2015.5 Volvo V60/Cross Country

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Have you noticed?

Acura has quietly dropped the TSX sportwagon.'15 V60 lead

The Caddy CTS wagon is gone, too.

Audi no longer sells wagon versions of the A4 or the A6, either.

The Benz C-Class wagon disappeared years ago.

Look around – the room’s pretty empty.

Well, except for this Volvo V60.

It’s not only a wagon, it’s the only luxury-brand sportwagon you can currently buy for less than $40k.

It also offers exceptionally good fuel-efficiency with its new (and standard) turbocharged “Drive-E” four cylinder engine.

Unfortunately, its optional engines are semi-sluggish – as well as fairly thirsty.

And that jem of a standard engine isn’t available with AWD.

Still, it’s nice that there’s now an alternative to BMW’s 3 Series wagon – the only other wagon that’s still available in this class.

WHAT IT IS'15 V60 all three

The V60 is a mid-sized luxury-sport wagon – a species of ride that’s becoming very rare (almost nonexistent) in the U.S.

American buyers have embraced crossover wagons – which are basically jacked-up wagons with taller rooflines.

Crossovers have their plusses – including an “up high” driving position (so you can see around all the other crossovers out there) and – generally – more cargo room because of the taller roofline.

But they also have their minuses – including (usually) beefy curb weight and clumsier handling (see that point about being high up off the ground).

If you want something that looks – and behaves – more like a car (but with that extra bit of room in back) then you might want to consider a wagon.'15 V60 dashboard

The V60 starts at $35,750 for the base (and front-wheel-drive) T5 trim with the new “Drive-E” 2.0 liter turbo four and eight-speed automatic. You can upgrade the T5 to a larger 2.5 liter engine – paired with a six-speed automatic and sold with either front-wheel-drive or (optionally) all-wheel-drive.

This version of the T5 starts at $37,250.

A high-performance T6 trim is also available. This model comes with a 325 hp turbocharged in-line six, the six-speed automatic and standard AWD.

Base price is $45,150 – $45,400 for the top-of-the-line T6 R-Design.

The V60’s chief and only directly comparable rival is the BMW 3 Series wagon, but the BMW is different enough in terms of function (it’s based on a RWD layout and is available with a diesel engine) as well as price (it starts at $41,950 for the gas-engined 328i xDrive and $43,450 for the diesel-powered 328d xDrive) that the Volvo gives you a meaningful alternative.'15 V60 cross country pic

There is also a Cross Country version of the V60 – which is basically the same wagon as the V60, just a few inches higher off the pavement – and higher-priced.

Base price is $41,100; $44,650 for the Platinum trim.

WHAT’S NEW

The V60 is redesigned/all-new.

It’s “Volvo” in that it’s still a wagon – Volvo’s specialty (and history). But kind of un-Volvo in that it actually has some sex appeal, as well as the expected (of Volvos) sensible appeal: Good value, excellent efficiency (well, Drive-E versions) and practicality (wagon layout/available AWD for snow days).

A couple of caveats: The Cross Country does not (as of this writing in early June) offer the new, not-so-thirsty 2.0 Drive-E engine – and comes only with AWD.

WHAT’S GOOD'15 V60 seats

T5 2.0 Drive-E is a sweet deal compared with either the 328i or 328d.

Excellent fuel economy with new 2.0 Drive-E engine.

T6 is the strongest wagon in this bracket.

Cross Country version is unstoppable in snow.

Fantastic seats. Maybe the best seats out there, period.

Front passenger seat folds flat – adding usable cargo-carrying capacity.

Very clever “pop up” cargo area organizer; automatic second-row folding headrests.   

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD

Less backseat and cargo room than 3 Series wagon.

Gas-engined 3 Series w/AWD beats FWD T5 to 60 by more than 1 full second; almost matches its fuel economy, too.

Cross Country is slowish – and thirsty.

New Drive-E engine requires premium fuel.

UNDER THE HOOD

Volvo has chosen the V60 series to debut a new turbocharged four-cylinder turbo engine – a big change from the in-line fives and sixes the Swedish automaker has heretofore favored.

This type (this size) engine is becoming very popular. Have you noticed? Apparently, four cylinders and 2.0 liters is some kind of sweet spot – a nexus of performance and economy – the two being equally important these days.'15 V60 Drive-E engine 

Hence the “Drive-E” name.

Anyhow, both the V60 and its main rival the BMW 3 wagon come standard with 2.0 liter fours. They’re both turbocharged – and they both produce 240 hp and almost identical torque (258 ft.-lbs. for the Volvo vs. 255 ft.-lb. for the BMW).

