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Wagons have remained a large part of Volvo's business, even when most Americans were shunning them for minivans, and then crossovers. But over the past few models years the Swedish brand has completely abandoned that foundation in favor of somewhat taller, more ruggedly styled 'XC' crossover models.
And in recasting wagons as something a little taller and rugged, it's the 2013 Volvo XC60 that remains at the core. Smooth and rakish from most angles, yet a little bit chiseled underneath it all in profile, the 2013 Volvo XC60 manages to look handsome to buyers with a wide range of expectations. It's an about-face compared to the boxy Volvo wagons of the not-too-distant past, which repeat Volvo buyers and wagon aficionados might not appreciate, but you could also argue that the XC60 is merely the next step in the long evolution of them. Inside, you'll see contrasting wood and metallic trims that remind us of Scandinavian furniture, along with carlike design attributes from other Volvos, like the 'floating' center stack with storage just behind, meshed with a more upright dash. It's a classy look and feel.
In its base form, the XC60 gets a 240-horsepower, 3.2-liter in-line six-cylinder engine that gives it a responsive, but not altogether perky, feel. The XC60 is surprisingly hefty (more than 4,200 pounds in AWD guise); but the engine seems to come into its own on the highway and with the responsive six-speed automatic can pull off very rapid passes. Sporty T6 models get a turbocharged 3.0-liter in-line six, now making 300 horsepower (or 325 in R-Design form), plus suspension improvements, as well as screen-based settings to adjust steering feel. One of our chief complaints is that with either of the powertrains, gas mileage is somewhat disappointing; EPA ratings are 17 or 18 mpg in the city, but we've seen lower in real-world use.
Overall, handling is decent--don't let the XC60's tall proportions scare you off; the XC60 drives like a much lower vehicle, with a secure, planted feel in tight corners. And with 9.1 inches of ground clearance and a solid Haldex all-wheel drive system, the XC60 has the goods for getting through deep snow, or even through a muddy path to a trailhead.
The XC60's tall roofline affords a lot of passenger space inside. It's only a five-seater, but busy parents with weekend-hauling tasks will appreciate the level of versatility and cargo capacity. Legroom can be a bit tight in the second row, as it is in the S60 sedan, and there's not quite enough width for three adults. But cargo space is impressive--more than 30 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks up. They fold down (albeit not quite flat) to more than double the space.
Top-notch occupant protection is pretty much a given in a Volvo (it's also been named an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ for 2013). But even considering that, the XC60 makes perfect-ten scores thanks to its large roster of active safety systems offered in the XC60. Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning, Driver Alert Control, Distance Alert, and the Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) all are likely to reduce the chances of an accident. And that's in addition to the City Safety system, which will brake automatically to reduce impacts with other vehicles, or through its expanded (and optional) Pedestrian Detection features, at low speeds for pedestrians.
For the past several years, Volvo has been adding even more value by bolstering its feature set without much of an increase in price--a trend that continues for 2013. Volvo has added standard headlight washers, rain-sensing wipers, a new tunnel-detection system for the headlamps, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with aluminum inlays all as standard features this year. A factory fill of synthetic oil is now also included, for a 10,000-mile or one-year maintenance interval. for all the models. The quicker T6 models wear stylish 18-inch 'Zephyrus' wheels as standard, and add full leather upholstery, a power passenger seat, a power panoramic moonroof, keyless drive, and silver roof rails. And at the top of the line, the R-Design gets the highest-output 325-hp engine, a sport suspension, huge 20-inch wheels, bi-xenon headlamps, and special trim inside and out.Top options include a Dynaudio 650-watt sound system, heated seats, a rearview camera and navigation system. Volvo's nav unit and its unusual steering-wheel controls take some getting used to also, by the way.
A fully tricked-out R-Design Platinum can total more than $55k (more than $20k more than a base XC60), but then you'll get one of the best-equipped, most tech-loaded crossovers on the market. If you're not attached to one of those prestige brands, we dare say it's worth it.