The Volvo executive was maybe 25 percent joking during a briefing on the new V60 when he said, “If we do anything right, it’s a wagon.”
Indeed. Since it introduced its first Duett in 1953, Volvo has sold six million wagons — or estates, rancheras and kombis, as they’re labeled in other corners — worldwide. Wagons accounted for roughly a third of all Volvo sales in the United State before the onslaught of SUVs and the introduction of the first XC90 in 2002
Now comes the 2019 V60, just in time to catch a mini wagon wave lifting cars like the Buick Regal TourX, Jaguar XF Sport Brake and Volvo’s own V90. Wagons remain a tiny but profitable niche — about 200,000 U.S. sales in 2017 — and traditionally strong station wagon suppliers are loath to walk away.
The next V60 is the wagon spin on Volvo’s revamped, midline S60 sedan, which Volvo has yet to release (even if it will actually be here months before the wagon). The V60 is a well-executed car, and, yes, we tend to be fond of wagons around here. Yet after a decent rain-soaked drive, even with that affinity and Volvo’s long-established wagon credentials, the V60 seems less enamoring than some other recently launched Volvos, including the small XC40 crossover. Get to that in a bit.
The V60 is built from Volvo’s Scalable Product Architecture platform, used under larger vehicles like the S90 and XC90, rather than the so-called Compact Modular Architecture under the recently launched XC40. Either way, the concept behind both is essentially the same: a modular platform that can be adjusted in any direction or dimension except the distance between the front axle and dash crossbeam (crucial for crash protection, and home to much of the powertrain).
Volvo calls the new V60 midsize, but if initial volume estimates are correct, it fits the EPA’s small wagon category. Its steel unibody is ‘tweener, nonetheless, and larger than the 2018 V60. The old one fit easily within the same space as compacts like the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class (it was a bit smaller). At 187.4 inches in length, the ‘19 V60 is nearly 5 inches longer than before, on a 113.1-inch wheelbase that’s nearly 4 inches longer. The new V60 is larger than any of those Euro compacts and closer by exterior dimensions to midsize competitors like the A6, 5 Series and E-Class, and Volvo’s own V90 (though still smaller).
The more obvious difference between old and new is appearance. The next V60 continues what has been called Volvo’s styling renaissance. It’s longer, lower and more engaging to behold. It looks more stylish and substantial than the ‘18 — and less dorky from the B-pillar forward.
There will be two powertrain options to start, both motivated by the only combustion engine Volvo currently offers in the States. In the base front-drive V60, Volvo’s modular 2.0-liter turbo-four presents at T5 grade, with 250 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. The upgrade engine in the V60 T6 adds a belt-driven supercharger to pump more forced air into the turbo stream up to 3,500 rpm. That helps increases the net to 316 hp, 294 lb-ft, or an impressive 158 hp per liter. It’s one of the most potent 2.0-liter fours currently available.
The transmission is Volvo’s Aisin-built eight-speed torque-converter automatic — no manual option for North America. The Borg Warner all-wheel-drive system in the T6 can split power 50 front/50 rear as necessary, but it shuts off the rear axle whenever possible during steady-throttle operation to maximize fuel economy.
Underneath, the V60 gets wishbones and coil-over struts in front and a multilink suspension arrangement rear, with Volvo’s familiar transverse composite leaf spring and conventional hydraulic shocks all around. There’s a brake upgrade in the T6 that increases swept area about 10 percent, but it’s engineered more to maintain the same performance with extra weight than to shorten stopping distances. Factory rims range from 17 to 20 inches in diameter.
Inside, the V60 cabin and dash are restyled, mostly for the better, and this line adds Volvo’s Sensus iPad-style control interface for the first time. The electronic hardware has been upgraded, starting with better resolution and a processor 50 percent faster. Volvo’s City Weave cloth upholstery will be offered, making the V60 the first U.S. Volvo car without mandatory leather in a long time. The cloth is nice and comfortable, if you’re good with plaid. Key fobs will be trimmed to match the interior color. The base audio system starts with 170 watts and 10 speakers. The midline system is branded by Harman Kardon and the really-impress-your-neighbors package is Bowers & Wilkins.
