Station wagon fans such as myself appreciate the combination of utility and drivability offered by this type of vehicle. Volvo certainly affirms the latter with the 2015 V60 T6 R-design. For utility, this wagon not only boasts a large cargo area, but also modern connected amenities and advanced safety features.
With the new V60, Volvo continues trying to convince US buyers, who tend to prefer SUVs, that wagons are the superior alternative. The V60 comes in either front- or all-wheel-drive, with engines ranging from five to six cylinders. The base price for the model comes in at $35,750, but Volvo loaned me a near top-of-the-line T6 R-design, coming in at $45,150. Australian buyers can get the same model for AU$84,367, while UK buyers are looking at the equivalent Polestar T6 version for £49,775. As a less sporty, but equal in utility, option, UK buyers can opt for the 150 horsepower T3 version at £22,005.
These prices may seem a bit high, but Volvo is marketing its cars in the premium segment. That became apparent to me from the V60's cabin, which offered a quality feel and a good degree of comfort. Whether slogging through heavy traffic, sailing down the freeway, or trawling for a parking space at the mall, the V60's cabin amenities took off some of the edge. It was a car that, no matter the trip, I could look forward to getting behind the wheel.
The V60 R-design model I drove carried light blue Polestar badges, but that didn't mean it was the same as theI drove recently in Southern California. That blue badge only means that Volvo's favorite tuning shop, Polestar, reprogrammed the engine for more power. That programming comes standard with the V60 T6 R-design model.
Under the hood sat a transverse-mount, in-line six-cylinder engine; only 3 liters but turbocharged to make 325 horsepower and 354 pound-feet of torque. Mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, Volvo claims a zero-to-60-mph time of 5.5 seconds, respectable but not earth-shattering. Unlike Volvo's new Drive-E powertrains, the T6 R-design isn't built as much for efficiency. It turned in average fuel economy for me of 23.6 mpg, out of an EPA-rated 19 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. By contrast, Volvo's V60 T5 Drive-E comes in at 240 horsepower and should bring in around 30 mpg average.
The Drive-E model is the wiser choice, but drivers who appreciate how their cars handle will like the V60 T6 R-design's suspension tuning and the night-and-day difference between the transmission's normal and sport modes.
With the automatic transmission, the V60 proved an easy suburban driver. The engine had more than enough power, the turning radius was good, and I liked the solid steering feel. However, I found the transmission was loathe to kick down when I needed to move fast. This six-speed seemed programmed to encourage efficiency. If I wanted to get anywhere fast, I could tap the steering wheel-mounted paddles to force a downshift. Under moderate acceleration, the upshifts were very noticeable, taking a toll on that premium car feel.
Pulling the shifter over to sport model made for a huge change in behavior. Merely putting the V60 into sport mode made the whole car surge forward. Suddenly I had a throttle that was ready to give me all the power I needed. The transmission was willing to kick down aggressively when I hit the brakes and maintain engine speed in its power band. Tapping the shift paddles held the transmission in manual mode, rather than letting it slip back into automatic after a few moments. I found myself snapping the shifter into sport mode at the merest hint of a turn or hill.
The V60 R-design comes with a sport-tuned suspension, more firm than the Touring suspension of lesser trim models. However, it still absorbed bumps fairly well while holding the car reasonably flat in hard cornering. All-wheel-drive comes standard at this trim, offering a little more confidence in the wet. To aid cornering, Volvo includes a torque vectoring system, but rather than push more torque toward the outside wheels in a turn, this system relies on traction control to slightly brake the inside wheels in the turns.
Sport, Eco or Elegance
The instrument cluster, taken over by an LCD, showed me a large tachometer with a digital speed readout, bookended by vertical bar gauges showing temperature and the mysterious power rating. In the settings, Volvo calls this display its Sport theme. I also had Eco and Elegance to choose from, each showing different information and a theme-appropriate color. I preferred the Sport theme because it had the most noticeable speed indication. Volvo doesn't make much use of the real estate on this LCD, except to show turn-by-turn directions when route guidance is active.
All infotainment functions were available on what Volvo calls its Sensus Connect system, using a 7-inch LCD at the top of the center stack and the most clever use of very minimal controls I've seen. Volvo keeps the standard volume dial on the left, tuning dial on the right paradigm, but adds an amazing amount of functionality to that tuning dial. Its integrated OK and Exit buttons let me navigate menus and select options throughout the Sensus Connect system.
