2023 Volvo XC60 Recharge Review: Nice, but Not Comfy Enough for the Price
Understated and minimal, it’s easy to forget how well the XC60 treats you. It’s a wonderful daily plug-in hybrid, but it comes at a steep price.
There’s a lot to be said about a car that goes about its business silently. One that has an invisible sort of excellence. The updated 2023 Volvo XC60 Recharge plug-in hybrid could be that car.
It’s easy to forget or miss just how good it is—though it comes at a price. With one of the best hybrid powertrains on sale today, an interior that is austere modernism at its finest, and an exterior that simply states that it is good rather than shouting it, the XC60 Recharge presents a combination of traits that you can’t really get anywhere else. There are a million SUVs, and most of those have hybrid or plug-in hybrid variants. It’s a dense, competitive market.
Buyers are spoilt for choice. Thus, these SUVs have to make themselves distinct in all directions: comfort, cargo capacity, and fuel economy. The XC60 has the stats to compete. But for nearly $75,000 as-tested, it needs to go above and beyond the basics of the segment. It needs to have that invisible excellence.
2023 Volvo XC60 Recharge Specs
- Base price (as tested): $58,495 ($74,690)
- Powertrain: 2.0-liter turbocharged | rear permanent magnet electric motor | 8-speed automatic transmission | all-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 455
- Torque: 522 lb-ft
- Battery: 14.9 kWh usable (18.8 kWh nominal) lithium-ion
- Seating capacity: 5
- Curb weight: 4,768 pounds
- EPA estimated fuel economy: 28 mpg combined | 63 mpge
- EPA estimated electric range: 35 miles
- Quick take: Has some incredible highlights in the powertrain and interior, but could ride better and quieter, and is not cheap at nearly $75K.
- Score: 7.5/10
You would never know that the second-generation XC60 debuted in 2017. It’s aged gracefully, especially with careful and useful updates over its lifecycle. The 2023 model Recharge is the fourth year of the plug-in hybrid variant and comes with a substantially different drivetrain and battery. Also, there’s some upgraded tech in the form of full Google integration where Google Maps is the standard onboard navigation software. Reviews Editor Chris Tsui went over this system as it exists in the Polestar 2 in a separate review, but I’ll cover some bases about it later as well. With minimal buttons, ergonomics could have been a disaster but most essential driving functions do indeed have a dedicated button, making the Volvo straightforward to operate.
In late 2022, the PHEV drivetrain underwent serious changes. In the engine compartment, Volvo ditched the twin-charged setup and deleted the supercharger in favor of a lone turbocharger. The engine, without hybrid assist, makes slightly less power: 312 hp down from 313. Out back, the electric motor that makes the XC60 Recharge all-wheel-drive has been revised to increase power output, up to 143 hp from the previous 87. Thus, total output rises to 455 hp, which is stout. It’s a big gain from the 400 hp of the 2021 model.
But the biggest functional difference in everyday use is the updated battery pack that runs along the spine of the car. With an increase in capacity while taking up no extra interior space, electric-only range is now 35 miles. The previous model could only muster 19 miles. But that denser and slightly larger battery pack also makes better use of the hybrid system, while also being able to deliver more power.
Design-wise, the same XC60 greatness is still there. It goes to show just how good the original version was that it has aged this gracefully in six years. The interior is largely the same as before: minimal, delicately detailed, well-built, and scrupulously designed. The tech is up to date, with high-quality displays, a decent advanced driver’s assistance suite, and extremely nice Apple CarPlay integration. And the seats are some of the most comfortable in the business.
Driving the Volvo XC60 Recharge
There’s trouble in paradise, however. If there is one mission that this segment of car should live and die by, it is passenger comfort and isolation. Folks are not looking for an engaging enthusiast vehicle or a rough ride. The immediate impression from the XC60 was that of slightly more harshness and noise than I expected.
Ride quality was decent but not great. Large, loping bumps were nicely evened out but the dampers had trouble with torturous edges and cracks. Impacts transmitted right into the cabin in a way that clashed with the vibe of the XC60. That serenity that the interior sells isn’t quite there once the going gets rougher, and is especially worse if you use Power mode. Power mode stiffens the dampers and lowers the air suspension, making the car feel like it’s skimming along on its bump stops. Sure, it handled pretty well in the canyons, but it should’ve finished its kinematics homework before it hopped on Xbox.
To be fair, the ride quality wasn’t bad. But with every dull thunk that resonated into the cabin, the thought of spending $75,000 on the experience rattled itself into a fine dust. It could be better, especially when the optional air suspension that my tester had costs $1,800.
There’s a hint of tire noise on the highway, while wind noise is extremely well controlled. Thanks to it being capable of full EV operation, it is stunningly quiet and smooth.
That painlessness translates into the rest of the driving experience. The advanced driver’s assistance suite was remarkably error-free and easy to trust, with decently smart lane-keep assist. Every input was well calibrated to one another; a nicely calibrated throttle pedal that keeps takeoffs smooth and quick without shocking the drivetrain into motion, steering that has strong on-center feel for highway confidence, and regenerative brakes that are superbly natural.