The V60 also extends application of the Car Sharing option introduced in the XC40. Car Sharing works through the Volvo phone app and allows the owner to leave the V60 at a station or in a parking garage for someone else to use, without sharing the key, for as long as the owner determines. The app keeps track of the V60’s location and miles driven.
And because it’s a Volvo, the V60 will come standard with the same safety features and driving aids as line-topping 90-series vehicles. These include City Safety with Autobrake and steering assist technology. Volvo claims it’s the only system currently available that recognizes pedestrians, cyclists and large animals, and in the V60, it adds steering assist and auto braking during potential collisions with oncoming vehicles. Volvo’s remaining safety systems — including a 360-degree camera and cross traffic alert with brake support — are optional. So is Volvo’s Pilot Assist self-driving feature, which works up to 80 mph and now uses location and map data to manage speed. That means Pilot Assist should know when the V60 is approaching a slow bend, then lower speed accordingly.
U.S.-spec V60s begin production at Volvo’s Torslanda factory in Gothenburg by winter this year, reaching dealerships in the first quarter of 2019 (the S60 will be built at Volvo’s new assembly plant in Charleston, S.C., which comes on line this fall). Both the T5 and T6 will launch in two trim levels: Momentum, which comes standard with leather, power tailgate and four years of Volvo’s On Call concierge service, and Inscription, which adds LED fog lights, larger wheels, Driftwood interior inlays and four-zone climate, among other things.
Volvo promises an R-Design package at some unspecified date, as well as a V60 T8 hybrid with rear wheels driven by an 84-hp electric motor. The V60 will also be the second car offered in the Care by Volvo subscription service — essentially a lease that includes 15,000 miles a year, all maintenance and perishables like wiper blades and tires, full concierge support and full coverage from Liberty Mutual with a $500 deductible for one monthly fee. There’s nothing down, with the option to change cars annually.
For the XC40, at $600 monthly for an optioned Momentum, $700 for an R-Design, Care by Volvo has been a smash hit. Volvo used up the entire 2018 production allotment for the program in the first four months.
Volvo presented a V60 T6 for evaluation around Barcelona, at least seven months before the car will be available to customers in the United States. Tough duty, not, but the drive turned out to be shorter than expected — focused on weathering torrential rain in the mountains above the Mediterranean coast more than evaluating subtleties in a complicated new car.
Not complaining, and there’s still an obvious load of things to like in Volvo’s next wagon: appealing, mostly uncluttered design inside and out; an impressive amount of interior space for its footprint (and styling); general dynamic competence. And it’s a much better car than the S60/V60 it replaces.
The V60’s cabin is a strength. Aesthetically, accounting for some subtle adjustments for size and purpose, the interior lines up with other recent Volvos. Finish quality, and maybe the feeling of richness, rank at the top of the class. Ideally, there would be more hard buttons — for the fan, airflow direction and temperature — but Volvo’s Sensus full-touch-control interface is easier to master than the point-and-click systems in other luxe brands, even when they have those hard buttons.
There’s lots of room in the back seat, too: good legroom for 5'9" passengers with the front seats moved all the way back, and a full hand of headroom to spare. The outboard rear seats are form-fit and supportive. There was more than enough luggage space for four international air travelers, and with the rear seat folded, hold volume increases from 29.1 cubic feet to about 50. There are bag hooks, a solid cargo floor divider and tie-downs in back, with buttons just inside the tailgate to lower the spit rear seatback (though you’ll have to walk around to the side doors to manually raise them again). With a weight limit of 165 pounds, the V60’s roof capacity is about 75 percent of that on a XC60 crossover, but it’s a whoooole lot easier to get stuff up there. Lower load height is one the most frequently cited reasons for choosing a wagon over an SUV, according to Volvo.
