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The V60’s Look Has Been Modernized To Compete With the New-Age Family Movers

The model-year 2015 Volvo V60 is the best car for you if you don’t remember—or don’t care—that the company’s station wagons once looked like they were built of Legos.

Today’s designers are intent on making you forget that celebration of squareness with this swept-back body they say has a coupe-like silhouette. Essentially, they took their best selling model—the S60 sedan—and stretched the roofline to give it more cargo room. In the process, they created the first truly modern Volvo station wagon.

With a base price range of around $36,000 to $48,000—and plenty of options to pad the bottom line—the all-new V60 competes in a pretty narrow market segment, primarily against upscale wagons from BMW and Audi. Its real rivals, though, are the vehicles that replaced the station wagon in the hearts and driveways of so many Americans: crossover SUVs.

The V60 replaces the smaller, inferior V50 wagon, which was based on a Mazda and Ford platform back when Ford controlled Volvo. The Swedish brand now has Chinese owners, and they seem committed to investing in the latest design and technology.

This offering slots into the Volvo lineup below the larger XC70 wagon and next to the company’s second-best-selling model, the XC60 premium-compact crossover. Interestingly, all three are similarly priced. Outside Volvo, alternatives include the BMW 3 Series Sports Wagon and the Audi allroad, both of which have more cargo room, and cost more.

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The V60 comes three ways, beginning with the base model, the T5. It starts just over $36,000, including the destination fee. It has front-wheel drive and helps Volvo introduce a new generation of engines. The automaker calls them Drive-E (think “efficiency” when it comes to the capital E).

It marks the manufacturer’s move away from five- and six-cylinder engines toward the new normal in this class: turbocharged two-liter four-cylinders. This vehicle runs with the best for smoothness and output. It has 240 horsepower, 258 pound-feet of torque and all the latest fuel-saving tricks, including automatic shut-off when the car is stopped or coasting to a stop. And it links to the company’s newest transmission, an eight-speed automatic. The combination rates 29 mpg city/highway combined. That’s among the best in class.

Next up the line is the T5 All Wheel Drive model. It’s priced from just under $38,000 and uses the manufacturer’s 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine. It drives all four wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission and rates 23 mpg combined.

Topping the line is the T6 R-Design. It also has AWD but uses a turbocharged three-liter inline six-cylinder engine of 325 horses and 345 pound-feet of torque. With performance-tuning for its suspension and a six-speed automatic transmission, as well as special trim inside and out, the R-Design joins R-Design versions of the S60 and XC60 as the newest member of Volvo’s sporty portfolio. It’s priced from just over $45,000 and rates 22 mpg combined.

Premier, Premier Plus, and Platinum trim levels within the three model grades add amenities like heated front and rear seats and wood interior trim. A navigation system is exclusive to the top-trim Platinum. With Platinum trim, you’ll pay around $41,400 on the base T5 to around $48,200 on an R-Design.

And this wouldn’t be Volvo without a comprehensive suite of safety features. The company’s City Safety system is standard on every model in this line. It can automatically bring the car to a stop from low speeds to avoid rear-ending the vehicle ahead.

The $1,500 Technology Package adds pedestrian and bicyclist detection to the system. It also equips the car with radar cruise control and will automatically steer it back if you wander from your lane. Blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection is part of a separate $900 option. Oddly, only the more expensive trim levels get the added safety of a rearview camera.

The T5 Drive-E model has the $1,500 Sport Package option. It gives regular V60s an R-Design feel with a stiffer, lower suspension and low-profile tires on handsome 19-inch alloy wheels. It also fits steering-wheel paddles for manual-type gear control. And to give the Sport Package some gearhead cred, the manufacturer bolts on a strut brace. Usually found on performance cars, it ties together the suspension strut towers to stiffen the body structure for sharper handling.

These come across like pretty solid cars. The doors close with a nice sound, and the interior materials feel high-grade. All but the least-expensive trim levels come with leather upholstery, and every model has power front seats. Specially bolstered buckets with contrasting stitching are part of the Sport Package.

The seats get high marks for comfort and support, but the dashboard isn’t quite as well organized as it might be. The audio knobs control multiple functions, and it takes time to burrow through their various menus. And while Bluetooth phone linking is standard, only models with the navigation system let you make a call using voice commands. Otherwise, you’ve got to manually locate your contact or enter the actual number.

The instruments are easy to see, and all but the base trim levels get Volvo’s new thin-film-transistor gauge cluster. You can choose Elegance, Eco and Performance themes, though—curiously—the Performance display replaces the tachometer with a cryptic power meter.

Interior storage isn’t overly generous for a family car. The glovebox is big, but the center console bin is small. And while there’s space behind this control panel, it’s awkward to reach.

Rear-seat passengers get a very nicely padded bench. Legroom and headroom are just fine, though like most cars these days, there isn’t enough width to fit three adults without squeezing. The high-mounted air vents are a nice touch. And although tall front headrests help prevent whiplash, they rob rear passengers of much of a forward view.

On paper, the V60’s 44 cubic feet of cargo volume is tight for a wagon this size. But it’s still far more than the S60 sedan’s 12-cubic-foot trunk. And you get a built in divider, plus a handy underfloor bin.

The vehicle isn’t available with a power liftgate, but the rear seatbacks split conveniently into three sections and fold flat. If you want a Volvo with more cargo space, the XC60 has 67 cubic feet.

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Of the three models, most buyers will be happiest with the new four-cylinder T5. Throttle response is sometimes delayed by a little turbo lag—it gave us an anxious moment merging onto a freeway. Otherwise, this engine is well suited to most anything you’ll ask of the car. It hums along like a premium powerplant and can even supply an additional 22 pound-feet of torque for 10 seconds if you floor the gas pedal. And you can’t argue with the fuel economy. If you want a model with AWD, though, you’ll need to step up to the five-cylinder model. At least for now.

The S60 and XC60 feature an innovative version of the Drive-E four-cylinder that has a supercharger and a turbocharger. It makes 302 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. The future may also include hybrid versions of all these Volvos.

Meanwhile, the five-cylinder delivers fine power, but it’s a heavier and less-advanced engine than the Drive-E, with middling fuel economy.

We haven’t yet tested a V60 R-Design, but seat time in an S60 R-Design shows it to be an earnest attempt at a high-performance sedan. It would not, however, tempt us away from the German alternatives.

In fact, what separates these Volvos from their top Audi and BMW and Mercedes-Benz rivals is that final degree of composure over imperfect pavement. There’s just a little too much body movement, especially through fast, bumpy turns.

Otherwise, Volvo’s done a good job with the dynamics. Overall road manners are just fine. It handles alertly and has a good balance of stability and ride comfort, though stick with the 17- and 18-inch tires to avoid the impact harshness the 19s transmit over potholes and tar strips. And we think there’s too much wind noise around the windshield pillars at highway speeds.

Some buyers will recognize the V60 as a thoughtful alternative to a crossover SUV. But it’s got a better chance of success if viewed as the individualist’s variation on the S60 sedan. To get one configured the way you want might require you to open your checkbook, though.


About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]