2019 Volvo V60 First Drive: What American Families Would Drive in a Brighter Timeline
Wagons may not sell like they used to—but that hasn't stopped Volvo from building a good one.
Fans of the TV show Community are all too familiar with the concept of "the darkest timeline"—a version of reality where the worst possible results of events pile up to create a nightmarish, dystopian existence. If there's a darkest timeline, though, there must, by definition, be its opposite. And in that brightest timeline, Volvo will sell more V60 station wagons in America than the carmaker would know what to do with. They'd be in every third upper-middle-class driveway from Maine to Oregon, shuttling millions of adults and children alike to and from school and home, work and play, performing the yeoman's work of daily life largely taken over by SUVs and crossovers in our reality.
After all, Volvo, at its core, is kind of a wagon company. Sure, these days its communal body may be mostly made up of crossovers, but within them lies the spirit of a long line of estates stretching back through the V70, the 850, and the 240; indeed, it's not hard to trace it all the way back to the early two-box-shaped vehicles of the 1930s. Millions of Americans spent their formative years cradled in the safe, boxy embrace of the Swedish company's family cars, forging memories forever intertwined with those wagons. Soccer games, family road trips, driver's tests, first dates, lost virginities—all forever linked to those two-box shapes with the symbol for iron on the grill and steering wheel.
And perhaps in part because of those nostalgic stirrings, while our world may feel closer to the dark end of the existence spectrum than anything else these days, Americans are still buying Volvo wagons. The company says it's the number-one luxury wagon brand in the U.S.—which is kind of like claiming to be the most popular rum brand in Russia, but hey. Last year, the company moved almost 6,500 station wagons in this country, thanks to the strength of the glamorous V90 and in spite of the aging status and flagging sales of the outgoing V60 and XC70.
Thankfully for consumers, most of those V90s sold here so far have been the Cross Country soft-road version, or else owners of the new V60 would most likely wind up mistakenly wandering up to the larger model in the parking lot without realizing it, frantically clicking the deer tick-sized unlock button on the Zippo of a keyfob and wondering why their damn car won't open.
But the visual similarity to the V90 is hardly an error on the all-new V60's scorecard; the larger Volvo is one of the most handsome wagons to grace the road in years, and its proportions scale down nicely, making the new car seem every bit as elegant while imparting a bit more aggression. It helps that the new Sixty is a good bit larger than the old one—five inches longer overall, with 3.8 inches of extra wheelbase—yet two inches shorter. (The company actually considers it as much as replacement for the old V70 as anything, a car so iconic in its home country, it was the best-selling car in Sweden for some time.)
All the requisite designs traits of late-Twenty-Teen Volvos are in full effect here: the twin character lines running down the flanks, the LED taillamps that rise up the D-pillars like feverish thermometers; the now-iconic "Thor's Hammer" headlights (which, in a cross-promotional balk on Volvo's part, haven't been renamed "Stormbreakers" as an Avengers: Infinity War tie-in). Volvo, like Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and BMW, seems intent on transforming all its vehicles into variations on a theme—choose your size and style, 'cause everything else is about the same.
Clearly, the interior designers paid extra-close attention to the memos circulating through Gothenberg, because the inside of this wagon seems almost identical to any other modern Volvo. There's the upright Sensus infotainment system with its 9.0-inch screen, the folding back seat ready to make way for the fattest flat-packs Earth's most ubiquitous Swedish retailer has to offer, the standard City Safety suite of advanced safety systems to help keep an eye on the road, and the jewel-like dials for the volume control, engine starter, and drive mode selector. But beneath that familiar surface lie tweaks made to improve (or even save) the life of the people using those features. The Sensus system's iPad-like interface operates faster than ever, thanks to a new processor. The rear seats won't need to fold down all that often, as the boxy cargo bay can hold four full-sized suitcases simultaneously. And in addition to automatically braking for humans, cyclists, and megafauna, City Safety can now slam on the brakes when it senses a car barreling straight on towards you.
Should you well and truly want to set your V60 apart from the rest of the Volvos—or if you happen to live in a climate where leather seats often lead to sweat-related adhesion—the carmaker is also offering a plaid fabric called "City Weave" on the entry-level Momentum trim. Volvo's U.S. division fought hard to have the upholstery approved for America, and it wasn't hard to see why promptly upon dropping my butt into its cosseting caress. Not only does it look elegant—indeed, it shocked me into stopping to think about how monotonous the world of car upholstery is nowadays—but it's comfortable in a way few cowhide chairs are, at least in cars shy of six-digit pricetags. The world's gone topsy-turvy; with leather seats now found standard all the way down into the economy car segment, cloth starts to feel like the more luxurious choice.
