EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 14, 2013

Volvo XC60 masters two personalities

Motor Mouth
Jeffrey Zygmont

---- — I get lost with annoying frequency when walking to my car in parking lots. It’s not that I’m particularly forgetful. I’m just so often driving a different car, an evaluation model to support this column, that I have to stop and think, OK, what is it this week.

When I performed that exercise last week in the expansive lot outside Market Basket in Salem, N.H., the model I sought stood out so stylishly, with so much handsome poise and distinction, that I was startled. I thought, now that model would make any driver feel sharp.

The Volvo XC60 is a crossover wagon, or a passenger car that incorporates the high ride and superior traction of a sport-utility vehicle.

Inside the XC60 you sense its SUV character. Compact in overall body size but ample inside the cabin, the car has heft and substance, with pampering seats that provide an assuring overview of the traffic all around you.

But from the outside, the model’s passenger-car aspect appears more evident. The four-door, five passenger wagon looks slim, svelte and perfectly trimmed for forward movement.

It also exhibits a settled sense of luxury. Instead of big, loud and showy – the braggart’s approach to luxury – the Volvo XC60 appears more serene and self-confident. Prices for the four-door, five-passenger wagon start around $35,000.

Approaching it in the lot at Market Basket, I looked hard at the XC60 because its lightweight, balanced posture – with a slender, elongated beak and an elegant, backward-leaning top body – didn’t seem to belong to the model I had arrived in.

But after a second look I saw the Volvo’s sturdy, solid travel manners apparent down at the road level. They showed in the elevation over the pavement, the crisp, straight, visual cut-off at the floor, the stable, athletic wheel placement and the large wheels themselves.

At Jaffarian Toyota Scion Volvo in Haverhill, the appearance of the XC60 is usually the first characteristic that lures people to the model, according to Jonathan Russo, sales manager at the dealership.

“Volvo has given the car some nice lines. The styling is more aggressive, less conservative, and that’s appealing to more people,” he said.

Shoppers also like the model’s ride and handling, Russo explained. I can see why.

I found the XC60 smooth and comfortable but with quick, agile reactions that made me feel both confident and playfully engaged while driving it. My test model came with the larger, more powerful engine of the two motors available in the vehicle. With a little goose on the accelerator pedal, the car hopped and dashed with spirit and confidence.

But the XC60 remains a wagon, not a racer. It has a generous cargo floor inside the back hatch. The rear seat splits into three sections that fold flat piece by piece, providing a wide variety of expandable configurations for hauling gear of all sorts.

The model’s versatile, flexible transport abilities make it a favorite of families, Russo explained. But the wagon’s appeal stretches farther than that, he noted.

“We also see young professionals buying it, people who are active and outdoorsy, like skiers,” Russo stated.

In fact, during my week-long test drive, I found that the XC60 performed very well as an accessory to active lifestyles.

In one case, I made a late-evening run to Logan Airport to pick up my daughter, Greta, and her husband, Scott, when they returned from a ski vacation. We folded down a portion of the rear seat-back to handle the bulky, long bag laden with skis. The back cargo hold took the rest of the luggage, including the big gear bag stuffed with the ski boots and other large accessories. A major share of the back seat remained for passenger comfort, so that the three of us drove back to the Merrimack Valley enjoying relaxed conversation and notable ease.

Russo explained that the style, spirit and luxurious aspect of the XC60, along with its wide-ranging functions, bring in drivers from both the general population and from the luxury-car ranks. He sees drivers trading in crossover wagons from Audi and Mercedes-Benz to purchase the Volvo. He also gets models from the likes of Toyota and Jeep in exchange for the XC60.

Volvo sells two versions of the XC60. A basic model comes with a 240 horsepower in-line six-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission. It uses front-wheel drive, with all-wheel drive available as a $2,000 option. Higher level variations, called the T6 and the T6 R-Design, come only with all-wheel drive.

Both use the same, 3.0-liter in-line six cylinder, with turbocharging to increase engine power. In the XC60 T6, the engine puts out 300 horsepower. In the T6 R-Design, software changes in the engine control computer boosts output to 325 horsepower. The R-Design also comes with such additional sport-driving gear as a more substantial, aggressively tuned suspension, stiffer springs and struts, and larger, 20-inch wheels.

At Jaffarian Volvo, sales manager Russo described the XC60 as a watershed car. Before the model came out in 2009, Volvo was known primarily as a safety-conscious manufacturer that built sturdy, durable cars. But the high style of the compact crossover started an identity change that pushed the image of Volvo away from conservative-leaning design and toward a new emphasis on stunning good looks.

The way the model grabbed me in the grocery store parking lot, I saw how well that transformation has taken hold.

Jeffrey Zygmont is an author of fiction and nonfiction books, and a long-time auto writer. Contact him at www.jeffreyzygmont.com.

2013 Volvo XC60 Vehicle type: 4-door, 5-passenger, front- and all-wheel-drive compact crossover wagon Price range: $35,245 to $49,845 (plus options) Warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles basic warranty; 12 years/unlimited miles corrosion warranty Base engine: 3.2-liter I6 Power: 240 horsepower at 6,200 rpm; 236 lb.-ft. torque at 3,200 rpm Transmission: 6-speed automatic Fuel economy: 19 mpg city; 25 mpg highway (with FWD) Wheelbase: 108 inches Length: 182 inches Width: 74 inches Height: 67 inches Weight: 4,012 pounds Fuel capacity: 18.5 gallons Turning circle: 38.4 feet