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North American motoring enthusiasts have been waiting for a new family car revolution and the time is finally here.
At least we hope so.
For decades now we’ve seen the North American car-buying public flock to sport utility vehicles and crossovers, largely due to the image those buyers feel a “rugged” sport-ute conveys. The reality – as we car-folk know – is that as good as many of those machines have become, SUVs are compromised by nature to achieve the very image people seem to want.
When you jack them up, put on gnarly tires, and add mass with body cladding, a car’s on-road performance suffers in the interest of an extra inch or so of ground clearance used for occasional gravel or snowy road excursions.
So, it’s time for sport-utes to fall from public favor and suffer the stigma of the woe-begotten (though more sensible) minivan. It’s time for a wagon renaissance, folks, and the Europeans are showing us how, led by the masters of the nerdy-cool wagon movement: Volvo.
Hot on the heels of its own V90 flagship wagon, Volvo has released the all-new 2019 Volvo V60 wagon, and this car more than any other seems poised to lead the Wagons ARE Cool charge.
But don’t call it a comeback, they’ve been here for years, producing the “long roof” version of their cars, dating back to the early ‘70s with the shooting brake P1800S, through the boxy 200-series wagons, and on to a host of wild and woolly turbocharged haulers since. You may not know it yet, but wagons like the V60 are actually as cool as bearded hipsters think they are.
It’s enough to celebrate the V60 based on its triumphant styling alone. Since the XC90 full-size SUVwas launched four short years ago, Volvo’s designers have systematically reinvented the entire model line up (the S60 sedan is due to debut in mere weeks), creating a design language that has resulted in the best-looking family since Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds started having kids.
Based on the completely scalable architecture shared by its larger Volvo family members, the V60 wears tidier dimensions than the V90, but somehow loses none of the visual presence that the bigger car possesses. Volvo’s designers took great pains to relocate key items within the framework to maintain the desired proportions that are properly low, wide and aggressive. Despite being in a category shared with the Mercedes C-Class and BMW 3 Series wagons, the Volvo looks like a more substantial machine.
Plaid and Simple
Inside, the V60 is equally well done with a contemporary Scandinavian design that is simple yet elegant. Finishes and materials are all top-notch, and the build quality in the seams and stitches appears spot-on. We drove top-level Inscription trim cars that wore supple Nappa leather on the dash and (massaging, heated and cooled) seats. As has always been the case with Volvo, the seats are very comfortable, making great companions for long road trips.
Volvo is also offering an interior option available called “City Weave” that’s a smart-looking fabric covering the seats that resembles a cross between plaid and tweed. Very cool indeed.
Rear seat comfort is great in the V60 with ample space for adults. That said, for those keeping score, Volvo’s XC60 crossover counterpart does offer slightly more rear seat room. The same is true for cargo space, which tallies 19 cubic feet (529 L) with the seats up, and 51 cubic feet (1,441 L) with the rear seats folded. What these numbers don’t convey is the squared-off functionality of the space enabling bulky items to be loaded easily. Furthermore, the V60’s low height makes roof-top loading of things like bikes, surfboards, skis, or cargo boxes significantly easier than reaching atop an SUV to do the same task.
The simplified Scandinavian design carries over to the ergonomics as well, where the V60’s central dash is dominated by a large, vertically oriented touchscreen for the Sensus Connect infotainment system. On the plus side, it’s a bright and crisp display within easy reach of the driver. On the negative side, there is a lot of information housed within that unit, and while operating the system is reminiscent of a digital tablet with swiping motions through four main directories, building familiarity takes some time to become proficient without drivers taking their eyes off the road.
Volvo’s engineers have upgraded the chipset for 50 percent faster processing than the systemsfound in other Volvos; a necessity based on an increasing number of apps applied to the system. Sensus is also compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Familiar Fancy Engine
The technology under the hood will be familiar to Volvo fans. North American buyers will have a choice of T5 or T6 drivetrains to start. Both are 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines mated to 8-speed automatic transmissions. The entry-level T5 is turbocharged and delivers 250 hp, driving the power through the front wheels.
The T6 utilizes the same four-cylinder engine, but cleverly adds both a turbocharger and a supercharger to produce 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque to all four wheels. The V60 is offered in diesel and two plug-in hybrid versions in Europe as well. The top-of-the-line T8 with its electric motor powering the rear wheels is expected to arrive on our shores later in 2019.
In the meantime, we were given the opportunity to drive a V60 T6 Inscription around Barcelona and up the twisty mountain roads to Montserrat. The little four-cylinder pulls like a V8 while offering superior fuel efficiency to a larger engine. With the V60 being both smaller and lighter than either the V90 or XC60 that also share this drivetrain, it’s no surprise the new wagon has lively acceleration.
The transmission is well-matched with smooth shifts under normal driving, but swift, clean shifts during more spirited drives are also available in Dynamic mode. No paddle shifters are offered, so drivers looking for full engagement will need to rock the shift lever back-and-forth in manual-mode operation.
Big Wheels, Sporty Ride
The Inscription trim is intended to be Volvo’s most luxurious, not its most sporting (that role is reserved for R-Design and Polestar machines, both of which should make an appearance in the future, too). Although the Spanish roads are in a much better state of repair than those in the frost belt of the upper States and Canada, our test V60 exhibited a decent ride that leans slightly more to the sporting side than outright luxury. Optional 20-inch wheels (shod with high-performance Michelin tires) are available, but the 19-inch wheels (with Continental tires) look great without the ride penalty the largest setup would offer.
The V60 puts its all-wheel-drive system to good use, managing grip even on loose surfaces. Overall, the Volvo handles well – certainly better than all but the most sporting (and costly) SUVs – but driving purists will hope that the V60 can spend some time with the Polestar performance division and make the car better settled when the roads really get curvy.
Steering feel is adjustable through the various drive modes with the default “Comfort” mode resulting in very light and rather numb steering feel. “Dynamic” mode adds some heft to the steering, but still lacks in road feedback.
Safety and Technology
For drivers who’d rather distance themselves from the actual act of driving, Volvo’s semi-autonomous Pilot Assist functionality is available here and has been tweaked to allow greater steering assist strength and is operational from stop-and-go up to 80 mph (130 km/h).
Given that this is a Volvo, the safety factor remains paramount in the development process as well. All the industry standards are present, of course, like active accident avoidance functions, but there are some new innovations here too, such as the addition of automated braking if the V60 anticipates a head-on collision. Volvo’s research has shown that even a 6 mph (10 km/h) speed reduction can dramatically reduce injury before a head-on crash, and when coupled with the car’s programming to also assist in steering to avoid the accident in the first place, the V60 is expected to be one of the safest cars on the road.
The Verdict: 2019 Volvo V60 Review
Factoring in superior aerodynamics, driving experience and brilliant styling, the case for the wagon’s triumphant return has successfully been made with Volvo’s new V60. The rest of this revolution is up to the buying public to show the SUV masses that it’s time for a change to something better.
Official pricing and fuel economy figures will be available closer to the V60’s availability in dealerships the fourth quarter of this year in Canada and early 2019 for the United States.
this review first appeared on AutoGuide