Both are also paired with standard eight-speed automatic transmissions.

But there are some important points of departure.

The Volvo is a bit more fuel-efficient (25 city, 37 highway – vs. 22 city, 33 highway for the BMW) but it’s less quick (0-60 takes about 6.3 seconds vs. a speedy 5.6 for the BMW) and – perhaps the Big One – Volvo only offers the 2.0 engine in base trim T5s and not with all-wheel-drive (hence, not in the Cross Country) while the BMW 3 wagon comes standard with all-wheel-drive.     

This is … odd.

And – probably – not good.

For Volvo.

AWD and wagons go together like cake and frosting. It’s expected. Especially these days and particularly by people who are inclined to shop Volvo.'15 V60 2.5 engine

It’s weird that Volvo chose not to offer AWD with its most fuel efficient engine. And it’s not good (for Volvo) that the V60’s main rival not only does offer it, but performs better when equipped with it.

The FWD V60 T5 does give you about 29 MPG on average – which is excellent – but the AWD BMW’s average is only slightly less.

If the Volvo were at least quicker… but, alas (for Volvo) it’s not.

And when equipped with its optional 2.5 liter engine, the Volvo’s slower. And, thirstier.

Despite the punch of 250 hp (and 266 ft.-lbs. of torque) the so-equipped V60 takes about 6.8 seconds to get to 60.

Gas mileage trends the wrong way, too: Down to 20 city, 29 highway – well below the numbers posted by the much quicker 328i wagon.   '15 XC cross country 2

But, AWD is at least available with the 2.5 liter engine (and standard equipment in the Cross Country). Unfortunately, AWD-equipped V60s also come equipped with the less-efficient six-speed automatic (which may partially explain the so-so EPA mileage stats).

King of the hill, power-wise, is the T6.

It comes standard with a 325 hp turbocharged six that also belts out a healthy-sounding 354 ft.-lbs. of torque.On paper, this version of the V60 ought to clean the 328i’s clock. It has 100-plus more hp and 100-plus ft.-lbs. more torque.  But – sad surprise – the T6’s zero to 60 time (5.5 seconds, according to Volvo itself) is no great leap forward vs. the 328i.

One wonders why.'15 V60 T6 engine pic

It’s not because the V60 is over-heavy. In fact, its curb weight is lower than the BMW wagon’s (3,527 lbs. for the FWD T5 2.0 vs. 3,800 for the 328i xDrive). If anything, the Volvo should be quicker – and more fuel-efficient.

Unless, of course, BMW is fudging the hp numbers (claiming less than the turbo four actually makes) while Volvo’s fudging in the other direction.

BMW has one last torpedo to fire into the Volvo’s flanks. You can order the 3 wagon with a turbo-diesel 2.0 engine capable of an untouchable (by the V60) 43 MPG on the highway and 31 in the city (that’s 6 MPG better than the gas-engined T5’s city stats) and AWD – the icing and the cake together.

Volvo does have a diesel engine – and it’s available in the V60. Just not in the U.S. market.

Uh, there’s one more thing. The new Drive-E 2.0 four-cylinder engine that’s standard in T5 V60s is an engine that requires premium unleaded to deliver its best-case performance and economy. Meanwhile, the optional 2.5 liter engine (standard in the Cross Country) is ok swilling regular.

Go figure.

ON THE ROAD'15 V60 road 1

Let’s start with what’s standout: The V60’s seats. They are works of art. Plush yet firm; supportive and relaxing. This is no easy (or common) thing. Usually, it’s one – or the other. Too soft.

Or overly firm.

These are perfect. Hypnotically compelling, almost. You’ll be inclined to buy the car just by sitting in the car.

Forget the test drive.

Which, by the way, will probably not dissuade you. None of the versions of the V60 are road toads per se and the 2.0 T5 is admirably peppy while also managing to be very fuel-sippy, too. Yes, a 3 Series will outrun the Volvo in a drag race. How many Volvo prospects drag race their wagons?  '15 V60 gear shifter

It’s just a drag that Volvo doesn’t offer AWD with the new Drive-E engine, effectively forcing you to move up to the only marginally stronger 2.5 liter engine (and the more expensive Cross Country) if you want AWD – at the price of less peppy performance and a greater thirst for fuel.

The carryover six-speed automatic that’s standard with the 2.5 and 3.0 liter engines isn’t a bad box by any means. It’s programmed well and shifts smartly in tune with either engine. It  just lacks the economy advantage of the new eight-speed’s additional gears, which save gas by reducing the amount of work the engine has to do to get the car up to speed.

