Most surprising, the XC60 is no drag to drive. Not only is it quick, quiet, and refined, it's less ponderous than many other crossovers, with alert steering, a taut structure, and a decent ride. Volvo's admission that it will be recalibrating dampers on U.S.-bound cars to compensate for American highways' "expansion cracks" sent a shiver up my spine, as no car that's been "retuned" for America has ever been better for it. At least Volvo won't be fiddling with the brakes, which have stopping power to beat the band and offer more feel, in my subjective estimation, than anything this side of a Lotus Elise. No one could explain why.
The XC60 is a potent reminder that Volvo continues to have serious design and engineering smarts at its disposal. Once again, it has put the lie to the, er, lie that you must sell a million cars a year to be competitive. Volvo says it will be happy with annual North American sales of about 12,000 XC60s.
Pricing it at $38,000, Volvo shouldn't have trouble. The XC60 comes well equipped, with leather seats, all-wheel drive (the fourth-generation Haldex system), and all manner of traction control and stability devices standard.
Ever keen to reinforce its safety heritage, Volvo talked up City Safety, a laser-based, low-speed version of Mercedes-Benz's more costly and complicated driver-override system, the radar-based Distronic Plus. It automatically stops or slows the XC60 to avert impending collisions (with cars, but not pedestrians, cyclists, or fire hydrants) at speeds up to 19 mph. It worked well in parking lot demonstrations, but one could write a book about the legal, political, and philosophical implications of such intrusive nannying systems, however useful or well intentioned.
Important as it is, safety isn't everything. Volvos were once known for decent fuel economy, too, not figures barely better than a Hummer H3's.
Frankly, the XC60 is so good, if Volvo could get the mileage thing straightened out, I might even forgive it for being a crossover.