Las Vegas, Nevada – It’s like coming home. When you walk up to the 2015 Volvo V60 Sportswagon, the trusty, unbreakable Volvo station wagons of the past come to mind. Those cars were unpretentious, elegantly practical, and utterly dependable, just like the Swedes themselves.
Now the Volvo wagon is back on the American market after a short interval during which only the all-wheel-drive Volvo XC70 represented the beloved box of the brand from Gothenburg, Sweden. We’re happy it’s back, since wagons are cool again and the combination of cargo capacity, good fuel economy, and carlike handling makes the wagon seem ever more appealing than a sport-utility vehicle. And it’s not alone, witness the reappearance in the U.S. of the Audi Allroad and the BMW 3 Series wagon.
Best of all, the 2015 Volvo V60 T5 Drive-E is better than any Volvo wagon you remember thanks to a livelier, premium-quality personality and a new Drive-E powertrain that squeezes out more mpg from its engine without squeezing out the fun in the process.
So sleek, so stylish, and so un-Swedish
The Volvo V60 wagon doesn’t look much like the beloved box of the past. Based on the platform of the Volvo S60 sedan, it measures 182.5 inches in overall length, 73.4 inches wide, and 58.4 inches high, and it rides on a wheelbase of 109.3 inches. Actually, the 2015 V60 doesn’t even look that much like the Volvo S60 sedan you probably remember, since the 2014 S60 received a very useful styling makeover. The superfluous chrome and black-out trim has been stripped away, the hood has been reshaped, and the revised grille and headlights help the car look more resolutely Volvo.
Once you’re in the cabin, the V60 makes you even more aware of Volvo’s new way of doing business. The architecture is the same, notably the elegant waterfall-style center console that looks like a piece of high-style Swedish furniture when it carries a wood finish, yet the selection of materials and the mix of colors send a new message of premium luxury that seems altogether adventurous for Volvo.
This new, livelier presentation is especially apparent in the models with sport trim, as the bolstered seats, multimode TFT instrument display (Eco, Elegance, and Sport), and leather-wrapped steering wheel put the BMW 3 Series wagon to shame. The new Sensus Connect system of electronic connectivity is very cool and incorporates some neat applications, but the software behind the touchscreen interface is clumsy and difficult to sort out. Volvo hasn’t lost its way, though, because practicality is still the message, thanks to 33.5 inches of rear-seat legroom, a 40/20/40-split folding rear seat, and 43.8 cubic feet of cargo capacity.
Practical powertrain in a Swedish-style way
Volvo is in the midst of an $11 billion program to prepare itself for the future, and the first evidence is the company’s new Drive-E powertrain, which is available in the 2015 Volvo V60, 2015 Volvo S60, and 2015 Volvo XC60. Volvo engineers have taken their transverse inline-5/inline-6 engine package (first designed for Volvo by Porsche long ago and then subsequently reengineered by Volvo) and made something entirely new.
This is the eminently Swedish way, and indeed Jan-Erik Larsson, head of the engineering program for the Drive-E engine, made the program’s proposal to the Volvo board of directors on July 25, the day known as Jakob’s Day in Sweden. This also happens to be the day when the very first Volvo car – the Volvo OV 4 – was completed in 1926, immortalizing the car within the company as “Jakob.” (And also the day that Larsson’s grandfather, who designed the car’s engine and founded Volvo AB, helped roll out Jakob from the workshops.)
The new modular engine begins with a transverse, 2.0-liter inline-4 version of the former Volvo engines, now configured for application as either a direct–injection gasoline engine or a common-rail diesel. When the gasoline engine carries a turbocharger to enhance high-rpm power, it makes 240 hp at 5600 rpm and 258 lb-ft of torque from 1500 to 4800 rpm. When the engine carries both the turbo and a belt-driven Roots-type supercharger to boost low-rpm power, it is rated at 302 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque.
