Volvo Cars has skated across some rough ice in recent years. It was bought by a Chinese company, the product line was refocused and, finally, new vehicles and redesigned models are beginning to appear. It is remarkable that this Swedish symbol of an independent, peace-loving country wasn't just thrown out with the bath water but drop-kicked, too.
Culture and uniqueness in a car? Some motorists do care about such elements. And Volvo is pushing back on the homogeneous trend for global blandness. It has again embraced the station wagon, which it swore off as it struggled to re-invent itself from its reputation of "safe but boring and boxy."
The V60 wagon (V for Versatile) shares architecture with the midsize S60 sedan and XC60 crossover. The wagon is sold in nine trim levels with three engine choices in front- or all-wheel drive with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Starting prices range from $36,225 to $48,225, including the $925 freight charge from Gothenburg, Sweden. The Premier Plus test car was $42,225, which included the Sport package ($1,500) and Blind Spot Information Package ($900).
The T5 models use a 240-horsepower, direct-injection and turbocharged four-cylinder engine. AWD models get a 250-horsepower, turbocharged five-cylinder and T6 AWD models have a 325-hp, 3.0-liter incline six-cylinder, quick-shift transmission and a more intense driving attitude. All engines run on 87 octane.
The bread-and-butter T5 engine should be sufficiently sporty for 97 percent of buyers, but I haven't tested it with all-wheel drive. The Sport Package, $1,500, is a true-grit upgrade including sport seats, paddle shifters and chassis stiffening. Stab the brake pedal entering a corner hot and the transmission has your back side with a quick downshift for engine braking and to put you in the right gear for a power-on exit.
The EPA cites fuel economy of 25 mpg city, 37 highway and 29 combined. I was averaging 24.8, according to the car's computer.
But fuel misers can benefit from the front-drive T5 models, with the so-called E-Drive technology. It includes such fuel-stretching functions as engine stop/start at idle and engine shut-off below 4 mph as the car coasts to a stop. Eco-coast disengages engine braking on deceleration and drops engine speed to idle when the driver lifts off the accelerator. Eco-climate disconnects the AC compressor in light-demand conditions to reduce drag on the engine. And all of this can be switched off, if desired.
Competitors in this size and price category include the Audi A3, BMW 3-Series and Cadillac CTS. The Volvo compares well in size measurements, but the back-seat legroom is short (33.5 inches) and access through the door opening is smallish.
The wagon function is exemplary. The second row folds flat to form a solid cargo floor. And the floor has a clever flip-up panel to corral grocery bags or parcels. There is basement storage and below that is the tire-inflator system and jacking tools. The second-row seatbacks also integrate a pet net that pulls up and connects securely. There are no cargo-area air vents, but the airflow is good throughout the cabin.
The V60 architecture is rigid, which supports sporty driving. The suspension is compliant with reduced head-toss over speed bumps and lumpy road and the cabin has luxury-class soundproofing. The braking has a softer pedal than any I've tested, but just push through and the bite is there.
Volvo's creative design lines are attractive while incorporating functional placement of switches and controls. Quality details add value, such as a deep, locking and lighted glove box with a storage tray. The electric parking brake is an efficient idea. Sightlines are open, but it is handy to have power folding back-seat headrests and I like that the side mirrors fold when locking the car. There is manual lumbar support for both front seats, grab handles at all window seats, coat hooks at the rear doors and a USB and iPod/auxiliary ports in the armrest cubby.
But the front center console needs reorganizing to provide a proper place to lay and charge a phone other than a cup holder, where Volvo has included a 12-volt plug for a charger. Heated seats are a $500 option but should be standard in a "Premier Plus" model, as should vented seats.
Standard safety features include City Safe, which is a low-speed crash avoidance system that will brake the car f the driver does not respond. The optional BLIS package, $900, is of interest for daily commuters for its blind spot warning, cross-traffic alert and lane change merge aid.
Volvo has recast its image to be sexier and still safe. And it still brings unique lines and influences in a sturdy and trim Scandinavian way.
2015 Volvo V60 T5 Drive-E
—Body style: mid-size, 5-passenger, front-drive wagon
—Engine: 240-horsepower, turbocharged and direct-injection 4-cylinder; 258 foot-pounds torque at 1,500 rpm
—Transmission: 8-speed Geartronic with manual/sport mode
—0-60 mph: 6.1 seconds
—Tow capacity: 3,500 pounds
—Fuel economy: 25/37 mpg city/highway; 87 octane
—Fuel tank: 17.8 gallon
—Cargo space: 43.1 cubic feet
—Front head/leg/shoulder room: 38.7*/41.9/57 inches *w/sunroof
—Rear head/leg/shoulder room: 37.6/33.5/55.2 inches
—Length/wheelbase: 182.5109.3 inches
—Curb weight: 3,527 pounds
—Turning circle: 37.1 feet
—Standard equipment includes: leather-trimmed upholstery, silver roof rails, smart key locking and push-button start, rearview camera, grocery bag holders, folding side mirrors, rear cargo cover, 8-way power driver seat, 6-way power passenger seat, electric parking brake, dual-zone climate control, 40/20/40 folding back seat, power folding back-seat headrests
—Safety features include: 6 air bags, City Safety (low-speed crash mitigation), whiplash protection
—Base price: $37,850, including $925 freight charge; price as tested $42,225
—Options on test vehicle: Sport package, $1,500, includes sport chassis, paddle shifters, 19-inch alloy wheels, sports seats; BLIS package, $900, includes blind spot information system, cross-traffic alert, lane change merge aid, front and rear park assist; metallic paint $550; heated front seats $500
—Where assembled: Gothenburg, Sweden
—Warranty: 4-years/50,000-miles bumper to bumper with roadside assistance; free scheduled maintenance for 3-years/36,000-miles
Mark Maynard is online at [email protected] Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage. To find out more about Mark Maynard and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.