Whatever happened to laying a tarp in the back of the family station wagon so you could haul a bundle of hardwood home for the holidays? It seems like only yesterday these machines ruled the family five-door segment with an iron fist and a practical approach to all things daily-driven. With their car-like proportions, rear-facing third row, and unassuming styling aesthetics, the wagons of yesteryear diligently transported millions of kids to and from sporting events and granny’s house decade after decade, along with the dog and chords of firewood on the weekend.
But sometime in the 1980s America started to lose interest in the station wagon, due partially to the fact that they had grown exceedingly unattractive over the years, but primarily because the minivan and the SUV had begun to gain in popularity. One by one auto manufacturers began phasing out their wagon offerings, with five-door hatch versions of the Corolla, Accord, Camry, and Caprice disappearing from dealer lots, never to return. Even the emergence of a 556 horsepower Cadillac CTS-V wagon a few years back flopped, and with the 425 horsepower Magnum SRT8 already extinct, things were looking bleak for resurrecting any form of interest in the stagnating platform.
Yet despite America’s acute disinterest in station wagons, a couple automakers have experienced sensational amounts of success from their continued dedication to the format. While Subaru has crushed recent sales projections year after year with its rugged Outback, Volvo has also retained its place at the head of the luxury table with its exemplary line of wagons and outstanding crash safety ratings.
People who buy Volvo wagons typically split firewood not because they need to keep their house heated, but because it makes a damn fine weekend exercise and they like the ambiance the hearth offers when it heats up. Theses people might either be hardcore Volvo enthusiasts and have been buying them for years, or they are new to the segment and get one for the family because that’s what their parents always drove.
Either way, Volvo has an extremely devout following and continues to keep its goals focused on safety and luxury first and foremost, but with a refreshing dash of performance and all-wheel drive attitude thrown in for good measure. We recently gained access to the Cross Country-badged V60 T5 station wagon, and having conducted a quick spin of the fresh Subaru Outback 3.6R just a month prior, we were eager to compare notes on these two rugged wagons to gauge the general health of a struggling segment.
We recently praised Volvo for going to great lengths in order to preserve its design language and heritage, which may not always translate to awe-inspiring, but it sure does make its vehicles recognizable on the road. The V60 Cross Country takes the Volvo’s iconic vertical tail lamps and distinct body lines, and adds an off-road edge that is both practical and tasteful. Built with clearance and convenience at the forefront, this raised wagon features an integrated exhaust, angled nose and tail lines for easier accents and descents, and plenty of tasteful small touches like 19-inch alloy wheel upgrades, some sharp silver trim accents, integrated LED lighting, and a set of super snazzy side skirts.
Exterior pros and cons
+ Increased ground clearance, skid plates, a heated windshield and washer nozzles, and an exhaust that tucks tightly beneath the chassis means this wagon is ready for off-road adventures and blizzards alike.
+ It may sit 2.6 inches higher than a normal V60, but you won’t find yourself struggling to get in or out of it, and since the doors open quite wide, hauling kids in car seats around has never been easier.
+ Stylistically, this wagon looks equal parts confident and classy, and we love all of the small touches like the integrated exhaust tips, power-folding mirrors, metallic lower ground effects, tightly sculpted rear hatch, and mini shark fin antenna.
– Focus groups and designers continue to tell us that unpainted plastic trim instills a sense of ruggedness to a vehicle, but that doesn’t make it much less of an eyesore.
– No power lift gate for easy access or top-mounted rear wiper for keeping ice and snow at bay.
Volvo has done away with its 2.5-liter motors and six-speed slushboxes in favor of a turbocharged 2.0-liter T5 (240 horsepower), a T6 (300 horsepower), and a T8 (400 horsepower) powertrain, with the latter two receiving a supercharger for additional boost gains. There also is talk of a more efficient T4 landing sometime next year, which we would be curious to put side-by-side with the T5 motor in our review vehicle, which complimented the V60 quite nicely — especially when in sport mode. Being that this is an off-road version, you can also expect things like downhill descent control and an all-wheel drive system that works around the clock.
Powertrain pros and cons
+ The T5 2.0-liter turbo may not be the big boy on the block, but with 240 horsepower and 258 foot-pounds of torque on hand, we didn’t feel ourselves craving more go, especially when in sport mode.
+ Volvo ditched the old six-speed snoozer for a refined Japanese eight-speed automatic and once paired with torque vectoring, a clever all-wheel drive setup, and vehicle stability assist, driver confidence increases considerably.
+ The 22/30 city-highway average from the EPA was pretty right on the money, and we were pleased with how this translated to powerband gains both around town and on the interstate.
– No clever locking differentials or various traction settings for sand, mud, snow, etc.
Much like the XC60 we drove a couple weeks prior, the V60 features a simple, lined interior that flips back and forth between comfortable, practical, and in need of a refresh. We love how sturdy everything feels in a Volvo, as everything from portions of the dash and the way in which things hinge themselves in place to the materials used for the buttons and knobs have a certain level of weight to them. The V60 is also a spacious wagon that comes with some sleek two-tone touches, and can be had with a winning array of creature comforts once a package or two gets added to the bottom line.
