2018 Volvo XC60 T8 first drive review: The accidental performance crossover

September 5, 2017

With 400 horsepower on tap, you’d think that the 2018 Volvo XC60 T8 Plug-In Hybrid would be the right choice for carving your way through a winding canyon road.

The ingredients are mostly there: a lot of power, a balanced chassis, grippy all-wheel drive, and nicely weighted steering controlled via a thick-rimmed, three-spoke wheel. And automaker’s hip-to-be-square styling works even better here on the five-seat XC60 than it does on the divine, three-row XC90.

MORE: Read our full review of the 2018 Volvo XC60

Yet there’s some fine tuning to be done here, which leaves this powerful, eco-friendly crossover feeling more like a low-guilt hot-rod than a dynamic dream like the Porsche Macan Turbo that Volvo floats as the closest thing to a rival for the gutsiest of Volvo crossovers.   

2018 Volvo XC60 T8

2018 Volvo XC60 T8

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, however, since the wildly popular compact crossovers the XC60 lineup generally emphasize comfort and style over tenacity—which stretches from the 250-hp T5 through the 316-hp T6 before landing at the range-topping T8 with its estimated 400 turbocharged, supercharged, and electrified ponies.

We recently put about 30 miles on an XC60 T8 Plug-In Hybrid on a short drive through the Rocky Mountain foothills in Colorado and it whet our appetite for more. Consider this an incomplete review, perhaps, since we weren’t able to test out its 10.4-kWh lithium-ion battery pack’s approximately 20-mile all-electric range. Our test car’s battery was fully depleted, although what the regenerative brakes lacked in feel, they made up for in their ability to supply a little more juice to the battery for short distances.

Volvo quotes about three hours of charging time on a 220-volt outlet, which is about par for the course among plug-in hybrid vehicles with a similar capacity.

An XC60 with more

Aside from its difficult-to-modulate brakes, the XC60 T8 drives like its brethren. That’s high praise. Its steering is weighted nicely and accurate, leaving this tall-riding wagon feeling more like a sedan even on a winding canyon road.

The 400-jewel movement found underhood pairs the T6’s 2.0-liter turbocharged and supercharged inline-4, 8-speed automatic transmission, and all-wheel drive with a battery pack that can both aid passing response and allows for emissions-free driving under low load situations and for up to 20 miles in normal driving.

2018 Volvo XC60 T8

2018 Volvo XC60 T8

Volvo pegs the XC60 at 400 total system horsepower and 472 pound-feet of torque, but it doesn’t feel as muscular as those hefty figures might suggest. It’s hardly wanting for power, but the lithium-ion pack boosts the curb weight to about 4,600 pounds—around 500 more than the XC60 T6. It accelerates quickly and smoothly, but without the manic rush of the Macan Turbo.

Fortunately, most of that extra weight comes down low, so it’s not really a detriment to the XC60’s handling. Again, it doesn’t magnify and analyze the road like the Macan, but the XC60 rides comfortably and its steering is accurate. There’s little lean into corners, but overall the feeling is more than of relaxed luxury than stellar performance. Pushed hard—even in sport mode—the XC60 simply lacks the precision we've come to expect from the 400-horsepower club.

It's not quite a Prius masquerading as a sports car, but the docile XC60 is hardly as athletic as its horsepower rating suggests.

The same inside, and that’s just fine

Volvo’s new five-seater is as stylish as it is comfortable, too. There’s great room at the four outboard seats for adults, plus nearly 30 cubic feet of cargo volume with the second row upright. Unlike some plug-in hybrids, the XC60’s lithium-ion battery doesn’t intrude into the cargo area.

The plug-in hybrid system hardly makes itself known up front, either, where only some revisions to the graphics displayed on the XC60 T8’s LCD panel instrument cluster set it apart from its non-electrified siblings. A massive, 9.0-inch vertically oriented screen serves as the infotainment system’s nucleus here as it does on other Volvos. We love it all the same no matter where it shows up, although the screen itself can be rather warm to the touch and there’s a bit of an acclimation process involved in sorting through its tablet-esque operating system.

2018 Volvo XC60 T8

2018 Volvo XC60 T8

Otherwise, things are serene and docile and there’s a commanding view out thanks to the low dash, high seating position and commendably narrow roof rails. Volvo’s full suite of collision-avoidance safety tech is standard on the XC680 T8, but an extra $1,100 nets buyers blind spot monitors, rear cross-traffic alerts, and the ability to park itself.

The thick-rimmed steering wheel shared with other XC60s suggests a performance bent; but as we’ve said before, it’s just not there.

Look to Polestar

As much the answer to the question nobody’s asking as it is the wrong answer to enthusiasts bent on sitting up high in a crossover rather than hunkered down in a wagon, the 2018 XC60 T8 winds up feeling like something of a placeholder.

Volvo’s Polestar performance arm has its eyes on this crossover and plans to introduce one that probably won’t be much faster, but should feel far more buttoned-down. For enthusiasts, that’s the ticket right there. If it’s eco-friendly motoring you’re after, the XC60 delivers—but we can’t say just how much. Volvo hasn’t had its latest crossover certified by the EPA, so it’s hard to say how much it’ll improve on the XC60 T6’s 21 mpg city, 27 mpg highway, 23 mpg combined. We’re willing to bet it’ll be much thriftier, but until Volvo announces this crossover’s price tag, it’s hard for us to make a real judgement call.

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