We hit the icy roads of Northern Sweden to test Volvo's midsize crossover and its simplified lineup of drivetrains.
Driving through Northern Sweden in a Volvo, ABBA's "Greatest Hits" on the stereo; does it get any more Scandinavian than this? Well, I suppose that the XC60 that I'm piloting could be loaded up with flat-packed IKEA furniture, but perhaps that would be a bit too on the nose with the stereotypes.
I'm in Sweden to test the 2017 Volvo S90 sedan at Volvo's proving ground, but the new 2016 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD is the vehicle that gets me there.
Since I last found myself behind the wheel of a 2015.5 model year XC60, the crossover has seen one significant change to its lineup of powertrain options.
The 2015.5 XC90 T6 asked drivers choose between either a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine with all-wheel drive or the automaker's 2.0-liter inline four-banger Drive-E engine with front wheel drive. The 2016 model simplifies, offering four-cylinder engine in both front and all-wheel configurations.
Using dual-stage supercharged and turbocharged induction, the Drive-E engine's stated output is 306 horsepower and about 295 pound-feet of torque. In the new all-wheel drive configuration, that torque is split between the front and rear axles by a Haldex on-demand all-wheel drive system.
The super-turbo I-4 matches the power of the old I-6, but sacrifices about 30 pound-feet of peak torque. But the smaller block also sheds a bit of mass, so I'm thinking that most customers won't notice the dip in torque. Those drivers may notice an uptick in efficiency; Volvo hasn't stated official economy numbers for the new T6 Drive-E AWD, but the AWD system's on-demand nature means that it will likely be within an mpg or two of the front-drive variant's 30 highway mpg estimate.
Over the icy, arctic highways of Northern Sweden, the XC60 cruised quietly and comfortably. Despite a step down in torque for this model year, the SUV still demonstrated an adequate amount of passing power when I needed to pass the occasional slow-moving truck or snowplow and exhibited confidence inspiring stability during those passing maneuvers -- thanks in part to the all-wheel drive system's ability to share the acceleration load between all four winter tires.
In the cabin, I was warm and isolated from the elements despite temperatures outside dropping to -10 degrees C. The Sensus Connect dashboard features a healthy array of digital media sources including Spotify app connectivity, USB and Bluetooth audio. A Harman Kardon premium audio system belted out the sweet sounds of ABBA as the miles rolled comfortably by.
Upon reaching the Volvo Northern Sweden Test Facility, I was able to test the XC90 T6 AWD more aggressively on a closed winter driving course.
Taking the first few laps at a casual pace, I learned the course before slowly dialing in more speed on the straights and in the bends. I was impressed by how stable the crossover felt on the icy course. There was such grip that I was almost sure that Volvo had slipped a set of studded tires into the wheel wells, but was impressed to find that the XC60 rolled on climate-appropriate nonstudded, winter tires.
Tossing the XC60 into a slalom maneuver on a long wide straight, I was able to coax the chassis into sliding, but was pleased by how quickly and smoothly the traction management system reined in the slide and allowed me to transition back to grip.
Ditching the inline-six for the 2016 model year is the next step in Volvo's strategy to convert all of its vehicles to four-cylinder powertrains going forward. Eventually, the eight-year old XC60's P3 platform will also be replaced by the new full-sized SPA platform, which underpins the new XC90, S90 and V90 models. I like that Volvo continues to refine this solid premium crossover, but can see a more major overhaul just peaking over its the horizon.