2013 Volvo XC60 review:

Collision prevention comes standard

Voice command also controls the Bluetooth phone system, but not the stereo. Similar to most modern cars, the XC60 copied my contact list when I paired my phone, then let me place calls by name with voice command, or look up contacts on the LCD, scrolling with the ever-useful tuning dial. The car's keypad came in very handy for entering phone numbers.

2013 Volvo XC60
The audio interface displays music from a USB drive in a folder and file format, rather than a music library. Josh Miller/CNET

The XC60 handled most modern digital audio sources, including a USB port for iOS devices and USB drives, Bluetooth streaming, and HD radio. With an iOS device plugged into the USB port, the system shows a full music library in the interface, with album, artist, and genre categories. For USB drives, it is a little more primitive, merely showing a folder and file structure.

And once again, the tuning dial comes into play when selecting music. With a track playing from a USB drive, I twisted the dial, and the screen changed to a list of the songs in the folder. To see a list of folders, I then had to hit the Exit button. It works well, once you figure it out.

Unlike many other automakers, Volvo does not have an audio partner for the stereo system in the XC60. This system merely has a Volvo Premium Sound logo on its center speaker. But with 12 speakers and a 650-watt amp, the system reproduces music with well-above-average quality. The sound came through with excellent balance, not too much bass or overly bright highs.

However, its Sound Stage setting let me focus the sound only on the driver, the front seat, or the rear seat, but not on the entire cabin. Along with standard bass, treble, balance, and fader controls, Volvo also includes a five-band equalizer, if you really want to fine-tune the audio.

Manic Sport mode
The well-insulated cabin of the XC60 made it easy to hear music, showing its premium car construction. Even from the outside, the 3-liter engine barely made a sound when the car was idling. The engine may seem a little small for a car weighing in at 4,225 pounds, but the turbo makes all the difference. Horsepower comes up to 300, while torque rates at 325 pound-feet.

When a turbocharged engine puts out more torque than horsepower, it can be prone to lunge and deliver uneven acceleration, but Volvo has it dialed in right with the XC60. It drove well, allowing easy modulation of the gas pedal. In heavy traffic around San Francisco, I found no difficulty restraining the car, or taking advantage of an opening between cars.

That is, until I found the Sport mode. The six-speed automatic transmission includes a slot in the gate marked with a plus/minus on the shift pattern. I thought that would merely let me shift manually, but when I threw the shifter over, it put the XC60 into Sport mode, indicated by an S appearing on the instrument cluster.

The XC60 became a far different car when that S showed up. I did not change the accelerator angle at all, but the car surged forward. The throttle became more sensitive and the transmission downshifted at the drop of a hat. Forget nice, even acceleration; this SUV wanted to run.

2013 Volvo XC60
The shifter has an odd, transparent piece over the pattern. Josh Miller/CNET

Being an enthusiast, I found it much more enjoyable to drive while in Sport, but I also had to be careful, as the XC60 would leap forward unexpectedly. At least it had the City Safety feature, which might keep me out of trouble. Sport mode did not, however, affect the suspension in any way.

As an SUV, the XC60 has a moderate ride height. There was also a lot of rubber around the optional 19-inch wheels, a high sidewall that contributed to ride comfort. Especially with the Platinum trim's smart key, I found the XC60 uncomplicated transportation, easy to get in and just go. For city maneuvering, the tight turning radius was a big help.

Stomping on the gas pedal kicked in the turbo and made the transmission hold a lower gear, leading to better acceleration than I would have expected, given the XC60's initial mild-mannered driving demeanor. However, when climbing hills I had to work the gas pedal a lot. And traveling at highway speeds, stepping on the gas did not have as much effect as I would have wanted. It made me hesitant to initiate passes on two-lane roads.

The SUV ride height also meant wobbly behavior in the turns. The suspension has more travel than in something like a sedan, and I could feel it rise and fall when going over small series of hills. In turns, it leaned down on the outer side, just enough to make a little cautious about my speed.

Wait for it
The 2013 Volvo XC60 makes for a very nice midsize SUV, a premium vehicle similar to the Mercedes-Benz GLK. The base model uses a naturally aspirated 3.2-liter engine, but the extra power in the T6 seems worth it. The driving character is nice and easy, although Sport mode shows a streak of insanity.

I think there is room in Volvo's lineup for an even smaller SUV, something like an XC30, because the XC60 is largish for urban living.

Volvo is not pushing the envelope with its cabin technology, but the navigation, phone, and stereo features are solid. Those interested in connected technologies might want to wait, as Volvo has just made some announcements for data-driven features that should be available by the next model year.

I am impressed that Volvo makes its City Safety feature standard on the XC60. Insurance companies should give discounts for these types of anticollision technologies. Adaptive cruise control and the available blind-spot monitor can also contribute to safety, one of Volvo's key propositions.

Tech specs
Model 2013 Volvo XC60
Trim T6 AWD Platinum
Powertrain Turbocharged 3-liter inline six-cylinder engine, six-speed automatic transmission
EPA fuel economy 17 mpg city/23 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 21.8 mpg
Navigation Flash memory-based with traffic data
Bluetooth phone support Standard, with contact list integration
Digital audio sources iOS integration, USB drive, satellite radio, HD radio
Audio system 650-watt 12-speaker system
Driver aids Rear-view camera
Base price $40,450
Price as tested $46,145

What you'll pay

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