“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows,” or so Bob Dylan once sang, and this particular morning, we know the wind – carrying some torrential rain – is blowing in off the Mediterranean as we head out for a day’s drive in the all-new Volvo V60. But before we can get much beyond the gates of our hotel in the suburbs of Barcelona, Spain, our new wagon will have to do a good impression of the taller, more off-roadworthy Volvo XC60, fording a good foot of water swirling like a tempest under the railroad bridge leading to the main highway.
The torrent cleared, the rest of the drive up through the now-sodden countryside and up towards the millennium-old abbey atop the craggy Montserrat mountain will be a relative breeze although, on this particular morning, the rain in Spain is definitely not just falling on the plain.
While we’d certainly have preferred the sort of warm and sunny day the Catalan coast is known for, the stormy weather is actually giving us a chance to test the mettle of the 2019 Volvo V60 at the extremes, and as we will discover by the end of a long day’s driving, it’s more than up to the task. While it might not be as trendy as the taller XC60, the SUV that was named North American Utility Vehicle of the Year in January, the V60 boasts the sort of nimbleness, functionality and styling that should make even wagon-averse Americans pause to take notice.
Few manufacturers are, of course, as closely associated with wagons as Volvo – even though they all but vanished from the Swedish marque’s line-up earlier in the decade. For those who harken back to the days when Volvo wagons were defined almost entirely by right angles, the 2019 V60 will clearly come as a surprise. Volvo design, in general, has taken an appealing turn, the automaker today opting for a more sinuous and emotional design language first seen on the top-line 90-Series family.
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Our new wagon carries that look to new heights. Smaller than the flagship V90 wagon, and meant to replace the old V70, it boasts a more sculpted body, with twin, slightly offset character lines and a surprisingly large greenhouse that both balances the shape and provides impressive visibility for both driver and passengers. The strong wheel arches give the new V60 a muscular and well-planted appearance, enhanced by rather upright back glass.
There are the familiar Volvo design cues, such as the Hammer of Thor headlamps – which, like all exterior lamps, use LEDs – framing the slightly concave Volvo waterfall grille. It grows a bit larger here, but without adopting the comically exaggerated dimensions that some other luxury brands have resorted to.
Though the model designation might suggest otherwise, the new V60 is actually 4.9 inches longer than the outgoing Volvo V70, with a wheelbase stretched 3.8 inches – almost all of that dedicated to delivering a much roomier passenger compartment and a cargo bay large enough to swallow up four over-stuffed rollerbags with plenty of room to spare. Height is the one dimension that’s diminished, the new wagon sitting 2.0 inches lower than the old V70. Considering there is plenty of headroom, you wouldn’t know beyond the fact that it is visually more balanced than the old wagon.
Climb inside and you’ll recognize many of the design cues first seen on the big 90-Series models and then updated on the smaller 60s. The look is one of elegant, yet functional Scandinavian furniture. The wing-like shape of the instrument panel has been tweaked, ever-so-slightly, from the XC60, striking a balance that yields a slightly more driver-oriented layout while retaining the crossover’s openness.
The interior package is not only roomy but quite comfortable, with well-bolstered seats that hold you in place up a tight mountain road without leaving you sore after a few hours. One of the more intriguing options on the base V60 Momentum is the stylish fabric option that is a no-cost replacement for leather.
As with all recent Volvos, there is a distinctly high-tech aspect to the cabin layout, dominated by the unusual, vertically oriented touchscreen that operated the Sensus Connect infotainment system. Volvo committed to a minimalist approach, the 9-inch screen replaces all but a relative handful of knobs and switches.
As you fire up the V60 – using one of the wagon’s few knobs on the center console – the display quickly comes to life, thanks to an upgraded microprocessor. The screen itself is divided into four “tiles,” each focusing on a different key function, including navigation, audio and climate control. The display operates much like a smartphone, the driver using taps and swipes to go from one page to the next, as well as pinch motions to do things like zooming in on a map. Many key functions also are operable by voice.
