After much speculation about what it could be and in what trim, the wait is over! My Vegas rental was a 2018 Volvo XC60 T6, and it may be my favorite rental to date.
I’ll go ahead and lay bare my dislike for crossovers now, so we can get it out of the way. They’re too tall, usually not very powerful, too expensive, and don’t do whatever you want them to do as well as their purpose built counterparts. Plus the vast majority are uninspired blobs of car that no one bothered to style because they know Americans will buy them no matter what. They are an affectation that is actively making everyone’s lives worse and literally killing people.
With that out of the way, I’d say the XC60 and siblings the XC40 and XC90 are the prettiest of the bunch. In photos I don’t love Volvo’s new back end, but IRL it looks good. The headlights, curves, and proportions are all pretty much perfect, with a look that is very now but will also likely age well.
Interior and Equipment
The interior of my rental was a carmelish beige and honestly was a nice change of pace from the usual black leather. Can’t imagine it is going to stand the test of time in a rental, but at 8k miles it still looked fine in mine. The panoramic sunroof was very impressive, though the shade was extremely slow to close, probably due to its size.
A large touchscreen interface dominates the center stack, with a smattering of physical buttons and a volume knob below. In rental car spec this screen was nice and responsive, but felt underutilized due to many of the features being “unavailable because you didn’t pay more”. The most egregious of this is the navigation system, which is a constant presence on the main screen, but when clicked reminds you that you should have worked harder and not been such a cheap ass when you bought the car.
The car allegedly supports Android auto, but when connected it caused my phone to shit-itself and the car refused to re-connect. I don’t really blame Volvo for this one, however I am surprised that a newish flagship phone can’t handle whatever nonsense is required to run Android Auto. Maybe I’ll just blame Vegas.
AC and climate control were controlled through the touchscreen but, weirdly, that didn’t bother me. The automatic climate worked very well and seemed to have ambient temperature compensation to help with solar loading and heat radiating from the windows. Even with an external temperature of 120F (thanks Death Valley!) the cabin was cool and didn’t have any troubles cooling off when I would get out or turn the car off.
Thankfully the radio volume, play/pause, and skip features had physical buttons, so I didn’t have to set fire to the car. These features, and many others, were also available on the steering wheel.
The electronic gauges were fine and I even liked some of the visualizations. I didn’t have much luck customizing the gauges as much as I would have liked, however, and the interface for it can be kind of obtuse. (I know there is a compass in there somewhere because I saw it when I had HDC on!!) That said, the car doesn’t encourage you to be constantly messing with the gauge screen like most modern American cars and I respect that.
Engine and Driver Aids
Against all odds the engine in the rental was the top end T6 AWD. “Cool!” you may think, “A turbo 6 cylinder! I bet that screams!” But nay, Volvo, like many other auto makers, has decided that the once sensible designation is actually the engine trim level, not a literal indication of what kind of engine it has.
Actually apparently all XC60s now come with some manner of forced induction inline 4. The “T6" is the top end with both turbo and superchargers to help it produce a respectable 316 HP and a slightly less impressive but still pretty OK 300 lb*ft of torque.
Despite being an exciting engine in that it is dual charged (or whatever you call that setup) the end result isn’t very exciting. It was designed this way for fuel economy, not excitement. Also the car is so quiet you almost never actually get to hear the engine and the power... well...
Ok the power in the XC60 is weird. It is fine, but weird.
There seems to be plenty of it... but it is more “on call” that “actually present.” Pressing the accelerator off the stop and you are met with Mitsubishi Mirage levels of disappointment. Instinctively you press a little more, but at this point you’ve either gained enough engine speed for the forced induction to hit its stride, or you’ve convinced the 8-speed auto that it shouldn’t have started in 2nd. Not sure which, but you then get an unexpected but nice surge of power. Getting this car from 0 to 5 is weird. I suspect one would get used to it.
Driving around the power is just fine and when you get on the skinny pedal it really gets up and goes. Eventually. Not sure what causes it but, much like 0-5, when you want to accelerate quickly the XC60 will... but it has to think about it first. This is really annoying as I don’t generally mash on the accelerator because I’m bored (though that happens to) but because I need to do something quickly. This is especially annoying because once it decides to go it goes. I can only assume the transmission is at fault, but it really lets down an otherwise pretty good everything else.
The brakes on this thing are very grabby and confidence inspiring. I really like it. Makes you feel like this think could go from 60 to 0 pretty much instantly.
Gas mileage was also pretty good, about 24 MPG in my test and I was not being easy on it, though of course it takes premium.
The driving aids were somewhat less inspiring. The lane keeping assist was occasionally helpful, especially when sightseeing, but seems to cut in too early some times, too late others, and give up entirely at other times. In fact, while playing with the lane keep and making it correct (safely) on a curve, it gave up so hard it activated the collision avoidance system.... which was terrifying.
The only other automated feature I tried was the Hill Descent Control, which seemed to work OK except my inability to set the speed. I’m sure a trip to the owner’s manual would have fixed this.
When the pavement ends
I did have occasion to take the XC60 on some dirt roads in Death Valley and my feelings are mixed. (Actually the roads were classified as “high clearance 4WD!!!” but that usually is a bit of an exaggeration.)
The Volvo sailed over washboard gravel very comfortably at 45 MPH with little squirrlyness or fuss, though it did develop an odd squeak. More importantly, none of the driver aids freaked out and overall the experience was very pleasant.
However when the going gets tougher the XC60 is clearly not in its element. The front lip is very pouty and threatens to collide with any and all obstacles, the parking assist and front collision hardware did not appreciate me taking lines close to rocks and ruts to avoid scratching the paint, and the car is wider than it looks with relatively poor visibility.
What finally sealed it for me was at one point I got in a very minor axle twister. Rather than risk scratching the paint, I took the line straight through it, figuring articulation and AWD would sort out any issues.
It did not.
The car came to an undignified halt and wouldn’t go any further. Strange and terrifying noises emanated from all the various pieces of the car that were trying to sort things out, but they were more alarming than assuring.
I reversed out and found a better line, but my confidence was shattered. If such a minor problem flummoxed this thing, what happens if I see something more complicated than a pot hole??
I bravely turned around.
The XC60 is not an offroad vehicle.
I liked the vehicle, but I’m not sure what it offers over the S60. We still had to fold down the seats to fit all our luggage, it doesn’t seat any more people than the S60 and I would guess it isn’t any worse offroad.
If you want a crossover of that particular size, you could do worse than the XC60. The power delay was annoying, but I’d bet you would get used to it. The vehicle is very pretty and overall drives well.