon, is mildly niggling. So, let's move onto the next: the incessant safety lights and chimes.

Then there were other annoyances. The reverse camera worked intermittently. The electric side-view mirrors, which fold neatly against the body when the ignition is switched off, one time, did not unfold upon start up. In fact, I had to go into the car's menus in the infotainment unit and disable the self-folding feature to get them to come back into position. While these issues gave me pause, they weren't quite as exacerbating as the safety systems.

The biggest culprits were the "Collision Warning with Full Auto Brake" and the LCMA. Between the two, my dashboard was constantly flashing red lights in my eyes and cutting out the stereo to ding at me. First, the Collision Avoidance constantly read parked cars on the road as impending collisions and gave constant and furious warnings, despite my being nowhere near to a collision. And the LCMA took any slight touch of a lane maker by one of the front tires as an opportunity to alert me of my inaccurate driving.

This is my big conundrum: I appreciate safety technology. I realize it is essential and wholly helpful. I just it worked a bit more reliably. Thankfully, Volvo added one such piece of safety tech so flawless that it outshines its chime-y compatriots: Adaptive Cruise Control with Queue Assist.

Most new, high-end cars offer Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC). None works as well as Volvo's. I had the opportunity to take the XC60 out to eastern Oregon during my week with it and put the ACC to the test for three hours. I can gleefully report it is the best in the industry. Others, like that of Mercedes-Benz or Infiniti, find awkward ways to apply the brakes or the accelerator, which frighten the hell out of occupants and never let the driver feel completely at ease. The Volvo on the other hand handled every highway situation with aplomb, whether it was being cut-off or given a big gap in which to jam on the throttle.

Again, the ACC, like the heavenly seats, feels reason enough to choose the car over its competitors. If only it were that simple.

Generally, the XC60 was an enjoyable car and fit well into the brand lineage: good but not great, safe but not much of a driver's car. If you're in the market, though, for a European crossover that will keep the kids safer than any of it competitors and one that doesn't boast a pretentious badge on the grille, the XC60 is a fine choice. Just don't get the Harmon Kardon sound system, that is unless you enjoy the sounds of a symphony of interior trim rattles.

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