Both boxes feature regular (“D”) and Sport (“S”) modes, with driver-selectable gear control. There are also a three driver-selectable modes for the engine – which is usual – but the modes are somewhat unusual.'15 V60 speedo 1

There are the usual Eco (for best-case economy) and Performance (for snappier throttle response) and a third setting called – what to make of this? –  Elegance. In this mode, the changeable LCD gauge cluster alters to a kind of low-key pewter backlit form vs. the racy-looking red backlit (with prominent centrally positioned tachometer) you’ll see in Performance mode and the hybrid-esque gauges that get called up when you select Eco.

The secondary LCD display for the stereo and GPS and vehicle systems is located at the top of the center stack and recessed (which reduces glare) and canted toward the driver (which makes viewing it easier). It is attractive, if a bit on the small side. The GPS is “look ahead” 3D map style – your view is bird’s eye, as if flying over terrain at about 200 feet. I think it’s superior to the more common “look-down” types of GPS that are the digital equivalent of staring at a paper map in your lap.'15 V60 visibility

Another area where the V60 stands out is visibility. Unlike what’s often the case in a crossover, in the V60, it’s excellent. In part because the roof’s supporting pillars are not overly huge but also because the rear glass is not overly slanted – and not too small. Also the V60’s second row headrests can be dropped (folded down) and out of the way at the touch of a button.

If you have’t been in a new car recently, you might not know just how much of your rearward view is occluded by the tall headrests mandated for safety (anti-whiplash). In many cars, the second row headrests are fixed in place – or can only be moved up and down (within a very limited range). Having anti-whiplash head restraints is fine. But if no one’s sitting in the back seats, all they do is obscure your view. Which is not safe. Being able to fold them down and out of your line-of-sight when not in use is extremely helpful – as well as safer.

Kudos, Volvo.'15 V60 controls

The V60’s steering (electrically boosted, as is becoming common – to reduce drag on the engine and save a little gas) is very light and while some reviewers don’t like that – preferring the more weighted feel of the BMW’s steering – it does make the Volvo easier to steer.

And to maneuver – because its turning circle is about a foot less than the BMW wagon’s (37.1 feet vs. 38.4 for the BMW).

The gas-engined V60 also has a wider radius of action (so to speak) than the BMW diesel does – 658.6 miles on the highway (with the turbo 2.0 engine) vs. 645 for the 328d. If this seems inexplicable given the diesel BMW’s 43 MPG highway rating vs. the Volvo’s lesser 37 MPG, it will become explicable when you check out the size of each car’s fuel tank.

The V60 can carry almost 18 gallons fully loaded while the BMW has a smaller 15 gallon tank.

AT THE CURB'15 V60 curb 1

Here’s where the V60 comes alive.

“Striking” may be going too far, but it is a good-looking car. A Volvo – and a wagon – to be sure. But as sexy and youthful and slick-looking as a wagon can probably be.

At least, without becoming some other thing – kind of like Bruce Jenner.

Volvo is now owned by a Chinese conglomerate (Geely) but the Swedish ethos of taut minimalism defines the V60. There are some traditional Volvo cues (including the Austin Powers-esque Oh, Behave! ’70s swinger male symbol) the Volvo “shoulders” and clamshell style hood. But a Rainbow Coalition HillaryMobile, this isn’t.

Let Subaru pick up that slack.

Inside, you’ll find real brushed nickel metal accents (scuff plates, door panel rum, gearshifter) and just a little bit of wood to offset that. The rearview mirror is a solid piece of… mirror. With no plastic border/surround. Slick. The dashpad is a bit on the extruded plasticky side – the one less-than-high-end-looking element.'15 V60 interior 1

Like the LCD display above it, the center stack controls below it are canted slightly toward the driver. There are four main rotary knobs with a phone-style keypad entry system in between them. It is less inscrutable – and much easier to use on the fly – than some of the mouse-click/swipe-tap system becoming very common not just in higher-end cars but cars generally. I also like the refreshingly retro (in terms of function, not appearance) gearshift lever. Which is not a lifeless toggle. To engage Drive, you grab it, pull it back and into the appropriate detent. Which you can feel – so it’s not necessary to look. Leave it in Drive – or move the level toward you laterally, to the left, and engage Sport (S) mode. Forward – and back – to engage whatever gear you want.

This is the way it ought to be. Cars are mechanical things – not iPads. '15 V60 accents

Because the V60 is lower to the ground than most crossovers, the tailgate does not need electric-assist. It is easy to open and close it manually. The Cross Country’s a little higher up, but the same goodness applies.