To the credit of Volvo software engineers, there are relatively few layers requiring you to drill down to, say, change the temperature or radio station, or to turn some of the V60’s many advanced driver assistance systems on and off. In most circumstances, smartphone-style motions and voice commands do everything you need, and well. That said, we continue to think Volvo is being overly stubborn in refusing to add a multifunction knob that is just a better way to handle some things, such as zooming in and out on a map.
For today’s increasingly high-tech buyer, the Sensus Connect screen, and the array of other high-tech systems built into the 2019 Volvo V60, will help define the new wagon. As we mentioned, that includes a number of ADAS technologies, the company that invented the 3-point seatbelt increasingly focused on smart safety.
That includes the latest version of City Safety, its forward collision warning and emergency braking system, now able to also recognize pedestrians, bicyclists and larger animals. There’s also rear cross-traffic with auto-braking. And the wagon even will help steer you back into your lane if you begin a pass and discover oncoming traffic. One surprise was that blind-spot detection is part of an optional tech upgrade package. So is Pilot Assist, a semi-autonomous – not quite hands-off – system that helps you hold your lane at speeds up to 80 mph and which can brake to a complete stop in heavy traffic.
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From a traditional, mechanical standpoint, buyers will have two engine options immediately upon launch, the 250-horsepower T5 for front-wheel-drive models, as well as the 316 hp T6 if you opt for all-wheel-drive. Both of these four-cylinder engines are paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Shortly after launch, the V60 R-Design model will be added to the line-up and, along with some exterior tweaks, including larger wheels and tires, it will also add paddle shifters.
Those who want maximum performance – while also yielding the best fuel-economy and the option to drive all-electric – will also have to wait for the arrival of the T8 Twin-Engine package. That might seem an incongruous combination, but the T8 is a rather intriguing and technically sophisticated plug-in hybrid package making a combined 400 hp. It will pair an electric motor drawing power from a lithium-ion battery pack with Volvo’s 2.0-liter four-cylinder gas engine, here adding both turbo and supercharging.
We’ll have to wait to see how the Twin Engine feels in the V60, though we were impressed with it in the various 90-Series applications. Particularly noteworthy was the under-floor packaging for those lithium batteries, which meant there was no lost cargo or cabin space. We expect the same with the V60 plug-in.
For our drive through Catalan, we stuck with the T6 AWD package. At 316 hp it delivers solid, if not segment benchmark performance, an estimated 5.8 seconds 0 to 60. It is reasonably quick off the line and handles passes with aplomb – though the eight-speed gearbox occasionally can lag on downshifts.
The new V60 rides on a modified version of the same, flexible SPA platform used for the V90. The smaller wagon adopts a double-wishbone front suspension and an integral-link rear. Volvo claims to have adopted the Japanese concept of continuous improvement, and that means some subtle revisions have been made to both the suspension and engine mounts just since the XC60 crossover was launched.
The payoff was immediately obvious as we wended our way along the tight mountain passes leading up to the ancient Montserrat abbey. No, the 2019 Volvo V60 isn’t quite a mountain goat, but it handled those curves with aplomb, even in the heavy rain, giving us plenty of confidence as we looked over the steep cliffs rushing by.
It helps that the new V60 features adaptive damping that can quickly adjust to road conditions and driver input. There are also four different driver modes, set with one of the few other controls on the center console. Each adjusts a variety of vehicle settings, including damping, steering and transmission responsiveness. Steering, meanwhile, is reasonably precise, with a well-balanced level of boost for most drivers.
For those who want a truly aggressive ride, the Volvo V60 might not be the perfect choice. But for most motorists, its balance of performance, styling and functionality should hit the bill.
Well, make that for some buyers. The reality is that Volvo expects to sell “20 to 30 times” more XC60 crossovers than V60s, company officials acknowledged during a briefing on the new wagon. That’s too bad, from our point of view. The 2019 Volvo V60 is the sort of package that, in a different era, would help pump life back into the wagon segment. And for those whose purchases aren’t dictated by trendiness, it will make an excellent choice.
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We’ll have to wait for final pricing, but expect at least a slight rise from $38,250 base of the outgoing model, with an R-Design pushing up towards $50,000.