There’s far more to the engine than its power rating, as it incorporates lightweight all-aluminum casting, a forged-steel crankshaft, a low-friction valvetrain, and continuously variable valve timing on both the intake and exhaust side. Moreover, the powertrain incorporates automatic stop/start and brake regeneration. Finally, the eight-speed Aisin-Warner automatic transmission has a coasting function. The bottom line is an improvement in fuel economy of between 13 to 26 percent for the various configurations. The 2015 Volvo V60 T5 Drive-E has an EPA rating of 25/37/29 mpg (city/highway/combined).
The only downside to the new modular engine is its physical dimension, as it can fit only the front-wheel-drive examples of the V60 wagon and S60 sedan. All-wheel-drive versions of these cars will continue to be available with the 250-hp, turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-5 or the 325-hp, turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6, both of which have a six-speed automatic transmission.
Funny, it doesn’t drive like a Volvo
We spent our time with the Volvo V60 cruising around Las Vegas, which seems like a very un-Swedish thing to do. The red rocks of the desert landscape fascinated the Swedes, and they were equally enthralled by the wacky architecture of the casino resorts along Las Vegas Boulevard. Sadly, this is not a place to drive fast, especially when a European driver attending an event staged here by another car company arouses the local law enforcement with a 140-mph exhibition of speed.
So, despite our best intentions, we were driving the 3527-pound Volvo wagon at resolutely safe and sane speeds through the Valley of Fire and around Lake Mead. Even so, the quiet cabin and calm, resilient ride on the optional 19-inch tires quickly got our attention. Volvo might not be owned by Ford any longer, but some of its recent efforts have still gone down the road like mushy, old-school Fords. However, with the revision to the S60 platform in 2014 has come meticulous attention to acoustics in the cabin and a thoroughly re-engineered suspension with different bushings and monotube, high-pressure gas dampers in the rear.
As a result, the Volvo V60 in Dynamic chassis trim drives more like a BMW than a Ford, but without that brittle, high-frequency stutter than so many sport-calibrated BMW suspension setups have. This car is vastly more comfortable than you’d expect, even as it delivers good grip at high speeds and also offers a standard torque-vectoring function in the front differential to mitigate understeer. Even the electric-assist steering has the same feel we’ve experienced in the BMW M235i – resolutely numb, to be sure, yet with a sure sense of on-center stability, so you always feel like the car knows where it’s going.
Welcome back, Volvo guys
When you ask the Volvo people about the recent lapse in the U.S. availability of a plain, carlike wagon to complement the on-going availability of the Volvo XC70, they just shake their heads in embarrassment. Nevertheless, they quickly recover and point out that Volvo’s primary markets are the United States, China, and Sweden. Although U.S. sales declined 10 percent to 61,233 vehicles last year (a long way from the 100,000 yearly sales more than a decade ago), Volvo still sold 427,840 vehicles worldwide in 2013, not an insignificant amount.
As Geely, the Chinese car company that now owns Volvo, sees the future for the Swedish company, it must move out of near-luxury limbo and compete directly with Audi and BMW. It will do this by remaining uniquely Swedish. As Volvo chief designer Thomas Ingenlath says, “Outdoor activities are an important part of the Swedish lifestyle. We will continue to refine Volvo’s strong connection to these activities with more emphasis on modernity. It’s about making functionality an emotional experience. Just like an expensive goose down jacket, our cars will have a true feeling of sophistication with an underlying strength and capability.”
At a starting price of $36,225 (including $925 destination), the 2015 Volvo V60 T5 Drive-E is knocking right on the door of the BMW 3 Series wagon, and just like the BMW, the Volvo’s price quickly escalates as you select options that are luxurious, sporty, or cleverly functional in that wagon-y way that Volvo has. (Check out the Volvo V60’s microsite for a useful reintroduction to the wagon mind-set, www.thewagonisback.com.) Ordinarily we’d be a little more skeptical about the 2015 Volvo V60’s chances to succeed, but every time we see one of those trusty, unbreakable Volvo wagons of the past cruising along the street, we can’t help but believe it’s possible.
2015 Volvo V60 T5 Drive-E
- On sale: Now
- Base price: $36,225
- Engine: 2.0L turbocharged I-4, 240 hp, 258 lb-ft
- EPA fuel economy: 25/37/29 mpg (city/highway/combined)
- Drive: Front-wheel
- Curb weight: 3527 lb