No Swedish fishiness here.
Surströmming, as those who’ve walked on the wild side in Sweden know, is fermented herring. Typically canned, the local delicacy produces indelicately pungent aromas when its packaging is opened. In one way, Volvo’s XC90 SUV, S90 sedan, and V90 wagon were like cans of surströmming: When yanked from captivity and thrust under the noses of the public, they made a strong impression. But in the case of the Volvos, the impressions were largely good.
The one-size-smaller XC60 is Volvo’s global top seller, and the Swedes are about to launch an all-new, much more stylish 2018 model into the compact luxury SUV/crossover segment, one of autodom’s hottest. Volvo needs it to have a similar splashy impact to the 2015 arrival of the XC90. After a brief ride in the 2018 XC60 at Volvo’s Hällered test track in Sweden, we found little reason to doubt that it has the potential to do exactly that.
No Red Herring Here
Dimensionally, the new XC60’s 112.8-inch wheelbase is 4.7 inches shorter than the XC90’s but 3.6 inches longer than that of the old model, directly benefiting rear-seat space. With no driving duties, we had plenty of time to evaluate the passenger spaces. The previously tight aft quarters now nicely accommodate two people; there is plenty of legroom, knee room, and headroom, plus the front seats are mounted high, leaving toe space galore. Externally, the XC60 just plain looks bigger than its predecessor, with a long hood, a more upright greenhouse, and clipped front and rear overhangs.
The 2018 XC60 is more handsome thanks to Volvo’s new design language, which incorporates the Thor’s Hammer sideways T-shaped LED headlight garnishes, gently undulating fender bulges, and intricate taillights. We think it is one of the most attractive entries in the segment, easily in the hunt with the Jaguar F-Pace. And the Volvo’s interior is as stylish as they come. Its overall design mimics that of the larger XC90, with the same vertically oriented touchscreen bisecting a horizontal scallop that includes the gauge cluster and all four front-seat HVAC vents. Up close, the dashboard detailing isn’t as elaborate as that in the XC90, although the materials are upscale and lend the cabin a generally luxurious air. The front seats we did experience—we sampled the available massaging, 10-way power-adjustable chairs—are very comfortable, while the rears feature a nice cushion height and optional heating elements, although they have no recline adjustment.
Under the attractive Scandinavian clothing is Volvo’s Scalable Product Architecture (SPA), the same platform that underpins the XC90, S90, and V90. The suspension layout is atypical for the class, with control arms up front and a multilink rear arrangement. Coil springs and conventional dampers are standard fare for the front axle, while the rear also sits on normal dampers but gets a composite transverse leaf spring similar to the XC90’s. Air springs and electronically adjustable dampers for all four corners are optional, and the XC60s we rode in had this equipment.
Entering the Swedish Thunderdome
The new and improved XC60 comes together pretty well in motion, given that the baseline—the old XC60—was eight years old by the time Volvo switched its production line to start churning out the new one. At the Hällered facility, Volvo stuck us in the passenger seat of an XC60 with an employee at the wheel and sent us out to play on a high-speed oval, an off-road section, a tight road course, and various road surfaces mimicking everything from L.A.’s 405 freeway to an English country road.
We should specify that we rode only in an XC60 T6 Inscription, which, decoded, means the top-of-the-line trim level with the second most powerful engine, a 316-hp turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-liter inline-four. A base Momentum also is offered, as well as a sporty-looking R-Design; all three trims can be combined with the entry-level 250-hp T5 powertrain (a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder), the aforementioned T6, or the T8 plug-in hybrid, which marries the T6’s engine with an electric motor and a lithium-ion battery for a combined 400 horsepower. At least initially, every XC60 will have all-wheel drive as standard; the only transmission choice is an Aisin eight-speed automatic.
During our ride, we looked for signs of improvement in the XC60’s ride quality, which previously could be most charitably described as “firm.” Despite riding on 20-inch wheels, the air-sprung 2018 XC60 was notably more comfortable, without a hint of floppiness or squish. The suspension tuning, even in the default Comfort mode (in addition to Dynamic, Off Road, and Eco settings), returns tighter body control and more measured wheel control over bumps and ruts than the XC90’s similar setup, despite having an overall firmer feel. We’re told that advancements learned in tuning the XC60 eventually will make their way back into the XC90.
At speed, the XC60’s cabin is quiet but not quite Lexus quiet. Our driver even took the XC60 up to an indicated 147 mph on Volvo’s high-speed oval, during which wind rush became the dominant noise generator. The air springs automatically deflate between 0.4 and 0.8 inch at speed for greater stability and improved aerodynamics; that can become the full-time level by selecting the Dynamic drive mode. Alternatively, the suspension can raise itself 1.5 inches in Off Road mode; doing so allowed our driver to tackle some boulder-strewn trails in Hällered and to descend the brutal set of “stairs” on which Volvo famously debuted the original XC90’s capabilities back in 2003. We figure this is about as much off-roading as any new-generation XC60 will ever undertake. What this means for Joe or Jane Customer is that the Volvo can handle pretty much anything they might never ask of it.
As in other recent Volvos, some growl from the Drive-E four-cylinder engine can penetrate the cabin under moderate acceleration. In general, however, noise sources are balanced, with the tires, wind, road, and engine contributing equally to what little cabin din there is. In case we haven’t said so enough, we weren’t able to drive the XC60 ourselves. Still, we can say that in a straight line the crossover feels fleeter of foot than its XC90 sibling, mostly because it has the same powertrains with the same outputs as that larger, heavier SUV. The 400-hp T8 plug-in, in particular, promises to be quite quick.
We’ll be able to speak more definitively to the efficacy of the XC60’s redesign when we actually drive one and can directly evaluate its handling, acceleration, and more. We also weren’t able to try any of the XC60’s new-to-Volvo active-safety features, including a steering-assist function that nudges the crossover back into its lane if oncoming traffic is detected or when a driver tries to change lanes into an occupied space. For now, we can say that we left Sweden with an appreciation for the XC60’s improved ride quality, gorgeous interior, and seat comfort—and this time without having opened a can of surströmming.