Volvo best-seller gets full Swedish deep-tissue rejuvenation
The last Volvo XC60 we had in a 2015 Big Test comparison came off as a bit creaky, which helped earn the 6-year-old SUV a last-place finish. We knocked its interior for a low-mounted and wonky infotainment interface, lackluster-luxe, and its propensity to squeak more than a luxury SUV should. It had enjoyed a heart transplant that very year—upgrading to today’s Drive-E 2.0-liter super/turbo engine, but the integration felt a little half-baked. The new eight-speed automatic’s shifting logic and quality drew criticism, and because the new engine was only available with front-wheel drive that year, it suffered torque-steer reminiscent of a turbocharged Chevrolet Cobalt SS or Dodge Omni GLH. At least AWD quelled the torque steer in a 2016 test car.
For 2018, Volvo’s global best-seller (over 1 million served!) shucks its ancient Ford EUCD/C1-Plus architecture in favor of a chopped and channeled version of the 100 percent Swedish-engineered Scalable Product Architecture (SPA). Relative to its SUV of the Year–winning XC90 big brother, the new 2018 Volvo XC60’s wheelbase gets bobbed 4.7 inches while track and body widths contract about a half inch. The weight also plunges about at least 280 pounds (127 kg). Of course relative to the Ford bones the new wheelbase is 3.6 inches longer, the body is 4.3 inches wider, and the track broadens by 0.8 inch in front and 2.8 inches in back. But this SPA’s bulk-up regimen trimmed enough fat, so the SPA XC60 scales no heavier than its predecessor. Also gone are the front struts in favor of control arms, and the rear coils for SPA’s more compact and lighter-weight composite transverse leaf spring. Air suspension with variable-damping Four-C shocks is newly available on all models of the XC60 for $1,800 USD.
Powertrain offerings and output ratings match those of the XC90 to the number: T5 AWD (turbo only, 250 hp/258 lb-ft), T6 AWD (supercharger and turbo, 316 hp/295 lb-ft), and T8 eAWD (supercharger, turbo, plus a 10.4-kW-hr battery powering two electric motors, 400 hp combined/472 lb-ft combined). Other markets will get diesels and less powerful gas engines that we’ll never see here, though we can count on a front-drive offering arriving soon. As with the XC90, each of the above is available in Momentum, R-Design, and Inscription trims.
It wouldn’t be a Volvo product launch without a new safety gizmo or three in the PowerPoint presentation—after all, there are only a few years left until 2020, when Volvo has declared there shall be no more serious injuries or deaths in a new Volvo. In addition to automatically braking when a collision is deemed imminent, the XC60’s City Safety system will provide steering assistance via a combination of gentle electric power assist and by braking the wheels on the inside of the intended turn. This system works to prevent collisions with vehicles, pedestrians, and large animals at speeds between 30 and 60 mph. From 37 to 87 mph (140 km/h), Oncoming Lane Mitigation steers to prevent accidents with oncoming vehicles if the car wanders over the lane divider. Those features are standard (along with all the 90-series vehicles’ standard safety gear). Buy the $1,100 USD Vision package, and the Blind Spot Information system gets similar steering assistance to pull the car back into the lane if oncoming traffic is detected. The driver can always override these steering assists.
The SPA treatment has totally worked the kinks out of the interior, upgrading the 2018 XC60 to the same spare Scandinavian design aesthetic that we’ve enthused about in the 90-series vehicles. Top Inscription trim levels get new gray open-pore driftwood dash and door inlays. But the biggest upgrade is to the Sensus iPad-look vertical touchscreen. We liked the original in the XC90, but after living with it for a year we had suggestions for improvement. Most of these are incorporated for 2018 across the board—simplified menu structure; bigger, clearer fonts; Apple and Android smartphone integration; and the addition of new native apps such as Wikilocations, Yelp reviews, Glympse location sharing, Tune-In, Pandora, and Spotify.
Thoughtful touches abound inside, including stowage cubbies for tablets under the outboard rear-seat cushions, remote seat-back releases in the cargo area, an accessory cargo mat with a rubber extension that can temporarily protect the bumper paint and can be unfolded to form a solid carpet surface over the folded seat backs, and a ski pass-through. The XC60 even gets windshield wiper blades plumbed to disperse washer fluid to right where it’s needed from the rubber blades themselves.
