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While Volvo launched a new wagon for 2015 (it's called the V60), the role that its big, boxy, slab-sided wagons used to play in U.S. family garages has been take over by a more modern iteration of the utility vehicle. It's the 2015 Volvo XC60, the third member of a trio of mid-szed Volvos built on the same underpinnings that forms the core of the Swedish brand's lineup in North America.
The XC60 is the kind of crossover utility vehicle that's become the new family hauler--safe, sensible, spacious, and practical for families and their gear. Since its launch back in 2010, it's offered both stylish lines and a dash of design flair while sticking to the Volvo traditional values of advanced safety and sensible interiors. Following a mild styling update for 2014, this year brings a pair of new and far more fuel-efficient engines--but only for front-wheel-drive models of the XC60. The all-wheel-drive versions will have to wait for a few more years to get the updated powertrains.
With all-wheel drive optional, every XC60 model offers excellent all-weather capability and family utility. Perhaps hardcore Volvo traditionalists may not like the evolution from wagon to crossover, but the market has spoken, Volvo's first mid-size crossover stays remarkably up-to-date during a protracted midlife update. Last year and this year, it's acquired new front-end styling, richer optional leather seats, a new and far easier-to-use infotainment system, and the company's safety wizards have added bicyclist detection to the City Safe collision-avoidance system.
The lines of the XC60 remain rakish and handsome. Last year's new front end made it a little sleeker, more like a car than a bluff utility vehicle. And XC60s now come without the contrasting sills and wheel-arch moldings seen on earlier versions, making them more wagon-like yet. The interior is Scandinavian to the core–with its floating center stack, superbly comfortable new front seats and simple, dial-operated console, it's in a class with Audi for both look and feel. Some may find its sober black lines, functional without stylistic flourishes, a tad severe. But they're eminently practical, and for those who want a bit more luxury, optional two-tone leather-upholstered seats add it back in spades.
Now in its sixth model year, the big updates for the 2015 XC60 are new and far more fuel-efficient powertrains--but only for its front-wheel-drive models. Those are equipped with either of two versions of the company's new, highly fuel-efficient Drive-E 2.0-liter direct-injected four-cylinder engine, both paired with a new eight-speed automatic transmission. The base XC60, known as the T5, uses 240-horsepower turbocharged version, while the more powerful T6 gets a 302-hp Drive-E that's supercharged (to boost power at low engine speeds) and turbocharged (for increased horsepower at higher engine speeds). Both engines are lighter than the ones they replace, and offer both more power and higher EPA gas-mileage ratings. Combined fuel-economy ratings are 27 mpg and 25 mpg respectively, a huge improvement over the 21 mpg combined that the previous FWD models achieved. Of the two new engines, the T6 in particular is powerful and responsive at any speed, making the XC60 into something of a large hot hatch--sans all-wheel drive.
If you need all four wheels driven, you can have either the 3.2 AWD model--with a 240-hp 3.2-liter six--or the T6 AWD model, with a turbocharged 3.0-liter six putting out 300 hp. Both of those engines drive through a six-speed automatic into Volvo's renowned Haldex all-wheel-drive system. Fuel economy takes a hit here, with combined ratings of only 20 mpg. The T6 models also get suspension improvements, as well as screen-based settings to adjust steering feel. One of our chief complaints is that with either of these older powertrains, gas mileage is disappointing; we've seen real-world use notably below the EPA city ratings of 17 or 18 mpg. With all-wheel drive, the XC60 is a heavy beast, weighing more than 4,200 pounds, but despite somewhat deliberate acceleration, it really comes into its own on the highway--including plenty of power in reserve for passing.
Despite its height, the XC60 handles decently. Like the best of crossovers, it handles like a car--which is to say, like a much lower vehicle--and conveys a secure feeling in the corners that inspires driver confidence. All-wheel-drive models offer 9.1 inches of ground clearance and can take occupants through deep snow, up rocky trails, and across muddy sports fields without fuss or drama. The driving characteristics are quicker in models with the lighter Drive-E engines; the turbocharged and supercharged T6 front-wheel-drive model puts out enough power that you can feel the stability control clamping down to keep it pulling in a straight line.
Inside, there's plenty of headroom, but rear-seat legroom is on the tight side. You'll fit three kids in the back just fine (there's no third-row option) but three adults is a tight squeeze even for very short trips. On the other hand, there's more than 30 cubic feet of cargo space even with the rear seat up, and that almost doubles when you fold down the seatback--although the load floor isn't quite flat.
The Volvo XC60 is designated a Top Safety Pick+ by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), and only a single four-star rating for rollover safety from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) kept it from a clean sweep of the top scores in every safety test between the two agencies. As well as airbags and good rear three-quarter visibility, standard or optional active-safety systems include . Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning, Driver Alert Control, Distance Alert, and Blind Spot Information System (BLIS)--each of them likely to reduce the chances of an accident under specific circumstances. There's also the City Safety system, which alerts the driver to impending collisions and brakes automatically if necessary--either averting or reducing the severity of an accident. The latest wrinkle in City Safety is Pedestrian Detection, with Cyclist Detection just added last year.