For the Volvo Enthusiast

Swedespeed Project XC60 Update: H&R Lowering Springs

Current Mileage: 16,820

Last Tank Average: 16.5 mpg

Cumulative Average: 17.5 mpg

What We’re Loving Right Now: The improved dynamics and more aggressive look delivered by our new H&R coil springs.

What We’re Hating Right Now: The metallic squeak we caused by tearing a rubber boot on the front strut (but we fixed that this week.)

Since we last checked in on our Volvo XC60, it has gone through a lot of changes. We ended the last update by switching back from our 20-inch Heico five-spoke wheels to the stock setup in hopes of testing the off-the-lot winter handling, as well as the handling and fuel economy differences between our setup. Our initial impressions honestly had us appreciating the stock 18-inchers, which were more forgiving, quieter, and quickened initial acceleration from a stop. But then the white stuff started falling.

We know — even with a heavy, all-wheel-drive crossover, we should have ordered up a set of snow tires; but we didn’t, and we suspect a lot of less enthusiastic XC60 owners will stick with the stock all-seasons, too. As far as crossover tires go, the Pirelli Scorpion Zeros that Volvo uses as standard lean toward the quiet, low-rolling resistance side of the spectrum. As such, with snow and ice blanketing the roads, they don’t have any aggressive treads to claw through to the pavement, leaving us pretty disappointed. After one snowfall, we switched back to our bigger wheels and Pirelli Scorpion STRs, which are slightly louder but performed much better in the snow, even with their wider section width. They’ll be staying on for the duration of our project, because like dress shoes, our Heico wheels might not be the most comfortable option, but they are far more presentable than the XC60’s stock tennis shoes.

The snow fortunately didn’t stop one guy – our UPS driver. He showed up a few weeks back with white and blue box from H&R Springs, and the next step in our project was ready to go on. H&R doesn’t actually list XC60 lowering springs on its US website, but a quick cross-reference of a part number offered in Germany was a match for a US-market S80 kit. Part number 29098-1 will get you a set of XC60-ready springs for $349.00. That was our theory at least, since no one with a US-spec XC60 had actually tried this. Our contact at H&R set us a set with the caveat that we knew we’d be guinea pigs for this application.

So on a slow Thursday a few weeks ago, we pulled the XC60 into the garage and propped it up on jack stands, ready to try the experiment. We started up front, where quite a bit of elbow (leg, actually) grease was needed to free the strut towers from their seats in the front knuckles. A lot of travel was needed to separate the parts, and the control arms didn’t want to drop quite far enough. I the end, we had to run a pry bar between the floor and the bottom of the strut, through the knuckle, to keep the spring from decompressing too much. Finally, this technique worked and the first strut popped out of place and fell out freely once the three bolts securing it at the top under the hood were undone. That itself was a small struggle, since they’re hidden under a large black plastic trim panel. With our technique perfected, the other side went more smoothly. Both struts fell back into place much easier with the shorter, stiffer springs installed.

At the rear, we encountered perhaps the easiest suspension swap job we’ve ever come across, especially after some recent experience with a stubborn Volvo C30. One single bolt connects each rear control arm to the hub, and with it undone, the arm drops and the spring falls right out. The reverse job is just as simple, with the hardest part being the art of lining up the bolt hole with one hand while starting the threads with the other. Both sides of the rear were easily done in under an hour, and we’re pretty slow.

We’ve driven the XC60 on its new springs for a few weeks now, and we’re happy to say that the experimental job was a success. Everything fit together right, and we haven’t noticed anything that seems off. Nothing is rubbing, and the suspension geometry doesn’t seem too off. The rear camber is a little dramatic now, but it takes a long and close look to really decide that.

Your bigger question might be “Why? Why would you lower a crossover?” We’re not going to deny that it’s a valid question, but people do it all the time. Volvo itself might not lower the XC60 R-design, but other European companies do produce sport-oriented crossovers with lowered ride heights. And people lower crossovers even more in the aftermarket. As such, we saw it as an important part of our XC60 project series, even if many owners of Volvo’s newest model probably won’t make a single change to their vehicles. To make ourselves feel better about the move, we’ve been referring to our project as the “V60 Plus.”

Our initial costs-versus-benefits observations following the swap have leaned heavily toward the latter. In terms of costs, we’ve had to pay closer attention to potholes because of the concern that the suspension will fully compress quicker, and we could bend an expensive wheel. And yes, the ride is a bit choppier over washboard-style rough pavement. But as a whole, overall ride quality isn’t terrible. We actually think the H&R springs have eliminated the XC60’s initially wallowy feel, leaving behind nothing but strong, confident handling. Turn-in feels slightly quicker with less body roll, and there’s a good reduction of squat and dive under acceleration and braking.

More notably, we observed that the stock XC60 is not great at dealing with crosswinds at highway speeds, and that the body would tend to wiggle back and forth more than we’d like. Our lower, meaner XC doesn’t have that problem, and while we don’t have the proper testing equipment, we think wind noise might be reduced as well. You can decide whether you think the car looks silly with the combination of tall doors but no ride height to match, but we think it looks great. Steve Mattin’s more coupe-like design helps the XC60 look more natural than many other crossovers with a lower ride height. We think it also makes it look like a full step smaller than an XC90, rather than just a half-step.

Yes, we’re quite happy with our recent changes to the XC60, and we hope its ownership of less airspace will help improve fuel economy just a bit, as we’re averaging about 17.5 mpg overall so far. So what’s next for the XC60? One editor hopes to test its utility with a moving project next month, and we’ve also started looking at options to inspire a little more motivation out of the T6 under the hood. It is springtime, after all, and we’ve been driving slow through crappy weather for long enough.

For more discussion on this story, click on the link to our discussion forums at the left.