While buyers in other markets will shortly be zooming about in V60s packing all sorts of powertrain combinations (including a short-lived turbodiesel version, soon to be euthanized as part of Volvo's plan to ditch oil burning altogether), U.S. customers will be able to choose between a whopping two setups when the car hits American streets in early 2019: the front-wheel-drive T5 using the company's turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four making 250 horsepower, and the all-wheel-drive T6, packing the 316-hp twincharged version of the same engine. A plug-in hybrid T8 version with 400 horses comes down the line at some point; other versions, like an AWD T5, could arrive depending on market demand. (On the trim level side, an R-Design trim will show up shortly, and a V70 Cross Country is effectively guaranteed at some point.)
During the first drive event just south of Barcelona, we assembled American journalists were only offered a chance to drive the T6 in top-tier Inscription trim, outfitted in Pebble Gray paint with black leather interior. It was a color palette that seemed oddly well-matched to the heavy sky that opened up with torrential rains just before we mounted up, forcing our Volvos to ford a flash flood that filled the seaside streets with a foot of water.
Don't let those sleek lines fool you into thinking this wagon will hold its own against the likes of a Jaguar XF Sportbrake on a back road. The V60, like any Volvo bereft of the Polestar badge, isn't meant to be a sporty car. (Tellingly, the most engaging mode for the drive mode selector is called "Dynamic," not "Sport.") On the narrow roads leading up and down the mountains that soar above Catalonia, it was hard to get into a driving rhythm with the car; the brakes bite too hard too fast, as though paranoid about panic stops; the 316-hp engine is merely adequate in terms of power delivery, and sounds as happy as a cat being bathed as it heads towards redline; and the body pitches about queasily in the turns at anything above six-tenths intensity.
The V60 proved far happier on the open roads, cruising along at a relaxed lope of 80-plus miles per hour with plenty left to give. Driven in a civilized way, the suspension that left the car rolling like the H.M.S. Pinafore in the hills proved smooth and supple, as though the shocks were filled with Tempur-Pedic's finest. The steering has the well-oiled feel of mechanical perfection, the nicely-dampened weight that automotive writers would have described as "premium" before carmakers beat the word to death through overuse. The seats—heated, cooled, and massaging in our fully-loaded test cars—felt ideal for racking the miles, as did the don't-call-it-Autopilot Pilot Assist semi-autonomous cruise control system. (Unlike Cadillac's SuperCruise, it still requires a hand on the wheel, but what else were you planning on doing with your hands while driving?) And the Sensus infotainment array—already one of the best in the industry—is bumped up another notch with the new processor, making it one of the few such setups that truly feels as responsive as the smartphones that set our expectations for what tiny touchscreen tablets should do.
While U.S. pricing hasn't been announced—expect that declaration sometime in the next half-year or so—extrapolating out from the relationships between other models in the Volvo lineup (the XC60 and XC90, the current V60 and the V90) suggest the new wagon will likely start close to the average new car price of roughly $37,000 and rise from there. That said, the V60 will be eligible for the Care by Volvo program launched with the XC40 last year, which includes car insurance, coverage of wear and tear items like tires and wipers, roadside assistance, and maintenance for one to two years. (The program has been far more successful than anticipated here in the U.S., where the company did a whole year's worth of projected subscriptions in just four months.) The company hasn't released numbers for the V60's version of the subscription service in America; in Europe, however, the XC40's Care by Volvo runs €699 a month versus $600 here, so if that gap remains, the V60's €850/mo. plan should translate to around $750-$800. At those prices, it's hard not to see the appeal.
So perhaps this new station wagon will be the one to break the crossover tide, the one to pull people back to smaller, more efficient cars. Maybe the Volvo V60 will be the one to push us towards a brighter reality. Then again, given the XC60 is, by Volvo's own numbers, 20–30 times more popular than the outgoing V60 was...we may be stuck in this darker, SUV-clogged timeline for a while.
The 2019 Volvo V60 T6 AWD Inscription, By the Numbers
Base Price: Less than the V90, more than the XC40
Powertrain (as tested): 2.0-liter supercharged and turbocharged inline-four, 316 horsepower, 295 lb.-ft of torque; eight-speed automatic; all-wheel-drive
0-60 MPH: The V90 T6 AWD does 5.8 seconds with the same powertrain, so let's say five and a half seconds
Fuel Economy: TBD mpg, but mid-20s in town and low-to-mid 30s on the highway sounds about right
Cargo room: 18.7 cubic feet with seats up, 48.1 with second row folded flat
Favorite feature of the Bowers & Wilkins stereo : Gothenburg Concert Hall mode