2018 Volvo XC60: Meet the XC90's svelter, sexier sister

Volvo takes everything that's great about the large XC90 SUV and distills it down to a more compact, but equally potent package.

Antuan Goodwin Reviews Editor / Cars
Antuan Goodwin gained his automotive knowledge the old fashioned way, by turning wrenches in a driveway and picking up speeding tickets. From drivetrain tech and electrification to car audio installs and cabin tech, if it's on wheels, Antuan is knowledgeable.
Expertise Reviewing cars and car technology since 2008 focusing on electrification, driver assistance and infotainment Credentials
  • North American Car, Truck and SUV of the Year (NACTOY) Awards Juror
Antuan Goodwin
7 min read

The Volvo XC60's formula is a simple one that we mostly saw coming. Take the Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) that underpins the larger 90 Series of Volvo cars and SUVs and, well, scale it down to the next smaller class. It's what this platform was designed to do, after all.

Here's where things get interesting. Most automakers would have also scaled down the powertrain options or at least slightly detuned the engine to give the larger more expensive siblings some sort of performance advantage, but not Volvo. Someone at Volvo -- probably named Sven, Håkan or Torbjörn -- just decided to chuck the same turbocharged, supercharged and hybridized powertrains into the lighter cars, leaving the XC60 with an even better power-to-weight ratio! Crazy Swedes!

The sexy XC60

The XC60 steps down in scale from the XC90. It's about 10.3 inches shorter overall with a wheelbase that's about 4.7 inches shy of its older sibling. This means that the XC60's cabin is a two-row affair, but also that the more compact SUV should squeeze into urban areas just a tad better.

Outside, the basic design language is familiar with a few changes and tweaks: The Hammer of Thor headlight graphics now reach out and touch the grille, which now bulges outward with a convex design. Versus the outgoing XC60 model, the newbie has a much longer hood and shorter overhangs at both ends. Physically, it is longer and lower to the ground than before, but the new design really accentuates and exaggerates this new model's sportier ambitions.

2018 Volvo XC60 takes everything good about XC90 and shrinks it down

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Out back, the tail lights retain the vertical design we've seen both on the XC90 and the old XC60, but adds in the horizontal elements from the V90 wagon and V90 CrossCountry, giving the rear illumination an "L" shape. The more I look at it, the XC60 reminds me more of a more vertical V90 than a shrunken XC90, but all three vehicles share so much in their construction and design that it works either way.

Turbocharged and supercharged performance

In addition to design, the XC60 shares the 90 Series' Volvo SPA platform underpinnings. This modular system was designed to be scalable, the XC60 features the same basic front and rear suspensions (with tweaks to compensate for the differences in weight, size and character) and the same set of four-cylinder powertrains as the larger XC90 with the same T5, T6 and T8 designations.

The base T5 model is a 250-horsepower, 258-pound-foot turbocharged 2.0-liter with an eight-speed transmission and Volvo's all-wheel drive system.

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I was able to test the midrange T6 model with its 2.0-liter turbocharged and supercharged four-cylinder engine. Peak power is stated at 360 ponies and 295 pound-feet of torque, which is identical to that of the XC90, but with about 580 fewer pounds of vehicle to push around. As a result, the XC60's acceleration feels noticeably better on the road. It's not the "driver's car" that Volvo claims it is -- truthfully, no small SUV in this class is -- but I found the XC60 to be a very pleasant ride.

Speaking of the ride, all XC60 models feature the same double-wishbone front suspension and multilink rear with the automaker's composite leaf spring setup. I wasn't able to test this exact setup because my T6 featured the optional air suspension, which replaces the hydraulic dampers and coil and leaf springs with height-adjustable pneumatic springs and dampers. The air suspension is nice and cushy in its Comfort mode and rides as firmly as I remember the SPA platform's fixed suspension in its Sport mode. Plus, you gain the ability to raise the ride height by up to 1.6 inches to traverse rough terrain, or lower it by just as much to make entering or exiting the SUV easier when parked. The air suspension also auto-levels on uneven terrain and auto-lowers at high speeds to improve stability.