The jewel of it all was the powertrain. It’s amazingly complete in its calibration and devoid of the weirdness that can plague hybrid integration. Transitioning from full electric to gasoline power was always seamless and quiet. It also hauled a shocking amount of ass, with an initial slap of torque that carries into a surging top-end powerband. It never failed to be unobstrusive, and it blended well with the fast-shifting eight-speed automatic.
Discreet details help sell it. There’s a subtle but welcome synthetic engine sound coming from the speakers, feeding the frequencies of a six-cylinder engine to give the inline-four a richer sound. The crystal shifter is hefty and beautiful. Even silly things like how uniform the typeface is across all the screens and head-up display imperceptibly create a very pleasant, cohesive experience.
The start might have been rocky, but the XC60 can really impress. It’s a real performer in the real world, even with its flaws.
The Highs and Lows
As a complete package, it’s an interesting blend. The highs are soaring: the interior is well crafted and intelligent. It has the minimum possible amount of buttons, a stripped-back interface, and a definite design thesis of simplicity. It’s not an interior full of ambient lighting, color accents, gadgets, or gimmicks. It’s refreshing, though some folks might want a bit more cowbell. Some details are deliciously tiny, like the Orrefors crystal shifter and the square-shaped overhead ambient lights. The color palette might be boring to some, but I find the mix of black and dark wood restrained and elegant.
However, the ride quality and slight tire noise is a disappointment, especially considering the price tag. It’s out of sync with the rest of the experience and definitely not befitting of a luxury SUV. The dampers are adaptive, so this shouldn’t be a real issue, though there might be engineering and handling compromises that make the slightly rough ride necessary.
Truth be told, the price tag is tough to swallow, even for a plug-in hybrid. It’s steep. And all of that restraint in design might not appeal to everyone. It’s not for the folks who want the wow factor of a typical 2023 luxury car, but for the person who wants something quietly good. Call it stealth wealth.
Volvo XC60 Recharge Features, Options, and Competition
A fully-loaded XC60 Recharge Ultimate tops out the compact luxury SUV market by a lot. My tester was $74,690, and it was completely optioned out with the $3,200 Bowers and Wilkins stereo and $1,800 air suspension. Its status as a plug-in hybrid makes it directly compete with plug-in hybrid versions of the Audi Q5, the Lexus NX, and the Lincoln Corsair. The Audi comes closest at $71,940 topped out, but the XC60 has a far superior electric range to the Audi. Meanwhile, the Lexus NX450h+ has slightly more range.
The Lexus NX 450h+ PHEV tops out at $63,575, while the larger Lexus RX 500h tops out at $71,655. That gives you a ton of SUV for a bit less money than the Volvo. The RX is not a PHEV, but the upcoming RX 450h+ will be. Finally, the Lincoln Corsair presents a similar value at $63,730 fully loaded and has 28 miles of fully electric range.
You can get the XC60 Recharge for a lot less money by going for lesser trims. A mid-range XC60 Recharge Plus with the Harmon Kardon stereo is $64,295, which makes it more competitive. Sure, the Bowers and Wilkins stereo is good, but it's not $3,200 good. And you still get largely similar equipment with the ADAS suite, panoramic sunroof, 360-degree parking camera, and full Google integration. You’ll miss out on the head-up display, crystal shift knob, ventilated seats, and Bowers and Wilkins stereo, but you’ll save $10,000. Alternatively, getting an Ultimate and saving on the air suspension and Bowers and Wilkins stereo is $70,045.
Volvo makes a point of trying to clean up its entire operation, with goals set to be carbon neutral by 2040. The automaker also claims it uses 25% recycled steel and plastics and 40% recycled aluminum to manufacture cars. It also claims the batteries for the Recharge variants are ethically sourced.
It also delivered excellent fuel economy, returning with an observed average of 35 mpg over 250 miles of mostly highway driving, with some city blended in. It uses its hybrid system effectively, and EV mode is excellent for short-distance errands in a city. With an EPA-rated electric-only range of 35 miles, one could feasibly drive the XC60 without using the gas engine for extended periods of time, as long as you plug in at home. Charging from empty to full takes about 8 hours on a normal home charger.
Value and Verdict
Truthfully, there isn’t anything wrong with the XC60 besides the price of my tester. With a bit more frugality in options and trim level, it’s really quite an excellent everyday SUV that will sip fuel, be comfortable, have cavernous storage, and feel like a true luxury product. I can’t speak for the non-air suspension variant, though my experience with the air suspension suggests that you should save that money.
It does the PHEV thing better than almost anybody else in the segment, with range near the front of the class and fuel economy to match. It certainly has more range than the Audi Q5 and is more efficient and spacious. Its stiffest competition comes from Lexus with the NX 450h+ in terms of range and space.
What the Volvo does is make a unique case for itself in design sensibilities. Of the segment, it’s the only car that has an unplaceable elevation to it that makes it somehow more convincingly high-end than the others. It uses fewer gimmicks, but it doesn’t succumb to boredom. Somewhere, it found some contemporary chic that makes it uniquely interesting. Blended with its excellent powertrain and easy, no-frills driving experience, Volvo has a winner here. Just don’t get the fully-loaded one.
Update: 2/16/23 11:00 a.m. ET: The original technical section claimed slightly incorrect power increase figures and a 48-volt mild hybrid system. The article has been changed to correct this.
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