Interior pros and cons
+ Perfectly balanced heated leather seats, tight stitching, a properly proportioned and heated steering wheel, real aluminum accent pieces, and sleek, minimalistic European cabin design make for a strong sell.
+ This car is a cubby and pocket treasure trove. We especially like the 40/20/40 folding rear bench and the amount of interior space drivers and passengers alike receive.
+ Sturdy and simple, the materials used within the V60 feel top-notch.
– The center stack is dated, and that convoluted touchpad is anything but intuitive.
– The V60’s 43.8 square feet of total cargo space isn’t a ton for a true station wagon; for more, you’ll have to upgrade to the larger — and more expensive — XC70 or V90 Cross Country when it arrives.
– A luxury car without ventilated front seats, a heated second row, or LED lighting is a tough sell in today’s increasingly competitive world.
Tech and safety
At first glance, we immediately assumed that the slew of buttons in the center stack had been sired by a cellphone from 2004. This meant that infotainment controls were the same quirky, unintuitive arrangement we found in the XC60, and required some significant trial and error time. The puny center screen won’t help you much either since it doesn’t support touch, and without a mouse, you’re left rotating a single knob, which makes scanning a corner of a map for details and navigating menus a pain. Fortunately, all of these tech woes will reportedly be cleared up with the next refresh, where many of the XC90 updates will spill over into the V60 and, once paired with the already outstanding array of safety features, should make this wagon stand out.
Tech pros and cons
+ Harman Kardon sound system upgrade really brings the noise, and all of the Volvo-exclusive red graphics look outstanding.
+ Safety has always been one of Volvo’s strongest selling points, and while the 2017 V60 has yet to receive its latest crash ratings from the government, the amount of accident avoidance related tech in this wagon is outstanding.
+ Information within the infotainment center is quite detailed and easy to read day or night.
– Tiny center screen features dated map graphics and since it isn’t touch-friendly, navigating around is a frustrating ordeal.
Drive-wise, the V60 Cross Country is far more planted and precise than one might expect, especially since it rides higher than the normal model. This is due in part to the way in which its MacPherson front suspension and multi-link rear setup have been calibrated, and how the car’s torque vectoring corner controls and electronic stability assist engage.
Steering on this vehicle feels a lot more focused than in the XC60 we tested too, and while it was by no means as powerful as the mid-size SUV, the 240 horsepower T5 engine hummed along without issue and felt plenty adequate for the chassis. Come to think about it, every mechanical component on this car felt appropriate for the platform, including the brakes.
While having an additional dose of boost from a supercharger piggybacking atop the turbo would be great, we feel sticking the V60 in sport mode will deliver plenty of satisfaction for the average car buyer, as the Japanese eight-speed automatic keeps the engine quite snappy. Another win for Volvo is the way in which this car makes you feel while behind the wheel. With its pristine stitched heated leather seats, sharply lit gauges, and ample amounts of storage space in every direction, we felt ready for any condition or road trip, whether it be on- or off-road.
Wrap up and review
With decades of all-wheel drive wagon building under its belt, you would think Volvo would have perfected the art of assembling an all-in-one luxury machine by now. But unfortunately, it hasn’t: The V60 misses its mark in a few ways, starting with the fact that while it may be marketed as luxury grade, Asian cars costing half as much feature similar internal and external amenities Volvo has on deck, plus more. We also had qualms with the fact that the V60 still has yet to ditch its bizarre center stack in favor of the outstanding setup you get in the XC90.
Relying upon the fact that you are European and luxury-focused doesn’t garner sales figures like it once did. While Volvo does retain an outstanding safety record and focuses on autonomous driving like nobody’s business, its older platforms are struggling to connect with the latest generation of car buyer. This is only compounded by our test mule’s $50,000 sticker price, and the fact that the Swedish automaker was labeled as the third worst in initial quality in 2016 by J.D. Power.
Nevertheless, we still love the V60 Cross Country for all that it offers and can see it growing in popularity with future facelifts and refreshes, as Volvo has done an outstanding job of attending to the mechanical woes that had long plagued previous generations. We also enjoyed the balanced feeling we got from the drivetrain’s connectivity with the concrete, and how off-road-ready it was as well. But with other similarly-equipped and more affordable options out there, we feel buyers may struggle to gravitate toward the Volvo. The V60 Cross Country wins big points for its on-point mechanics and effortless styling, but unless you’re truly sold on the whole package, it will take some heavier financial commitment.
The V60 Cross Country is a bulletproof platform. The way in which it drives makes complete sense, allowing the V60 to stand strong as a practical family car for anyone wanting some European small wagon living. It may not be a Polestar-grade performance machine, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t rev, carve, and brake with a level of resolve that is beyond what one might expect from something so unassuming. This is the beginning of a new chapter for the V60, and Volvo has done a great job of holding its spot in the segment so that when a refresh comes around it will have a real page-turner on its hands.