2015 Volvo XC60 Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

John Voelcker John Voelcker Senior Editor
May 4, 2015

The 2015 Volvo XC60 crossover stays stylish--and now it gets much better gas mileage from a new four-cylinder engine.

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.

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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. 

9

2015 Volvo XC60

Styling

The 2015 Volvo XC60 is a distinctive shape that brings some sportwagon style to the crossover category.

While the 2015 Volvo XC60 is a somewhat chiseled shape, it's distinctive and striking, even in its sixth model year. It blends smooth lines and rakish angles, including an upswept belt line, with practicality for cargo hauling that belies its style--perhaps the best combination of traditional Volvo virtues with a newly acquired set of stylish clothes. As one of Volvo's executives said cheerfully during a drive event, "No more boxy Volvos!"

As part of its two-year refresh, the XC60 got a new and sleeker grille during the abbreviated 2014 model year, which carries over unchanged this year (with some new powertrains behind it). It's slightly lower, slightly crisper, and a bit more car-like, with slimmer bumpers and a generally sleeker look. The traditional Volvo "ironmark"badge is still there, with its chrome diagonal running from lower left to upper right, but it's less garish in the new grille due to the effect of chromed horizontal bars that give a wider, lower look compared to the previous grid of rectangular openings.

While the XC60 is tall, it's visually svelte, with nicely balanced proportions and minimal detailing. There are no fake fender vents, no huge expanses of chrome, and few flourishes. If anything, the latest XC60s are a touch more plain and severe, with the abolition of all contrasting sills and wheel-arch moldings. Now the XC60 exterior is entirely a single color, looking a bit more elegant than the crossover cliche.

Inside, the XC60 is smooth and carlike, sharing a new dashboard with the S60 sedan and new V60 wagon. The floating center stack remains, though for some reason the space underneath seems less obvious--perhaps because it's no longer a novelty as it was five years ago. The updated dash is angled toward the driver, with a large Thin-Film Transistor (TFT) display of all virtual instruments in the cluster. They're bright, clear, and thoroughly modern.

The black dashboard itself, however, is quite plain--at a time when more and more crossover utilities are adding more leather, contrasting stitching, brightwork, and other luxury accoutrements to their interiors. It's businesslike and the antithesis of showy, as much like a very high-quality Subaru dash as the German luxury cars it's priced against.

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8

2015 Volvo XC60

Performance

The 2015 Volvo XC60 is stable, secure, and predictable; this year, new engine choices cut weight and boost performance.

The 2015 Volvo XC60 offers no fewer than four different engines; half are quite old, the other half are brand-new. Volvo's mid-size crossover utility handles well in all versions, though there's a clear difference in acceleration feel among the engines. And, crucially, the newest engines are offered only with front-wheel drive--it's a packaging problem, according to Volvo--so all-wheel-drive XC60s will stick with their legacy engines until an entirely new design comes along in two or three years.

Front-wheel-drive XC60 models can be ordered with two different variations on Volvo's new, light, and highly efficient Drive-E 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, an entirely new design created in-house and planned to spawn a family of three-, four-, and six-cylinder variants in due course. The base XC60 comes with a 240-horsepower Drive-E four that's direct-injected and turbocharged, while the more powerful optional Drive-E puts out 302 hp, courtesy of both a supercharger (to boost power at low revs) and a turbocharger (to do the same at higher engine speeds).

Both of those engines are mated to a new and compact eight-speed automatic transmission, and the fuel-economy results show it: 27 mpg combined for the base engine, 25 mpg combined for the 302-hp version (against 21 mpg combined for the best XC60 last year). While the transmission shifts frequently to keep the engine at its most efficient range, it's not particularly noticeable, and only on the fastest acceleration did we notice it snap off a remarkable four downshifts to run the engine up near its 6000-rpm limit. In steady-speed cruising, however, the engine stays around 1500 rpm, and we even noticed a bit of thrumming noise as the engine stayed at lower speeds even when more power was demanded--the modern-day equivalent of low-speed "lugging" in an older engine.

