Sunday, September 30, 2012

Quick Spin: 2012 Volvo XC60

Photo courtesy Volvo Cars North America

By Ben Aghajanian, UpShift Contributing Editor

Cape Cod, Massachusetts-Crossovers. They are all the rage. As enthusiasts, many of us prefer wagons, which seem to only come out of Germany these days, with an occasional upstart from Detroit, or Japan.

Volvo, the purveyor of popular kid-schlepping wagons for as long as we care to remember, is no exception to the trend, and they’ve brought to market the XC60 to slot in below the XC90 in their lineup. In fact, a wagon, in the strictest of terms, can no longer be found in their U.S. lineup. The XC70, or Volvo Cross Country as some versions are known, is technically a wagon, but it has a raised suspension and a more rugged look, like the Subaru Outback. Both are popular among outdoorsy types—and if you’re like a friend of mine, you buy one of each!

I spent some time driving an XC60 T6 this past week, equipped with all-wheel drive. Other than knowing that it had a turbocharged inline six engine, I hadn’t done a lot of research on them. But, the East Coast loves their Volvos, and all of their XC models were parading around the Cape. So, I was curious. 

I was quite impressed. The very first thing I noticed, which I was both surprised and pleased by, was how good outward visibility is from the driver’s seat. Too many new cars have huge blind spots and large roof pillars, which combine to make driving them vague and not especially safe, as the driver tends to guess while dicing through traffic, or driving in a parking lot. The XC60 has a lower hood than many other cars, which gives you a better view of the road ahead, and smaller A-pillars (bordering the front cockpit, by the hood).  Likewise, the view out the back surprised me. I could see so much more than in other new cars I’ve driven—the rear hatch glass is much larger than the maybe 1.5 feet of vertical window in many crossovers. Despite the sporty exterior appearance, the designers have managed to maintain an airy cockpit and safe sightlines. Well done, Volvo.

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Photo courtesy Volvo Cars North America

The seats are A+, just like almost all other Volvos. They are so much more comfortable and supportive than those of many other manufacturers. I like the way the center console is arranged, with logical controls and knobs, especially for heat and a/c, as well as the fact that it’s canted slightly toward the driver, preventing a “reach” for the buttons that some larger cars require these days. Overall the interior was pretty nice. The only exception was the cheap feeling plastic surrounding the mirror (which I later discovered housed the City Safety system that claims to prevent low-speed collisions). My passenger also thought that the dashboard had a cheesy/unusual-looking finish to it, but it didn’t feel cheap.

Oh, and it drives well too. The turbo six delivers quiet power if you drive conservatively, and the suspension seems well tuned and damped. Road imperfections don’t upset the car’s composure, nor is the ride jarring. It feels solid and Germanic—just don’t tell the Swedes. When you call to the engine room for more power, the Volvo responds with gusto more often expected from a sport sedan. Plenty of punch merging onto a fast state highway from a stop, and gear changes are both smooth and quick. I didn’t get to experiment much with the sport mode, but in the several stoplight starts I used it at, throttle response increased and shift points were raised. If you left it in a gear (in sport mode) and accelerated slowly, it would shift, but otherwise held gears until you clicked the shift gate forward. Smart, actually, for a car not designed for the track.

Volvo’s brought a very competitive entry into the growing small luxury crossover market. It’s definitely worth a test drive if you’re looking.

Premier BMW Volvo of Cape Cod provided the vehicle for this review. Upshift Blog would like to thank them for their time.

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