Reviews

2011 Volvo XC60 Walk Around

The Volvo XC60 is about the same size as compact sport-utilities or crossovers from other European luxury brands, including the Audi Q5, BMW X3, and Mercedes-Benz GLK. Yet the XC60 has at least 17 percent more cargo volume than any of those competitors.

At an overall length of 182.2 inches, the XC60 is sized comparably to the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape, with similar cargo capacity. With 9.1 inches of ground clearance, and skid plates that actually protect some of its underpinnings, all-wheel-drive versions of the XC60 offer a bit more legitimate off-road capability than other vehicles in this class.

This compact has the rugged, adventurous, substantial look buyers might expect in an SUV, but it's also very clearly a Volvo, even without the badges. The XC60 bears a close resemblance to its elder and larger stalemate, the XC90. The XC60 continues the Volvo design trend away from sharp angles and square corners and toward softer and more rounded lines. It's less severe, more relaxed, than the Volvos of yore.

The front end wears a softened version of the trademark trapezoidal grille, with egg crate mesh behind an angular slash emblazoned with the Volvo logo, braced by swoopy headlight housings embedded in swept-back fenders. A secondary air intake fills the lower center portion of the bumper, with fog lights tucked into the corners. The outlines of the openings, all V-like in overall shape, flow into each other, giving the fascia an of-a-piece look. The resulting head-on view is pleasing, while substantial and a little tall.

Side perspective presents mild confusion between a sportier, almost coupe-like hood slope and roofline and a wedgy beltline that rises in a straight line from the front wheel well to the rear door handle, leaving a bulbous mass of a rear quarter panel. This unbalanced look leaves a relatively hunkered down front end attached to a high, bustle-like rear end. Granted, this allows that class-leading cargo capacity of almost 70 cubic feet, but it leaves the XC60 with a stubby, chopped-off posterior.

The rear view shows broad shoulders capped by a tapered glasshouse, with LED taillights climbing up the sides of the glass on the one-piece liftgate. The rear bumper cups the bottom edge of the liftgate, with widely spaced exhaust tips peeking out just inboard of each rear tire. The body mass also minimizes the visual effect of the XC60's height, giving the rear perspective a more planted presence than the front.

XC60s with the R-Design treatment have a slightly bolder look. It starts with 20-inch alloy wheels and color-matched lower body moldings. The bright metal mirrors, window trim and tailpipes have a matte, almost silky finish, and the grille is imbedded with a prominent R logo, so everyone knows what the operator is driving.

Interior

Inside, the Volvo XC60 is very Scandinavian, and elegantly understated. The interior is as true as the exterior to Volvo's contemporary styling idioms. The materials and finish are very good, and functionality rates almost as high, despite some Volvo-specific quirks. It's easy to master the XC60's multitude of controls, which are simpler and more efficient than those in its luxury brand competitors. The seating arrangement is flexible and the cargo compartment is expansive. The XC60 seats five.

The cuts and stitching on the XC60's seats and floor mats and the brushed aluminum trim on its door panels and center stack add a smart, cosmopolitan look. The optional Nordic Light Oak veneer on the center stack is real wood, and it emphasizes the Scandinavian-furniture feel. R-Design models are more metal-heavy in their finish, with more aluminum trim and inserts. Volvo steering wheels have some of the chubbiest rims in the business, and they're so thick that drivers with small hands might find them a bit too hefty.

The front seats offer all the expected comfort for the everyday driver and passengers on the everyday drive, be it around town or between towns. They're modestly bolstered but no less comfortable for being so. Interior dimensions in the XC60 rank in the middle of its competitive set. Nevertheless, in perceived roominess, this Volvo fares well, feeling as or more spacious than most competitors.

Visibility from the driver's seat is good all around. The rear headrests, large in the Volvo fashion for safety, fill a lot of the space in the rearview mirror, but the power-folding option allows the driver to lower those headrests with the touch of a switch when in the back seat isn't occupied.

The optional rearview video camera is especially appreciated for its assistance when parking. The video display bends a set of superimposed guidelines to reflect the car's path based on the position of the steering wheel.

2011 XC60s have slightly different dashboard configurations. Those built after the first few months of the model year have the full-size, navigation-style video screen standard, even if they're not equipped with the nav system. All vehicle, climate or audio information is displayed on this screen, eliminating a second, small screen placed under a visor in the center of the top of the dash. The bigger screen is canted slightly toward the driver, and very easy to read.

Controls are concentrated in one of two spots: on easy-to-use stalks flanking the steering wheel, or in the flat-panel center stack rising from the console. Here you'll find some of those Volvo traits that are just a bit different than the convention in most cars.

The climate controls for airflow, for example, are fashioned with a large icon that looks like a seated person. Point to the feet and all air flows through the floor vents; choose the head, and air flows toward the windshield. The audio controls are different, too, with a twisting knob that cycles through menus and a keypad that looks like telephone buttons. They all work quite well, once a user gains some familiarity, and nearly all are large and easy to locate, even at night.

The premium audio system is superb, with crisp highs and booming lows. Auxiliary jacks and USB ports provide access to personal MP3 players and the like to keep passengers entertained.

The optional panorama sunroof is essentially the roof, in two pieces of glass, with a front section that retracts up and over the back section. This produces a neat skylight effect, which also benefits rear-seat occupants. The sunroof does, however, exact a cost, chopping a full inch out of front-seat headroom and nigh onto an inch and a half over the rear seat.

Bins molded into front and rear door panels and pouches sewn into the back sides of the front seat backs provide more than adequate occasional storage. The lighted glove box is deep and tall enough to hold quite a bit more than the leather-bound owner's manual portfolio.

The rear seat is more bench than bucket, but properly so, as it's intended to accommodate three average adults, which it does, if somewhat snugly. The XC60 makes an excellent vehicle for families with two children growing into their teens. And for families with toddler, there are optional built-in child safety seats with optimized belts.

The XC60 is a benchmark for cargo volume. There's nearly 31 cubic feet of storage with the rear seat in place, and 67.4 cubic feet with the rear seat folded. That's seven cubic feet more than the Acura RDX, 10 more than the Audi Q5, 11 more than the BMW X3 and 13 more than the Mercedes GLK. Moreover, the XC60 is configured to maximize flexibility.

The rear seatbacks fold easily to a truly flat surface. The middle section, representing the 20 in 40/20/40, works like the pass-through in vehicles with a trunk, allowing longer items like fishing poles to be carried inside the XC60 with full space for two rear passengers. The front passenger seatback also folds forward and flat, creating room for much wider and longer items than fit in the typical small SUV/crossover.

Carpet covers all surfaces in the rear cargo area, and the removable floor panel extends rearward enough to be secured beneath an overlap from the closed liftgate. The cargo cover works great, too, but owners will have to spring for the Convenience Package to get it. The package also adds a power liftgate, grocery bag holder and cargo-area power point, which come standard on some competitors.

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