Volvo has always gone its own way. In the early days, they were stout little machines, that were some of the greatest innovators when it came to safety. Their rugged and reliable drivetrains helped make them rally champions, and became legendary for logging high miles. (Remember that guy with the P1800 that went over 3 million miles?). Outside of maybe the P1800, they weren’t really known for being stylish – they were sensible and functional, but design wasn’t on the menu.
And then suddenly we got the modern Volvo, and taking a page out of Swedish Design, with its cool use of natural elements, clean lines, and elegant motif, the carmaker became a style leader. It offered a different view of luxury from the Americans, Japanese and Germans, and we liked it. A lot.
The Volvo XC60 is it the maker’s best-selling vehicle, and competes in one of the toughest segments, going against such heavyweights as the BMW X3 and Audi Q5, Can the plucky Swede take on the blockbuster German SUVs? Let’s see.
Volvo puts their best foot (clog?) forward with a handsome design that stands out in a crowded market. The front end is pure Volvo, with a surprisingly sensibly-sized grille (ahem Lexus?), that’s flanked by signature LED headlights with Thor’s Hammer Design. The lower front spoiler is angular and aggressive, and the folded hood looks powerful.
That sporty motif carries on in the profile, with a sharply angled C-pillar, scalloped doors, all sitting on our tester’s optional 20-inch, 5-double-spoke alloy wheels. The rear picks up the wraparound LED taillights, and the rear hatch area has a very Volvo-like snub tail. Adding the final part of the athletic vibe on our Momentum tester were dual round tailpipes. Finishing it off was a gorgeous Pine Grey Metallic, that looks Black, Brown or Greenish Gray, depending on the light. We’ve seen no other manufacturer with a color quite like it, and it’s stunning.
The Need for Tweed.
Inside, the XC60 is a visual treat. Volvo calls the fabric the Blonde City Weave Textile with Iron Ore Inlays, but we keep seeing tweed. And it’s gorgeous, with a rich fabric and grey and white two-tone throughout the interior. It probably would be a bear to keep clean, especially if you have young ones, but there are three lovely leathers to choose as well. But none of them is the showstopper of the Blonde City Weave. Combine that with superb quality materials, and you have what must be the most beautiful interior in its class.
And ahhhhh the seats. Everything you’d expect from quality Swedish furniture, the seats are firm, perfectly contoured, supportive and ideal for long hours on the road. We especially liked the rear seats that were equally well shaped – often SUV’s make the rear seats slabby to pack in more bodies but forget that those bodies have backs and shoulders too. Not here.
The rear seats also fold easily to give a nice size cargo hold for all your adventures.
Still, it is the driver’s seat that calls us. Reminding us of the XC90 we tested, you get the full digital treatment, with a 12.3-inch digital gauge display that’s sharp and elegant, and a 9-inch info-tainment display that puts everything at close reach. There are a few things you have to dig through a couple menus to get at, but in general it’s intuitive, and looks expensive. It also functions like a tablet, with an easy swipe pulling up an entire screen quickly and conveniently.
Style comes with tech, as the XC60 feature Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and available onboard Wi-Fi. Our tester also had the available Navigation with real-time traffic and weather updates – but we used our WAZE app most times, to be honest.
Thankfully, Volvo is kind enough to put a large volume knob at the bottom of the screen – we haven’t found any controller we like better for volume than a good old fashioned round knob. And manufacturers get it – so many started with interesting ideas, like the Honda Civic, but ultimately come back to the GOK (good old knob).
In fact, if you are a GOK fan, you’ll love the XC60’s ignition switch, a twist-to-turn knob in the center console that even though is novel, you get used to right away. The tumbler style Drive Mode selector is a piece of jewelry to look at, and also works well.
And Swede Speed
The drive is a nice improvement over the previous XC60, and dead-on against competitors like the Audi Q5 and BMW X3. Volvo gives you a variety of powertrain choices – T5 models like our tester feature a 250-hp, 2.0-liter, turbocharged four cylinder – standard fare in this class. An unusual choice is the T6 trim, with a turbocharged and supercharged version of that engine, that kicks it up to an impressive 316 ponies. Feel the need for more Swede Speed?The plug-in Hybrid T8 serves up a massive 400 horsepower. Wow.
We didn’t feel left out in our T5 model. The turbo four is punchy, and the 8-speed automatic is smooth and creamy in regular use, but picks up the pace nicely in Sport Mode. You can manually nudge the shift lever to add some fun, but we did find ourselves wishing for paddle shifters. Either way, around town acceleration is quick and there’s plenty of power for merging and passing. The four has a throaty exhaust note that makes it fun to zip around.
Our tester had optional all-wheel drive, and combined with a taut chassis and light, direct steering, feels better than the last X3 we drove. The XC60’s just-right size means it’s quick to respond to the wheel but feels stable in the turns. That firm suspension can make the occasional freeway bump feel harsh, but it’s a fair trade-off – this is a great vehicle to drive enthusiastically.
You’ll also feel confident. Volvo has been THE safety brand for a long time, and for 2021 every XC60 includes standard automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning with lane-keeping assist and available adaptive cruise control with semi-autonomous driving mode. That on top of blind spot assist, cross traffic with auto-brake and more.
Hey these aren’t Swedish Pancakes for a buck, okay? (mmmmm delicious).
The XC60 Momentum starts at $41,700 for a front wheel drive model with the turbo 4-cylinder. With all-wheel drive like our tester, the price starts at $44,000. Our XC was nicely loaded, and featured the Climate Package ($750) including heated steering wheel, wiper blades and integrated bolster cushions for the second row, the Premium Package ($1,700) which includes Navigation and power folding rear headrests, the Advance Package ($2,100) which serves up a Head-up display, Adaptive Cruise Control, 360-degree surround view camera (great for parking), cordless phone charging and more.
The Pine Grey Metallic we loved cost $645, the 20-inch alloys, $1,000, Harmon Kardon Premium Sound $800, and Air Quality with Advanced Air Cleaner $250. Add in $995 for destination, and we rang the bell at $52,240.
A comparable Audi Q5 Premium Plus comes in at $54,840. The BMW X3 came in at $52,800. So, the Volvo is competitively priced – and beats both on that special Swedish vibe that makes the Germans feel so somber.
We love the 2021 Volvo XC60. A great drive, all the safety and features you want, plus great exterior style and a gorgeous interior. It’s our favorite small premium SUV!
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.