Mountain Wheels: Volvo’s revised XC60 SUV amps up the speed, safety (review) |

Mountain Wheels: Volvo’s revised XC60 SUV amps up the speed, safety (review)

Andy Stonehouse
Mountain Wheels

If you find yourself sometimes getting confused when you head through the roundabouts in Breck or, even worse, Avon, I would suggest some serious merging-and-yielding practice before heading to the on-road twists and turns leading to the hills of Barcelona, Spain.

For it was in that magical Catalunian country — home to cava, bizarre Gaudi architecture and meat with every meal — that I recently decamped to check out the significantly improved Volvo XC60. And I certainly learned about traffic circles, often the hard way.

The luxury midsized SUV category is very gradually expanding in the Suburban-crazy USA, but XC60 makes up more than 30 percent of Volvo's global sales, so a new vehicle to replace a very popular, nine-year-old model is a very welcome thing.

Volvo has entirely changed the way it does business in the decade since the company was purchased by Chinese investors. If you've seen or driven the new XC90 SUV or the broad and elegant S90 or V90 sedans and wagons, you've seen how upscale and futuristic the new models have become.

Volvo is also making a $500 million investment in a new plant in South Carolina, which will open next year and build all of the S60 sedans for the global market, employing more than 2,000 people in the process.

The 2018 XC60, which will go on sale in August, is constructed from the same adaptable frame architecture as the 90-class SUVs and cars, and shares a considerable percentage of the XC90's parts — full-sized sport seats and the iPad-styled infotainment systems, most notably.

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That means an amply scaled midsize SUV that provides all of the safety, gracious styling and up-to-date technology of its larger sibling (plus standard all-wheel drive), but can be purchased for a somewhat more competitive $41,500 and up.

And while the collision-prevention and crash survival systems are even more pronounced on the new XC60, the vehicle is also still a lot of fun to drive — especially in circles, at high speeds, as I found — with standard engine choices reflecting the company's iron-clad commitment to build nothing but four-cylinder engines, or maybe just high-efficiency three-cylinders in the not-so-distant future.

XC60 gets a standard turbocharged 2.0-liter four, good for 250 horsepower, or a more sparky 316 horse setup generated by a turbocharged and supercharged model, which we drove on our wine-country-and-motorways-and-traffic-circles route in Spain.

You may also be interested in the T8 hybrid version of the XC60, which will combine a turbo engine and an electric motor to drive the rear wheels, producing a punchy 400 horsepower total. Those will appear in September — we'll be interested in checking them out, as well.

Glossy as the new SUV is, one cannot discuss Volvo without seeing what new safety gadgets are now available, and XC60 marks the debut of three new systems.

At low speeds, the City Safety system will now help steer for you if pedestrians or bicyclists (or, as many of my Frisco and Silverthorne friends are discovering, moose) suddenly cross your path. Out on the highway, the oncoming lane mitigation is a very smart addition that senses traffic on two-way roads and will also help you aggressively steer out of the way of danger. As well, the blind spot warning system now also includes steering assist to help avoid bumping into cars approaching you from the rear.

If that seems like the car is doing a lot of steering for you, that's part of Volvo's aggressive moves toward autonomous driving systems. The combined tech does make for the occasional ungainly robotic yank on the wheel, especially as you merge through painted lines onto the highway, but I am guessing the overall package makes the vehicle one of the safest on the road.

XC60 incorporates a lot of the general design and feel of the new XC90, including a glossy, chrome-framed grille and striking headlights with integrated LED running lights (dubbed Thor's Hammer, as Viking descendants are ought to do, when not celebrating the National Day of Sweden, as we did in epic style).

There's a shorter front overhang, a longer hood and the prominent indentations along the cabin give the 184.6-inch-long vehicle a pretty serious sense of presence. XC90, by the way, is 195 inches; the XC60 still manages a decent 29.7 cubic feet of behind-the-seats cargo storage.

Inside, the chrome-lined vertical air vents, the oversized touchscreen and pronounced Bowers and Wilkins speakers (a 15-speaker, 1,110-watt system is available) plus attractive driftwood-accented trim all make for a nice package. A full panoramic sunroof opens up the cabin, and you don't particularly get the impression you're in a shrunk-down XC90; the XC60 feels sizeable, sexy and complete.

2018 Volvo XC60

MSRP: $41,500 – $45,300 (standard model)

Powertrain: 250/316-HP turbocharged/supercharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, 8-speed automatic transmission

EPA figures: TBA