Road Tests

Swedes in Denver: We Drive the 2018 Volvo XC60, V90, and S90 T8 Hybrid

In the foothills of the Rockies, a sedan, wagon, and two crossovers demonstrate that Volvo is on course.

EVERGREEN, Colorado — The solar eclipse occurred as we ended the morning’s drive from Denver to Evergreen. Most people watched the celestial event through special glasses, but one woman on the shore of Evergreen Lake wore a welder’s mask. Better yet, a lucky few climbed into the cushy backseat of a 2018 Volvo XC60 to look through the laminated panoramic roof with a special filter.

Volvo was happily showing off its all-new XC60, which replaces the previous-generation model after nine years. Malin Ekholm, vice president of the Volvo Cars Safety Centre, had even come all the way from Sweden to share her passion for the XC60’s class-leading suite of standard and optional safety features. But Ekholm had neglected to mention eclipse-viewing protection. It could probably have been claimed as an industry first: “blind spot” protection par excellence.

We had arrived at this scene in an XC60 T6 AWD R-Design, ours since the midmorning coffee break. The R-Design is the obvious choice for enthusiasts. Equipped with paddle shifters, it allows the desired amount of driver interaction on sweeping, swooping mountain roads. We often kept the eight-speed automatic transmission in third gear for bursts on short straightaways as well as the engine-braking effect when approaching turns. Yes, the morning had begun with a technical presentation, and we heard how autonomous driving is a pursuit of Volvo’s. No, we weren’t interested just now.

Setting the driving mode in Dynamic gave us the right amount of steering assist. The suspension—double-wishbone front and an integral-link rear—and optional 21-inch R-Design Wheels with summer tires made this 4,045-pound crossover into a multi-sport athlete. With all-wheel drive, it excels at the steeplechase but won’t fall too far behind in a road race. In fact, at 184.6 inches, it’s just 1.3 inches longer than the Ferrari 812 Superfast, so be ready for some fun.

Under the hood, there’s the turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine we know from the larger XC90. This direct-injection DOHC 16-valve unit produces 316 hp at 5,700 rpm and 295 lb-ft of torque in a flat curve through the midrange. If we could only tell our uncle, who always dressed in a white T-shirt and bluejeans and believed so fervently in cubic inches, that the R-Design will sprint from 0 to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds, we know he would say, “Yer dreamin’!”

This second-generation crossover is good-looking, too. The R-Design features dramatic LED running lights, a black mesh grille, and bladelike lower fascia elements. The flanks have obviously benefited from Crossfit training, and the tail has nicely integrated pipes and a tidy “body control” lower insert.

Inside the XC60 R-Design, we found the upholstery and trim to be a trite rehash of performance-car norms. It was serious to a fault with black leather and Nubuck seats, black headliner, and aluminum inlays. It just didn’t seem like a Volvo; Swedes don’t think like this. Nevertheless, it’s all included in the $3,300 R-Design package (the big wheels are another $1,000).

The 2018 XC60 has a base price of $45,895, but our tester climbed the price ladder with a Convenience Package ($2,000) adding Pilot Assist semi-autonomous driving and power-folding second-row seats with electric-folding headrests; a Vision Package ($1,100) adding numerous driver assistance features; Advanced Package ($1,900) for whiz-bangery like 360-degree-view camera, head-up display, and LED headlights that peek around corners. Heated front seats and heated steering wheel, pleasing metallic blue paint, and a sound system that at $3,200 is more expensive than starting your own band brought the final tab to $59,740.

Starting out from Denver, after the early technical presentation, we had driven the even more expensive XC60 T8 E-AWD Inscription. This Apollonian chariot—a leader of Volvo’s ballyhooed strategy that will find all models offered with electrification by next year—incorporates an 87 hp electric motor and 10.4 kWh battery in the most unobtrusive way. We never noticed any pausing or hesitation after pressing the accelerator, nor did we hear the annoying street-railway whine of Toyota’s Synergy Drive under braking. The combined output is 400 hp and 472 lb-ft, so the T8 shows plenty of eagerness despite weighing in at 4,599 lb. It sprints from 0 to 60 mph in just 4.9 seconds, yet the EPA combined rating, which is still being determined, is sure to exceed the T6’s 27 highway mpg.

The one major knock against this hybrid is the lack of any powertrain resistance on long downhill sections. The gearshift, which has a lovely Orrefors crystal element, lacks a sport shift feature for downshifting, and there are no paddle shifters, so we rode the brakes and cringed. It also sacrifices towing capacity (5,291 lb versus 4,409 lb) compared to the non-hybrids. Otherwise, with the optional air suspension, the driving was excellent.

In top-of-the-line Inscription trim ($71,590 as tested), the T8 E-AWD has a stately look with touches of elegance, and the interior is glorious, with a beautiful sculpted dashboard. Volvo could have told us the driftwood inlays had been gathered on skerries of the Stockholm archipelago by Ole Larsson and Lars Olsson during fishing bans. Or maybe the Swedes just tricked Finns into doing it. Whatever the sourcing, a unique storytelling opportunity is being wasted.

