Crossover & Midsize

Does the 2021 Volvo XC60 Deserve to Be the No. 1 Compact Luxury SUV?

Chances are you think of brand names like Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, and BMW long before Volvo when you think of luxury SUVs. Yet, the new Volvo XC60 is ranked No. 1 by MotorTrend on their list of the top compact SUVs. If you’re wondering why, here’s a quick look at the acclaimed XC60 and why it’s on top.

The 2021 Volvo XC60

At a price range between $43,000 and $72,000, the new Volvo XC60 gets a lot right, starting with an attractive, modern, and sporty exterior. Under the hood, you’ll find one of three engine options. There’s the T5, a 2.0-liter turbo inline-four (250 hp/258 lb-ft of torque); the T6, a 2.0-liter turbo and supercharged I-4 (316 hp and 295 lb-ft torque), and the T8, a 2.0-liter turbo and supercharged I-4 coupled with an electric battery (400 hp/472 lb-ft of torque).

They return 22/29, 20/27, and 26/28 mpg city/highway, respectively. And each helps the XC60 handle confidently on the road, whether speeding up, slowing down on turning corners.

The cabin is filled with excellent tech options, including a standard 9-inch touchscreen, a 10-speaker sound system, and a 12.3 cluster display. The systems are easy-to-use, feature-rich, and integrated well in an upscale yet minimalist interior. The seating is incredibly comfortable, and both legroom and headroom are abundant. Base models all come with a variety of advanced safety options, including automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, and pedestrian detection.

The XC60’s design landed it a five-star rating from the NHTSA and a Top Safety Pick+ designation from the IIHS. But what sets the XC60 apart is how understated yet elegant it is compared to other vehicles in this segment. Its sophistication, coupled with its well-roundness, placed it above cars from Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, and BMW per MotorTrend.

How does the Volvo XC60 compare to the competition?

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The Volvo XC60 has some stiff competition. Rounding out the top five were the 2021 models of the Lexus NX (No. 5), Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class (No. 4), Acura RDX (No. 3), and Lincoln Corsair (No. 2). Like Volvo’s top placement, some of those included in the top five are also surprising. The Lincoln Corsair being named runner-up is unexpected, as is the Acura’s placement at No. 3 – ahead of well-known luxury brands like Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, and BMW (which came in at No. 6).

The Corsair got top marks for its interior comfort and luxury, as well as its well-performing 2.3-liter I-4 engine (295 hp, 310 lb-ft torque). Ranging between $37,000 and $49,000, it’s also quite a bit more affordable for a vehicle in this segment. The XC60 will run you between $43,000 and $72,000, while the Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class will set you back between $45,000 and $75,000.

The third-ranking Acura RDX is also quite affordable, with a range between $40,000 and $50,000. It, too, provides a great deal of interior comfort along with a sporty performance from its 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 engine (272 hp, 280 lb-ft torque). FWD comes standard, but MotorTrend recommends the AWD option for maximum ride enjoyment. Of the top-five vehicles listed, only the XC60 and RDX are noted for their athletic performance, which helped set them apart from the luxury brand vehicles.

Underperforming luxury brands 

Volvo XC60 crossover SUV car on display at Brussels Expo
The Volvo XC60 | Sjoerd van der Wal/Getty Images

None of the brands in the top five had significant flaws that would turn off prospective buyers in droves. But with luxury vehicles, it’s the subtle touches and small things that count. Further, the competition is always fierce, as many automakers nearly trip over themselves to incorporate that perfect luxury styling or trendy new feature that will land its vehicle top placement on a list like this, as well as in garages across the country.

So it’s not that the Mercedes-Benz GLC Class did anything wrong, per se. But their vehicles did not stand out as much. The GLC-Class was noted for its luxury interior but dinged for a powertrain that did not stand out. In fact, MotorTrend stated that one of the GLC-Class variants, with a sportier engine and less interior luxury, did impress. But the more upscale versions could not match its performance (nor that of the RDX or XC60 as a result).

The Lexus NX similarly did not get high marks for its performance but did get them for its interior refinement and styling. Acceleration and handling too were noted as being suboptimal. And while the back row was noted as being a bit cramped, MotorTrend did note that the vehicle was of high value. With a range of $39,000 to $48,000 and solid fuel economy, the Lexus does deserve its placement on the list — although the sixth entry, the BMW X3, may be a better option if you’re looking for performance.

MotorTrend praised this version for its ride handling and performance, though it indicated its interior was less refined and more professional than typical luxury SUVs. It’s also in a similar price range as the XC60 at between ($44,000 and $78,000). Still, the BMW X3 ultimately couldn’t match the overall performance or well-roundedness of the Volvo XC60, leading to its surprising, but deserved lower placement on the list.