To find out if its driving manners match its good looks, we stretched the legs of a 2018 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD Inscription model with air suspension in the hills around Barcelona, Spain, and found it acquitted itself admirably. The front control arms do much to lower and straighten out the geometric roll center, and stiffer springs (they’re actually about the same rate as the XC90’s, but by bearing less weight they behave more stiffly) and a front anti-roll bar do much to even the keel. The Michelin Latitude Sport 3 tires (size 255/45R20) squealed a bit but gripped like an insurgent politician. Ride quality seemed respectably supple, given the car’s more sporting aspirations. The steering is tuned to be much more responsive than the XC90, just off center. This was appreciated along the twistiest stretches, but it came off as a bit nervous on higher-speed straighter stretches. None of the three steering effort settings did much for road feel, so we left that in the middle setting.
Despite being almost as wide as the XC90, the 2018 XC60 has a cockpit that feels more intimate and tidy, thanks to a more steeply raked windshield and side windows that curve in more at the top. That feeling is corroborated by the performance that comes from a 16 percent better weight-to-power ratio and a recalibrated eight-speed automatic with pleasingly quick and astute shifting (especially in Dynamic mode). But there’s no escaping the reality that an engine this small with two boost devices is going to feel less creamy smooth than a larger naturally aspirated one, and with at least 280 fewer pounds (127 kg) to dampen the driver’s perception of this, the XC60 feels less smooth than the XC90 when driven aggressively.
We tried out the steering assist by initiating lane changes that could have proven dangerous and felt the system reassuringly tucking back into the lane. We also appreciated the audible warning that can be set to ding every time the driver strays beyond a defined offset to the posted speed limits, or, more often, every time a posted speed limit drops. It even warns of speed cameras in Europe. (That functionality is not quite in place back home.) The Pilot Assist system is deliberately designed to discourage any notion of full autonomy. It only tolerates hands off the wheel for a matter of seconds, but it’s highly useful when sightseeing or perhaps talking to a passenger while your hands are on the wheel, as it gently helps keep the vehicle centered in the lane.
So how would the new 2018 XC60 stack up in a rematch of that Big Test? With all our gripes rectified, with T6 AWD performance that would put them all on the trailer, and aggressive pricing (the T5 starts at $42,495 USD, and the T6 starts at $45,895 USD with a panoramic roof, nav, LED headlights, collision warning, and other standard equipment that costs extra on the winning Lexus NX and others), I like the Volvo’s chances. Never underestimate the holistic rejuvenating power of a proper Scandinavian SPA.
Because a Drive-E supercharger is only used to fill the torque hole that exists before the bigger turbocharger spools up, its pulley-drive ratio is much higher than the ones in the Camaro ZL1 or SRT Hellcat engines—7.0:1 for the Volvo versus 2.6 and 2.4 for the others. That means that at about 3,500 rpm when the electromagnetic clutch disconnects Volvo’s Lysholm-type supercharger as the turbo comes online, its twin screws are twirling at 24,000 rpm—considerably faster than the ZL1’s Roots-type lobes or the Hellcat’s primary screw spins at their respective redlines. Best of all, the little Volvo blower only exerts 9.2 hp of drag on the crankshaft, as opposed to something more like 60–80 hp for the big V-8s at full chat.
BorgWarner has produced more than 1 million of the Haldex-style AWD systems used by the XC60. The plant that builds them is in Landskrona, Sweden. The system employs a clever centrifugal electro-hydraulic actuator to vary the front/rear torque split between nearly 100/0 and 50/50 without need for an accumulator, a solenoid valve, or a filter.
|2018 Volvo XC60|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINES||2.0L/250-hp/258-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4; 2.0L/316-hp/295-lb-ft supercharged and turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4; 2.0L/313-hp/295-lb-ft supercharged and turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4 plus 46-hp/111-lb-ft front and 87-hp/177-lb-ft rear electric motors; 400 hp/472 lb-ft comb|
|CURB WEIGHT||3,950-4,600 lb (mfr)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||184.6 x 78.7 x 65.3-66.9 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.9-6.4 sec (mfr est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||Not yet tested|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||August, 2017|