The new engine includes both Sport and Eco+ modes, which alter the throttle mapping for either more aggressive performance or maximal fuel economy. But, again, these are only available if you're willing to forgo all-wheel drive--which many buyers in Snow Belt areas of the country simply won't.

The all-wheel-drive models stick with older engines and transmissions: a 240-hp, 3.2-liter in-line six-cylinder engine in the XC60 T6 AWD is paired with a six-speed automatic. it's strong and quite smooth, but can take awhile to move the heavy (4,200-pound) all-wheel-drive crossover. If you want more performance and AWD, there's a turbocharged 3.0-liter six rated at 300 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque that can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 7 seconds or less. Finally, the top-of-the-line R-Design model ups the output of the 3.0 turbo to 325 hp (and adds a host of performance and appearance items as well).

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, muddy fields, and even rutted trails and rocky roads. Unlike the new V60 wagon, which remains largely an on-road vehicle with far less ground clearance, the XC60's running gear has been bolstered to be ready for duty when the pavement runs out.

As for handling, don't let the XC60's tall proportions scare you. It stays planted in tight corners and drives with the secure feel of a much lower vehicle in tight corners. It's not exactly sporty, but you can certainly call it stable and responsive. We found the steering to be better weighted than in previous Volvo models, with road feel apparent through the wheel.

In the 302-hp front-wheel-drive model, in fact, we could feel the electronic control systems fighting against torque steer as the XC60 surged forward. The new Drive-E engine is considerably lighter than the older engines formerly used in front-wheel-drive XC60 models, and there's now more of a different than ever between the FWD versions--which feel light, better balanced, and eager to go, especially in Sport mode--and the heavier AWD models, which proceed more deliberately.

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8

2015 Volvo XC60

Comfort & Quality

The 2015 Volvo XC60 doesn't have the biggest rear seat in the class, but cargo capacity is substantial.

You can think of the 2015 Volvo XC60 as a tall wagon, if you like, with optional all-wheel drive. And it's just as roomy and useful for families in that role as the old boxy Volvo wagons you still see running around. It seats five, and the cargo hold has enough room to satisfy even the most diligent parent hauling kids to sports practice and after-school activities, visiting large stores on the weekend, packing up for road trips, and all the other uses that wagons once were put to--now inherited by crossover utilities like this one.

Volvo redesigned its front seats, and they're simply some of the best we've sat in. During 300 miles of test driving over two days in three different models with these seats, we experienced not a single ache, twinge, or sag. We do wonder whether ample-sized Americans (and those who are larger yet) will find them quite so comfortable; side bolsters on both the lower cushion and the seatback hold occupants firmly in place, but wider people may not find them quite as accommodating as we did. Two-tone leather upholstery is available to underscore the luxury feel, but even the plainer versions will remain comfortable.

There's plenty of headroom front and rear, though the front footwells are narrower than in some competitors. The rear seat is a little tight on leg room, and lower-limed second-row riders may have to negotiate with those up front. You'll get three children belted into the back just fine, but three adults won't easily fit across--even on shorter trips.

With the rear seat up, there's more than 30 cubic feet of space for groceries and kids' gear. Fold them down, and the resulting 67 cubic feet should handle most of what you could throw at it from a big-box store--although the cargo floor isn't entirely flat, which can make large flat objects a challenge. A hidden storage compartment sits under the rear deck, though, always useful for anything from valuables to tools.

The ride quality of the XC60 is firmer than many other crossovers, especially on the 20-inch Titania Alloy Wheels with lower-profile tires that were fitted to our test car. But it's forgiving for rougher road surfaces, and interior noise meets the standards of the near-luxury crossover segment.

An updated dashboard keeps the Volvo 'floating' center stack--a thin panel for climate and audio controls, with a pass-through for storing (and hiding) smaller items within--and uses an entirely digital display on a Thin-Film Transistor (TFT) panel to replace mechanical gauges. It's crisp, clear, and easy to read, but the rest of the dashboard comes across as somewhere between sober and severe.