Volvo offers a clever pop-up cargo organizer that keeps the clutter in check (and your stuff from rolling around). There’s slightly less cargo space (43.8 cubic feet with the second row folded) than in the 3 Series wagon (53 cubic feet) but the trick front passenger seat – which folds down – gives the Volvo longitudinal capacity the BMW lacks. Eight-foot 2x4s will fit with the liftgate closed.

The chief objective weakness of the Volvo is its cramped back seats. Just 33.5 inches of legroom back there – which pretty much means that all but short folk and kids not yet in their teens will be sitting with their legs turned sideways – like doing oblique crunches at the gym. The BMW’s second row is significantly more accommodating (35 inches of legroom as well as about an inch more headroom (38.3 inches vs. 37.4 for the Volvo).

Sexy looks often come at some cost – as here.'15 V60 back seats

But, the Volvo does offer some interesting equipment the BMW doesn’t – including an electrically heated front windshield (part of the optional Cold Weather Package, which also gets you heated seats , steering wheel and windshield washer nozzles) built-in child safety seats and a Driver Alertness Monitor that squawks if you start to geeze out behind the wheel.

On the other hand, there’s no upgrade to a larger LCD screen (BMW offers an available 8.8 inch display) and the sporty-performance stuff is limited to more aggressive 18 and 19 inch wheel/tire packages (the BMW can be fitted out with lots of “M” high-performance and cosmetic upgrades).  While you can buy some Polestar upgrades (Volvo’s kinda-sorta-we’re-trying answer to BMW M and Mercedes AMG) for the S60 sedan, they’re not on the roster for the V60/Cross Country wagons.   

THE REST'15 V60 last

This is still a Volvo wagon, but it’s a very different kind of wagon. Stylish and sporty vs. boxy and utilitarian.

But will the 740 set (Volvos traditional demographic) buy in?

More to the point, will Volvo be able to lure away the BMW set?

That is the $64,000 question.

More performance – and economy – would help. The new Drive-E engine is nice, but why sell it only with FWD? And why not sell the 2.4 liter turbo-diesel Volvo offers in European-spec V60s here  

THE BOTTOM LINE

It’s nice that BMW’s got some competition – and that people still interested in a wagon finally have more than just one choice.

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5 COMMENTS

  1. Wasn’t it Chrysler that debuted the station wagon with the rear end sloping down. I thought that not only did it not look good but defeated the whole point. Then somebody else did the same thing. Oh, we’re all going to jump on that bandwagon now like everybody did after Audi made the vertical slab fender edges and every company followed suit. So we had a decade of “mine’s more slabby and vertical than yours” styling and now we have the pared down rear end station wagon. What’s next? Oh, yeah, that funky styling of running the lower body line up high to the back and the pointy rear. There was a Buick Encore in the drive this morning and besides being short, had the same look.

    Ford makes their new Super Duty look like a block on steroids 8 or so years ago. It must be surveys the automakers have with “prospective buyers” cause then GM and Dodge had to bulk up and look like a bus coming at you. I see more differences in styling in big rigs these days.

    I guess it was always this way to some extent but it didn’t seem so much like it when I was younger.

    • That was the Dodge Magnum. Which I thought looked pretty aggressive (for a wagon). You could get it with the SRT8 package, and it then became very fast indeed.

      The sloping rear roofline is an aerodynamic thing to stretch out the MPGs. The crossovers are doing it too – the 1st generation CR-V I used to have was square at the back, which meant I could get a large television inside. The latest generation slopes at the back — good for mileage, but bad for actually carrying anything back there.

  2. I could be So Tempted by this car with theT6 option. It’s beautiful.

    But I probably would not pull the trigger. I’m afraid this Volvo wagon has sacrificed too much cargo utility for the sake of style.

    That sloping roofline tapers down so fast. More like a hatchback than a wagon. The V60 will be unable to accommodate many things, like big screen TVs, or full sized dog crates, or medium sized Ikea purchases, that the classic Volvo wagon can swallow easily.

    A higher roof and more vertical tailgate would not have significantly diminished the “car like” handling dynamics. It would have made this wagon less stylish. But not necessarily homely. And with wagons…..especially Volvo wagons, styling should be a secondary priority.

    • Hi Mike,

      My main beef with it is that there’s no manual transmission option and the base engine – ostensibly an economy engine (that also performs well) requires premium fuel.

      If I’d been The Decider, I’d have offered an AWD trim with a diesel engine and manual.

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