Malin Labecker, the engineer who leads the digital user-experience effort, had also come from Sweden, in her case to demonstrate the infotainment system. Yes, there were two Malins, and they explained the name was popular for baby girls in the 1970s because of a character in Astrid Lindgren’s 1964 TV series Vi på Saltkråkan, or We on Seacrow Island. While Malin Ekholm leads the safety effort, Malin Labecker and her team deserve credit for the crackerjack infotainment system and its 9.0-inch touchscreen. The home display presents four “tiles” for the major departments, and obscure functions are never more than a few swipes away. Meanwhile, it and the 12.3-inch driver instrument display look beautiful. Other automakers should be jealous of Volvo’s achievement.

Volvo also brought the latest 90-series cars, and after the eclipse (and lunch), we sampled the V90 T6 AWD Inscription. Loving station wagons as we do, it was only natural to open the tailgate first, admiring the 69.0 cubic feet of cargo volume and 78.3 inches of Goldendoodle stretch-out space with second row seats folded. A flip-up grocery bag holder is part of the $1,900 convenience package.

The V90 is 9.7 inches longer than the XC60, and its liftover height of 24.0 inches is 6.6 inches lower. With the same super- and turbocharged 2.0-liter engine making 316 hp, it was quite responsive (0 to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds). Yet, because of excellent aerodynamic efficiency, it will return 31 highway mpg. Cloaked in dark brown with a cream-colored interior, the V90 T6 AWD Inscription fired us up. It’s sensible like a Swede, sleek without straining, and scrumptious with its tailored dash and other appointments. This one stickered for $69,340. Placing the V90 on the shopping list would lead to a hard decision for those also considering a Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate.

Please note: Volvo is not stocking the V90 in dealerships and is offering the car only as a special order. Searching for a more efficient method of retailing, senior vice president Lex Kerssemakers said he would rather not overload dealerships with inventory. “We just want to see how it works,” he said.

The return leg to Denver was completed in a 2018 S90 T8 E-AWD Inscription. The sedan enjoys a 4.5-inch increase in rear legroom, has a panoramic sunroof, and incorporates hybrid propulsion. The tradeoffs from having the electric drive components behind the rear seat are lack of space for a spare tire and a slightly smaller fuel tank. This is the car the successful executive, entrepreneur, or professional will purchase after receiving a phone reminder to “Reward Yourself.” The S90 is altogether satisfying to drive and expresses a degree of noncomformity.

Our day in the latest Volvos confirmed several things. Volvo is making great cars and crossovers that proceeded over Colorado’s roads with the “relaxed confidence” Kerssemakers and his crew like to speak of. The strategies emphasizing electrification, autonomy, and ultimate safety are right on, yet the knack for design is as strong as ever. And meeting the magnificent Malins from engineering, CEO Kerssemakers, and product guru Hans Nilsson—who has raced and improved the same Volvo 240 for more than two decades—gives us plenty of reason to believe in the company. How great it is to have Volvo back from its period of eclipse.

2018 Volvo XC60 T8 E-AWD Inscription Specifications

ON SALE Now
PRICE $53,895/$71,590 (base/as tested)
ENGINE Direct-injection 2.0L turbocharged and supercharged DOHC 16-valve I-4 and electric motor with 10.4 kWh lithium-ion battery/400 hp @ 5,700 rpm 472 lb-ft @ 2,200 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD crossover
EPA MILEAGE TBD
L x W x H 184.6 x 78.7 x 65.3 in
WHEELBASE 112.8 in
WEIGHT 4,599 lb
0-60 MPH 4.9 sec
TOP SPEED 140 mph

2018 Volvo XC60 T8 AWD R-Design Specifications

ON SALE Now
PRICE $45,895/$59,740 (base/as tested)
ENGINE Direct-injection 2.0L turbocharged and supercharged DOHC 16-valve I-4 /316 hp @ 5,700 rpm 295 lb-ft @ 2,200 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD crossover
EPA MILEAGE 21/27 mpg (city/highway)
L x W x H 184.6 x 78.7 x 65.3 in
WHEELBASE 112.8 in
WEIGHT 4,045 lb
0-60 MPH 5.6 sec
TOP SPEED 140 mph

2018 Volvo V90 T6 AWD Inscription Specifications

ON SALE Now
PRICE $58,945/$69,340 (base/as tested)
ENGINE Direct-injection 2.0L turbocharged and supercharged DOHC 16-valve I-4/316 hp @ 5,400 rpm 295 lb-ft @ 2,200 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 5-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD station wagon
EPA MILEAGE TBD
L x W x H 194.3 x 79.5 x 58.1 in
WHEELBASE 115.8 in
WEIGHT 4,169 lb
0-60 MPH 5.8 sec
TOP SPEED 130 mph

2018 Volvo S90 T8 E-AWD Inscription Specifications

ON SALE Now
PRICE $64,745/$82,140 (base/as tested)
ENGINE Direct-injection 2.0L turbocharged and supercharged DOHC 16-valve I-4 and electric motor with 10.4 kWh lithium-ion battery/400 hp @ 5,700 rpm 472 lb-ft @ 2,200 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD, sedan
EPA MILEAGE TBD
L x W x H 200.1 x 74.6 x 57.1 in
WHEELBASE 120.5 in
WEIGHT N/A
0-60 MPH  4.7 sec
TOP SPEED 130 mph

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