For the Volvo Enthusiast

Swedespeed Project XC60 T6 Says Goodbye

The Volvo XC60 T6 that’s been with us for the past year hasn’t been the sportiest, fastest, roomiest, most comfortable, or most luxurious vehicle we’ve ever spent an extended time testing, but the balance of all those qualities for the price that comes with it is why we’ll miss our little Swedish crossover so much.

Take this as an example of two goods making a great. Since the XC60 first introduced this segment to turbocharged six-cylinders, two others have joined the party: the Cadillac SRX 2.8T and the brand new BMW X3 xDrive35i. However, the turbo Caddy starts at over $50,000, while the Bimmer kicks things off just south of $42,000. Volvo manages to offer buyers turbocharged performance for about $38,000, and our test car loaded up with metallic paint, a nice stereo, navigation, a climate package, a panoramic roof, and an air quality package has a sticker of $42,250. That’s a ton of content for the price. We’ll also add that for the 2011 model year, the XC60 gets a horsepower boost from our car’s 281 hp up to an even 300.

Even without the new added punch, the 3.0-liter inline six has been one of the XC’s brightest points through the past year. Its 295 lb-ft of torque comes in at 1500 rpm, something noticeable and very appreciated by us. That gives this 4000-plus pound crossover a decent hop off the line and even better passing response. Other than a minor thermostat fault last winter, it has also been a very reliable engine over 25,000 miles. We do wish it were a bit more efficient seeing as how much of the year was spent living below 20 mpg, but at least it makes up for that with great noises and performance.

The same can’t be said of the transmission. We’ve said it before about this car and went on to become a broken record when we test drove the new 2011 S60 sedan, but Volvo’s current six-speed automatic is behind the curve compared to the rest of the industry in terms of quick, smooth shifts. Executing quick upshifts can be done by using the manual gate and smacking the knob in advance, but downshifts are a bit tougher. We’ve also noticed a few times through the year that it’s possible to catch the trans in the middle of a downshift while getting back on the accelerator, something that results in a pretty serious clunk and some concern for longevity. Volvo has a good dual-clutch transmission in Europe now — we hope it can be upgraded for higher-torque engines and spread across the lineup soon.

Outside of the bipolar powertrain, one thing that struck us through the year was the difference between the XC60’s size from outside the car and from the driver’s seat. Out on the road, the XC feels like a larger vehicle. Its controls are heavy, its rear window seems to be a mile back in the rearview, and it drives with a solid, planted feel. That results in a car that drives one size up, which is why it’s odd to then get out and notice how it looks compared to other cars around. It’s only about an inch longer and taller than Toyota’s little RAV4, though it’s considerably wider and rides on four more inches of wheelbase. Those two dimensions, it seems, make all the difference.

Some shoppers might enjoy the upmarket feel that results from the XC’s driving manners, but not everyone. A few staff members, along with one spouse, felt like a small crossover like this would benefit from more spritely, carlike handling, and that bank-vault feel should be left for bigger, more family-oriented vehicles like the XC90. We will say that no one was complaining on long highway jaunts.

Some of the credit for this Volvo’s comfort — okay, a lot of it — has to go to the seats. Continuing with Swedish tradition, they’re some of the finest in the business. Unlike some past Volvo seats, they have impressive side support along with that comfort. And everyone liked the black leather with brown contrast stitching. Last winter, back seat passengers also loved that Volvo was kind enough to install four heated seats.

The car’s Dynaudio sound system has been great as well, though it seemed easy to overwork the speakers with heavy bass. A few passengers have commented on the confusing separation of the audio display screen and the larger navigation screen below it, but over the months we became more and more appreciative that a passenger could browse an iPod’s tracklist while we were using the map for navigation. We grew accustomed to the the car’s oft-criticized joystick navigation controls on the back of the steering wheel as well, though we wish Volvo’s lawyers would let us key in a destination on the move. It’s no more distracting than changing the radio, especially if a passenger is doing it. One complaint: through the last month of testing, the navigation screen would sometimes freeze up and go black in the transition from the backup camera back to the welcome screen. The only fix was to restart the car completely.

Ignoring a few little bugs that seem to plague every car in this age of electronics, our year with the XC60 has been trouble-free with no service visits outside of the regularly scheduled maintenance. We’d be doing a disservice if we didn’t add that we didn’t pay a cent out of pocket, with every oil change and service visit covered by Volvo’s excellent Safe and Secure coverage, which includes not one, or even two, but five years of free maintenance.

We didn’t fiddle with the XC60 nearly as much as our last Volvo project, a 2009 C30 T5, but we did at least do a little basic personalization with bigger wheels and lowered suspension. The former, 20-inch five-spokes from Heico Sportiv, added a ton of presence but slowed the steering and throttle reactions and probably didn’t help fuel economy with the extra unsprung weight, either. Oddly, the Pirelli Scorpion tires we added to those wheels provided better grip in snow and rain than the thinner stock 18-inch tires. Both were Pirellis, but the stock set was more car-oriented (and quieter) while the 20s had more serious tread.

As for the suspension, our addition of H&R coil springs didn’t do much for comfort, but they did make our XC60 stand out among the pack. It also made its roofline just about even with a VW GTI, which was pretty surprising. Rubbing was never an issue through six months or so with the springs, which in the beginning were actually a bit of a gamble. H&R doesn’t sell XC60 suspension in the US, so we tried a set meant for an S80 sedan. Obviously, it worked out. Stock, the XC60 is a bit stiff on rough city roads, but smoothes out beautifully on highways. With the suspension, the changes in the city weren’t huge but the car became more frenetic on the highway. Both the look and the ride wouldn’t be for everyone — and especially every crossover buyer — but we enjoyed the trade-off of comfort for an XC60 like no other we’ve seen.

When we first took delivery of the XC60 last fall, we could make it days or even weeks without seeing another, ignoring the fact that we drove past Volvo of Oak Park on each day’s commute. At this point, it’s not often we go a single day without spotting the distinctive light tubes of an XC’s taillights. It seems a number of people have made the same realization we have. There might be sportier small crossovers out there, and there may be a few that are bigger on style or on outright luxury, but for a combination of assets topped off by an impossible-to-beat price, the Volvo XC60 is hard to ignore.

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