Entering alphanumeric characters is tedious using the system's onscreen rotary display, but Volvo retains a keypad on the center stack, which takes away some of the pain. The voice-command system proved accurate and more convenient, once I got the hang of it.
The Connect label is a recent addition to Volvo's Sensus system, adding a dedicated 3G data connection through AT&T powering a variety of built-in apps. Showing good organizational sense, Volvo includes a link to navigation-oriented apps on the destination menu. These apps included Yelp, Park and Pay, WikiLocations and a simple local search option. The apps proved a little slow to connect, requiring some patience, but I was very pleased with the first three. I especially like WikiLocations, which worked as a kind of tour guide for my immediate location by showing descriptions of nearby landmarks.
Local search proved less successful. When I searched a store name with two locations in the San Francisco bay area, it only had a few results to show that where hundreds of miles away. By contrast, entering the exact same search term into my iPhone's Google Maps app returned the correct results. Volvo uses Nokia's Here service for maps and business locations, which doesn't seem to have as good a directory as Google. However, Yelp proved a useful alternative.
As for navigation, the Sensus Connect system showed me maps in plan and perspective view, with some landmark buildings rendered in 3D. The system worked fast and offered very good route guidance, including lane guidance. It showed me live traffic on a good number of surface streets, complementing the highway coverage, and computed alternative routes around traffic jams.
Most of the other apps available in Sensus Connect center around audio. Rather than show these apps among the audio sources menu, I had use the main apps menu. In the V60, I had access to Pandora, Stitcher, Rdio and TuneIn. Volvo should be able to add and update apps over the car's data connection.
Volvo splits up its other audio sources into the usual radio and media. The former offers satellite and HD radio, while the latter includes Bluetooth streaming and sources connected through the car's USB port, including iOS devices. Volvo hasn't gone to the more advanced Bluetooth streaming specification that allows full music library browsing through the car's interface, so I had to set my playlist on my iPhone before I hit the road.
Volvo offers a 650-watt Harman Kardon audio system with 12 speakers as an option, but the V60 I drove came with just the stock 160-watt 8-speaker system. It made for a pleasant listening experience while I drove, but the sound quality wasn't such that I wanted to really focus on the stereo, and hit it with all my favorite tracks.
The Sensus Connect screen would also have shown the view from the back-up camera, if that had been optioned in. Oddly, safety-focused Volvo doesn't make the back-up camera a standard feature, although the V60 comes standard with sonar parking sensors and the City Safety system, which automatically hits the brakes to prevent low-speed collisions.
A back-up camera is available with Volvo's Convenience package, while a raft of driver-assistance features such as adaptive cruise control and lane-departure warning are available in the Technology package. The model I drove came with the a la carte blind-spot monitor option, lighting up icons in the side mirrors when other cars were off to my left- or right-rear quarters.
Station wagon sensibility
The 2015 Volvo V60 T6 R-design embodies the multi-utility nature of the station wagon, offering a spacious, comfortable interior and very good driving dynamics. All it needs are rear-facing jump seats in the cargo area for the kids.
Although the apps came up a little slowly in the Sensus Connect system, it is good to see these connected features made available. I like how Volvo makes its navigation apps accessible from the destination menu. It would be nice to see the audio apps organized under audio sources, as well. Volvo has not yet worked out plan pricing for the car's data connection, but offers the first six months free. If you live in an area with no 3G data, then this system won't be useful.
I enjoyed driving this V60 fast, but was a bit let-down by the six-speed automatic, especially in typical city driving. As such, I think the V60 T5 Drive-E, with its eight-speed transmission and much higher fuel economy, is a more compelling option. Its 240 horsepower should be adequate for the needs of most drivers. However, Volvo doesn't offer the Drive-E model with all-wheel-drive, which will be the deciding factor for those living in northern climes.
|Model||2015 Volvo V60|
|Powertrain||Turbocharged 3-liter inline six cylinder engine, eight speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||19 mpg city/28 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||23.6 mpg|
|Navigation||Standard with live traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Digital audio sources||Internet-based streaming, Bluetooth streaming, iOS integration, USB drive, HD radio, satellite radio|
|Audio system||160-watt eight-speaker system|
|Driver aids||Blind spot monitor, low-speed collision avoidance|
|Price as tested||$48,225|