The black plastic has soft-touch surfaces, with a coarse grain that reminded us of animal hide, but we can't help but mourn the loss of the optional wood trim in Nordic Light Oak that made previous XC60 consoles resemble Scandinavian furniture. Very few people ordered it, Volvo said, so it's gone. The optional two-tone leather upholstery, however, goes some way toward restoring the premium feel.

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9

2015 Volvo XC60

Safety

Safety ratings remain excellent for the 2015 Volvo XC60; a single four-star NHTSA rating for rollover prevents a clean sweep of top scores.

The 2015 Volvo XC60 remains one of the best-rated cars on the market for safety. It earned a top five stars overall from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and five-star ratings for all categories except rollover, where it received four of five stars. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) deems the XC60 a Top Safety Pick+, with its best rating of "Good" in every test category.

The City Safety system in the XC60 helps to stop the vehicle automatically and reduce crash severity when the car is approaching other vehicles. Volvo pioneered the system, and it's been available on this car several years now--whereas other makers are just starting to launch similar systems. The optional pedestrian detection with full auto-brake feature (part of the Technology Package) identifies an object or a person in the road ahead, and will also bring the XC60 to a full stop--or, at minimum, reduce the severity of the impact if it is unavoidable.

These are far from the only active safety systems on offer in the Volvo XC60. The others include Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning, Distance Alert, Driver Alert Control, and a Blind Spot Information System (BLIS). They all work to reducing the chances of an accident and mitigating its severity if it cannot be avoided. They're entirely separate from now-standard systems that include side and side-curtain airbags, electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, and tire-pressure monitoring systems.

Finally, despite its upswept belt line, the XC60 has thin pillars and better rear three-quarter visibility than you might expect. A rearview camera can be added to the car, but drivers can also reverse the old-fashioned way--by looking out the window--and actually see something, which is to Volvo's credit.

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9

2015 Volvo XC60

Features

The 2015 Volvo XC60 starts at a reasonable price, with a long list of standard and optional features, but the top model adds $20K.

The 2015 Volvo XC60 is offered with no fewer than four different engines front- or all-wheel drive, and a host of options that can add close to $20,000 to the starting price of the base model, at just under $36,000. During the XC60's model life, Volvo has added a number of features--both standard and optional--to bring it close to the technology level of other luxury crossovers, at a price point that's somewhat lower. This year, the new engine and transmission combinations offer better performance and higher fuel-efficiency ratings.

Every XC60 model for 2015 comes standard with power front seats, a large sunroof, cruise control, satellite and HD radio, USB connectivity, and Bluetooth. Other technology features on every model include tunnel-detecting headlamps, wipers that sense rain and respond automatically, headlamp washers, and--on the non-technical front--a leather-wrapped steering wheel. And Volvo also provides a standard yearly oil change for XC60 models.

For front-wheel-drive models, both fitted with new 2.0-liter Drive-E four-cylinder engines and eight-speed automatic transmissions, the base XC60 T5 starts at $35,750 and the more powerful XC60 T6--which won't go on sale until June 2014--carries a base price of $40,050. Both engines are fitted with a fast-responding stop-start system as standard. The faster T6 model gets larger 18-inch alloy wheels, leather-upholstered seating with power adjustment, a power panoramic roof, silver roof rails and keyless drive.

All-wheel-drive models carry over largely unchanged from 2014, with the 3.2 AWD model using a 240-hp 3.2-liter six and the more powerful T6 AWD model a turbocharged 300-hp 3.0-liter six, both fitted with a six-speed automatic transmission and Volvo's capable Hadlex all-wheel drive system.

Finally, there's the T6 AWD R-Design model, with a 325-hp engine, 20-inch wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, bi-xenon headlights and unique trim pieces all over. While this starts around $46,000, a heavy hand on the options list can take you well toward $55,000--giving you one of the  best-equipped, most tech-loaded crossovers on the market.

