Car Review: 2019 Volvo V60

OK, it might not be as rare as sighting Sasquatch riding a unicorn. But here in Canada, seeing a new station wagon on the road is a noteworthy event. And yes, Volvo’s redesigned V60 is neither an SUV nor a crossover, but an honest-to-God of Thunder station wagon. True, the Swedish automaker prefers the European term “estate” rather than wagon, but that’s Volvo’s issue, not mine.

Having grown up at a time where wagons were almost as common in the suburbs as crossovers are today — and where minivans once were — it does my heart good to see a company retain its roots (while successfully branching out with a full range of upscale crossovers), for there was a long period where “Volvo” and “station wagon” were almost synonymous. My clearest recollection starts with the ubiquitous and very square 240 series; those younger might remember the 850 (Volvo and TWR famously campaigned an 850 Estate in the 1994 British Touring Car Championship) followed by the V70 — especially the Q-ship V70R — and now the V90.

“The family estate driver is an important customer for our business and has been for generations,” said Håkan Samuelsson, president and CEO of Volvo Cars. “The new V60 honours that tradition, but also takes it much further.”

The smaller, mid-sized V60 has been around since 2011, though not sold in North America until 2014. While retaining its everyday practicality as a family vehicle, the new-generation 2019 model adds a longer wheelbase and a larger measure of elegance and sophistication, something the previous model had in shorter supply. It shares Volvo’s Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) platform with the almost-as-new XC60 and the topline 90-series vehicles.

The company ambitiously states the V60 introduces “a new standard to the mid-size premium wagon segment, with a luxurious interior, increased levels of space and advanced connectivity,” plus Volvo’s latest driver support systems and other safety technology. However, it’s a short list of competitors (if we’re keeping the playing field strictly limited to wagons and not mixing in the far more extensive number of crossovers out there) and they all come from Germany: Audi A4 Allroad Quattro, BMW 3 Series Touring, Mercedes’ C- and E-Class wagons and the smaller, less expensive VW Golf Alltrack.

The V60 is off to a strong start just in the looks department; it’s a seriously stylish car, with a sloping roofline and short overhangs. There’s no need to include the qualifier “for a wagon” here. Ditto the interior, but more on that later.

For the Canadian market, Volvo has chosen to bless us with two versions of the V60, the T5 FWD and the T6 AWD. Turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engines power both; the T6 gains a supercharger under the hood as well, which gives the wagon a dramatic boost (no pun intended) in the jump department — 316 horsepower and a strong 295 pound-feet of torque versus the T5’s 250 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. An eight-speed automatic transmission sends that power to all four wheels.

While there’s no denying the wagon’s turn of speed — for something weighing a solid 1,818 kilograms, the T6 will accelerate from zero to 100 km/h in a quick 5.6 seconds, according to Volvo — I can’t help but wonder if going the turbo/supercharger route isn’t techno-overkill; that, for longevity purposes, using a turbo-only engine with a larger displacement wouldn’t be the better way to go.

And, despite having the muscle, the V60 T6 is not quite as sporty it might initially appear to be. Yes, Volvo is a European (obviously) company — though owned by China-based Geely — but it’s not a German company. So, the car doesn’t have the same handling dynamism of some of its Teutonic rivals. Only in Dynamic driving mode, which is the wagon’s “high-performance” setting, does the V60 feel ready to take on twisty tarmac with verve. In Comfort and Eco modes, the Volvo is far more relaxed, the suspension softer and the steering lighter. That’s not meant as a criticism, but more of a personal observation. The V60 is still one of those cars you can drive all day and still feel refreshed after the experience.

And for that, let praise be heaped upon the V60’s front seats. Along with Volvo’s tradition as a wagon builder and its known reputation for safety, the company’s seats have long been lauded for their long-distance comfort. The V60’s are extraordinary — heated and ventilated, of course, and since the tester is the top Inscription trim level ($55,400 to start), also come with a standard cushion extension that is a boon for those blessed with long legs.

The rest of the fully contented cabin is typically Scandinavian, light colours, nice driftwood-like trim and a minimalistic use of buttons and knobs. Most everything is controlled via a nine-inch touchscreen that contains Volvo’s Sensus infotainment system. I haven’t been the biggest fan of Sensus in the past; the screen operates like a tablet, with the usual swipe, poke and pinch motions to activate the car’s myriad functions. My issue is that viewing and using the screen requires glancing away from the road, and depending what you’re trying to access — seat and steering wheel heat levels, fan level, radio stations, etc. — can require multiple pokes.

Cargo room is family getaway generous — 529 litres behind the rear seats and 898 when they’re folded flat, which is easy-peasy courtesy of a couple of buttons in the back that slams them down.

dscn3954 Car Review: 2019 Volvo V60

As said earlier, Volvo has a renowned reputation for safety. A couple of the more notable features found in the new V60 are the standard City Safety system with Autobrake technology and the optional Pilot Assist system (part of the $1,500 Convenience package). The first uses automatic braking and detection systems to assist the driver in avoiding potential collisions (Volvo claims it’s the only system on the market to recognize pedestrians, cyclists and large animals.) The upgraded and semi-autonomous Pilot Assist supports the driver with steering, acceleration and braking “on well-marked roads up to 130 km/h.”

The V60 is a great set of wheels. Except for lacking the jacked-up ride height of crossovers — and there’s always the XC60 if you absolutely need it — the wagon is as good, if not superior, as an upscale family hauler than most of those other vehicles. While the T6 Inspiration tester was fully kitted out with about $10,000 worth of options (including $3,750 for the outstanding Bowers & Wilkins sound system) and has a $65,600 sticker to show for it, the V60 can be had for significantly less. The T6 Momentum starts at a lower $48,900. And if you can forego all-wheel drive and the performance benefit of the supercharger, you can save $4,000 and choose the T5 Momentum instead.

Station wagons haven’t ruled the suburbs for more than 30 years, and given the overwhelming popularity of crossovers, likely never will again. That said, if you want something that will stand out on your block, look no further.

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