Joining the T5 and T6 after their launch August 2017 US launch will be the T8 eAWD plug-in hybrid model. The addition of a 65 kW electric motor to the mix bumps the hybrid's output to an impressive 400 horsepower and 472 pound-feet of torque. Meanwhile, a 10.4 kWh battery pack grants about 28 miles of pure electric range with every full charge. If you've got the extra dough, it'll be worth waiting the extra month to test drive this one when it launches in September.

Pilot Assist steering tech

Volvo's a brand that stakes its reputation on safety and safety technology, so it's no surprise to see the XC60 boast the same loadout of active and passive safety and driver aid features as the 90 Series vehicles. However, the 60 hits the road with a trio of new steering assist feathers in its safety tech cap.

Oncoming lane mitigation is an evolution of lane-departure prevention that can detect when the XC60 is drifting over the center line into an oncoming lane of traffic and automatically steer the SUV back into its lane to prevent a head-on collision.

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BLIS with Steering Assist evolves from a passive blind-spot monitoring system into an active assist, steering the XC60 back into its lane when it detects that you're about to change lanes and collide with another vehicle.

Finally, the City Safety pedestrian, vehicle and large animal collision avoidance system also gains Steering Assist, which uses differential braking and electric steering intervention to help the driver to steer the XC60 away from or around an obstacle as effectively as possible. It even has the ability to add a bit of countersteer with differential braking at the end of a severe evasive maneuver to stabilize the SUV.

These new features only really kick in when you're about to hit something, so I never got to test them. However, I was able to spend a few miles with the available Pilot Assist II steering assistance and adaptive cruise control active and came away with mixed feelings. The system requires the driver to keep their hands on the wheel at all time -- it's an assist, not a pilot replacement -- and I found it weird and a bit exhausting to feel the steering wheel seem to squirm within my grip as it added torque here and there in an attempt to keep the SUV perfectly centered on the narrow lanes where I did my testing.

On the other hand, I have to give Volvo credit for how well the system performed and how accurately it was able to track the bends of the road, even without a lead vehicle to lock onto. Pilot Assist can be toggled with a single button tap of my thumb, so I found it very easy to flick it on and off when I felt I needed an extra eye on the road. I found that I liked Pilot Assist much more at lower speeds, such as stop-and-go traffic, where the operation is much smoother and more transparent.

Sensus Connect with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay

With its horizontal dashboard, vertical 9.3-inch Sensus display and very car-like driving position, the XC60's cabin is very similar to the V90 I was able to drive last year.

It's a good tech setup with a menu system that I found very easy to understand. Sensus is not a perfect software, and the secondary menus accessed by swiping left or right from the home screen can seem a bit cluttered if you don't know what you're looking for. But I found the learning curve to be very shallow, and I am a fan of the multipane home screen's organizational structure. I couldn't pin down any specifics from Volvo representatives beyond that it's been "enhanced," but I'd also swear that this Sensus system felt more responsive to the touch than before.

Glen Percival/Volvo

Like the 90 Series, the XC60 features standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which allows the driver to bring their own navigation and audio streaming apps into the dashboard with just a USB connection. Natively, Sensus Connect also supports a selection of onboard apps including Here Local Search, TuneIn, Pandora, Spotify, Glympse, Local Search, Yelp, Weather and Wiki Locations.

About the only aspect of the XC60's tech that has been diminished relative to the XC90 is the optional Bowers and Wilkins premium audio rig. It steps down to a 15-driver setup with only 1,100 watts of amplification. I jest, but that's still plenty of power for the smaller cabin space.

Pricing, availability and competition

The 2018 Volvo XC60 arrives in T5 and T6 configurations at dealerships in August 2017 where it will do battle with the likes of BMW's X3, the Audi Q5 and Mercedes-Benz GLC 300. The XC60 T8 plug-in hybrid will join them a month later in September with its superior power and all-electric range to further mix things up. All-wheel drive will be standard across with front-wheel drive T5 and T6 variants being added later.

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Pricing starts at $41,500 for the base T5 Momentum model before a $995 destination charge is added. The price range reaches to $56,700 plus destination for the T8 Inscription and stretches to a fully loaded $68,090 if you check the boxes for all available packages and individual options.

The XC60 is almost a no-brainer recommendation for me. It takes everything that I loved in the XC90 and gives it to me again in a more compact, lighter and more agile package. Volvo has continued to evolve its design and make improvements to its safety tech as it inches toward autonomous driving, but this is mostly a case of not messing with a very good formula.

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