The package levels are named Premier, Premier Plus, or Platinum, although equipment provided in each of these three trims levels differs depending on the model. The Premier level gets Keyless Drive and the Personal Car Communicator system, which can detect security issues with your car as you approach. Moving up to Premier Plus adds dual xenon headlamps (active in T6 models); beyond that, it gets more complicated. 

For the higher trim levels, major options include a suite of active safety systems bundled together in the Technology Package (adaptive cruise, collision warning, pedestrian detection, full auto brake, distance alert, lane departure warning, active high beam, and road sign info). A blind-spot alert system can be ordered separately. For Volvos likely to be used frequently in snowy regions, a Climate Package includes heated front and rear seats, heated washer nozzles, and an air quality system.

Individual options include heated seats, a rear-seat entertainment system, a Dynaudio sound system rated at 650 Watts, a rearview camera and navigation system with a new user interface that improves on earlier--and much-criticized--systems in the same car.

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8

2015 Volvo XC60

Fuel Economy

New Drive-E engines in the 2015 Volvo XC60 notably boost gas mileage, though they're front-wheel-drive only this year.

Since its launch in 2010, fuel economy has been the Achilles' heel of the Volvo XC60. Last year, every engine and drive variant was rated at either 20 or 21 mpg combined. For 2015, that has changed--at least for XC60 models without all-wheel-drive.

The two front-wheel-drive XC60s for 2015 use Volvo's new Drive-E 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine line, designed from the ground up for efficiency--and the ratings show it. They are rated at 27 mpg combined (24 mpg city, 31 mpg highway) for the 240-horsepower turbocharged Drive-E engine, or 25 mpg combined (22 mpg city, 30 mpg highway) for the 302-hp version that uses both a turbocharger and a supercharger. Both Drive-E engines are fitted with a stop-start feature as standard, and it responded very quickly to restart the engines during our test drives.

Those ratings, by comparison, are better than the numbers earned by non-AWD versions of the Acura RDX, the Infiniti QX50, and the Mercedes-Benz GLK.

If you want all-wheel drive, however--as a majority of crossover buyers in cold-weather climates do--you're stuck with older and less fuel-efficient engines. The R-Design  model with a 3.0-liter turbocharged six-cylinder engine remains rated at 20 mpg (17 mpg city, 24 mpg highway), and we presume the T6 AWD model with its 3.2-liter six will also remain at 20 mpg combined as it was last year, with ratings of 18 mpg city, 25 mpg highway.

The challenge for the XC60 is that its best fuel economy doesn't come with all-wheel drive, and if you do opt for AWD, at least a handful of three-row SUVs on the market can achieve similar ratings with far more utility. This year, it's a tough choice--but Volvo's taken a giant step in the right direction with its new engine.

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July 4, 2016
2015 Volvo XC60 FWD 4-Door T5 Drive-E Premier

Very good vehicle overall

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Very good vehicle overall (my first Volvo). Steering feel needs improvement. I'm looking forward to the new XC60 and should be pleased based on what I've seen coming from Volvo lately.
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October 11, 2015
2015 Volvo XC60 2015.5 AWD 4-Door T6 R-Design Platinum

The clear alternative to the rest of the pack!

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I live in the NYC area , I appreciate the extensive safety features. I find they really help you to curb bad driving habits and to be more aware of your surroundings. The interior is well made overall and... + More »
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September 7, 2015
For 2015 Volvo XC60

Good Value for Money

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The XC60 has the look and feel of SUVs costing much more. We compared to MB, Audi, and BMW before buying. Very user friendly interfaces. Styling is nice. Interior look and materials are first rate. Performance... + More »
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April 28, 2015
2015 Volvo XC60 FWD 4-Door T5 Drive-E Platinum

It's stylish, comfortable, easy to drive with fabulous safely features!

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I live in a tourist area and the safety features are very handy in heavy traffic areas. I like the distance function on the cruise control as well. The only disappointment is the sat nav, which is not very... + More »
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April 12, 2015
For 2015 Volvo XC60

Great comfort not expected gas mileage

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Great car to drive not expected gas mileage. Great body integrity, love styling
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