The T6 suspension is not aggressively tuned, nor particularly inspiring, but in a 2-inch-per-hour deluge the V60 never induced a failure of confidence. It was never anything but sure-footed. In the era of electronically managed, variable rate dampers, the V60 reminds us what well-tuned conventional hydraulic shocks can do.
Volvo’s 2.0-liter T6 is adequate as the upgrade engine in the big ol’ XC90 SUV, and it’s more than satisfying in this V60 wagon. There’s an abundance of torque for daily rounds, and enough rev strength to make free-range manual shifting worth the trouble. Bottom line, the T6 is one of the strongest 2.0Ts going, and who doesn’t make a 2.0T? Others can underwhelm with rough edges or occasional palpitations, but the T6 is just strong and smooth.
What’s not to like? Lingering indifference toward the V60 T6 rests more in what’s not to lust after. Volvo has exhaust tone down fairly well in general, as to basic pitch and depth. Yet if you start isolating individual elements, like intake rush or supercharging whir or certain frequency ranges, it doesn’t sound great. In the V60, quiet-cabin engine sounds can drone.
Volvo’s eight-speed automatic ranks somewhere midpack. It’s lumpier than the best torque-converter automatics during aggressive downshifting or quick deceleration. In the V60, in standard automatic mode, it’s a bit slow to act and not inclined to downshift. In sport mode, for ordinary, commute-style travel, it can hold gears too long. Then there’s that darn safety steering.
Figure out how to turn the safety steer off, and the V60’s feels pretty good: generally light, but not in an overboosted, low-feel fashion. But if you leave the safety steering on, you’d better not drift toward the outer edge of your own lane, trying to use it all, because this car will pressure you to stay in the center — unless you switch the turn signal on, which doesn’t seem like a good idea when all you intend to do is roll toward the outer edge of your lane. On one hand, one can argue that Volvo’s lane-keep steering is particularly effective because it doesn’t wait until you cross a painted stripe to rein you in. On the other, it’s an annoying pain in the butt.
In a purely rational way, the next V60 is nearly all the way there. The less-enamoring-than-other-recent-Volvos take is tricky to express. Maybe this T6 is not much different than the others, or maybe it doesn’t have enough generally fresh, happy stuff going on, beyond wagon-hood, to as easily overlook its annoyances. Price is crucial here, too. One of the single best things about the XC40, and to a lesser extent the S90/V90, is that they punch above their weight class (or their price point). We won’t know where the V60 settles for another six months.
Bottom line on less enamoring, and it’s a very personal thing: If the drive traveled includes interesting roads through beautiful country on a beautiful day, this reviewer would choose Jaguar’s XF Sportbrake wagon every time, if the alternative were Jag’s generally impressive F-Pace SUV. He’d be no more inclined to drive the V60 T6 than Volvo’s little XC40/SUV crossover thing, nor even an XC60.
The 2019 Volvo V60 is a solid car, and it's probably easy to live with long term. It overlooks nothing that’s really important. We just wouldn’t be as eager to live with it as we might be with some others in its competitive set — or as eager as we would be to live with the XC40 or the V90.
On Sale: First quarter 2019
Base Price: $39,000-$50,000 (est)
Powertrain: 2.0-liter turbocharged I4, 8-speed automatic, front- or all-wheel drive
Output: 250 hp @ 5500 rpm, 258 lb-ft from 1500 rpm (T5)
Curb Weight: 3650-4400 lbs
0-60 MPH: 0-60 mph, 6.4 sec (T5, manufacturer); 5.6 sec (T6, est)
Fuel Economy: 30 mpg (T6, converted from combined EU cycle)(EPA City/Hwy/Combined)
Pros: Competent, well-sorted compact with the functional benefits of a wagon; better than the car it replaces, and better looking than ever
Cons: Not as compelling as Volvo’s little XC40 crossover, and not considerably more engaging