This past July, Volvo CEO Håkan Samuelsson announced that starting with 2019 models, every Volvo will be electrified in some capacity. I winced. I ranted to any friends and colleagues who would listen. But I wasn’t surprised; after all, Volvo has always gone their own way, like sticking with boosted five-cylinder motors throughout the 1990s and 2000s while their competitors were stuffing larger naturally aspirated motors under the hood. While that strategy might not have translated to market dominance, it kept Volvo’s dedicated fan base happy, and enthusiasm for the brand has remained high.
Lately, it has been especially easy to understand why, as Volvo’s new models are easily the best-looking mainstream vehicles (inside and out) on sale today. Since introducing the redesigned XC90 SUV in 2014, Volvo has been on a roll, releasing one beautifully understated vehicle after another — most recently, the XC40, in the all-important compact crossover segment. I’ll begrudgingly admit that it makes sense they’d want to have cutting-edge, future-facing electric drivetrains to match the elegant designs. Still, that announcement back in July put a ticking clock into play and sent me on a mission to have a last hurrah with one of Volvo’s most notable models of the past decade.
The V60 — a.k.a. the little wagon that can — has remained more or less unchanged since it was released in 2011. Now, having driven the latest version of what is admittedly an aging vehicle, it’s easy to understand why. Just as it has for the past seven model years, the 2017 V60 T6 R-Design offers a balanced blend of safety, comfort, technology and performance in a tidy package that is wholly unique to the brand. It may not ride on Volvo’s new Scalable Product Architecture (SPA), but the underpinnings of the V60 are tried and true. Paired with what will be the last internal combustion engine to grace the platform, it made for a compelling drive.
So compelling, in fact, that I added a full day of driving to my already lengthy excursion from Los Angeles to Wyoming just to drive up Pikes Peak. Given that engaging drive-feel is steadily becoming less and less a part of new vehicles, it was refreshing to spend a considerable amount of time behind the wheel of an everyday wagon that retains plenty of it. The source of that character is unquestionably its heart: that turbocharged inline four-cylinder.
2017 Volvo V60 T6 R-Design
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four
Transmission: eight-speed automatic; all-wheel drive
Torque: 317 lb-ft
MSRP: $49,100 (base)
Of the many things Volvo has been doing right, my favorite is that they’ve offered sporting upgrades for all their vehicles via their performance brand, Polestar. When it’s applied to the four-cylinder Drive-E engine in the T6 R-Design, peak horsepower gets a very modest bump from 302 to 306; but it’s the jump in torque, from 295 lb-ft to 317 lb-ft, that really matters. Torque — wonderful, readily available, pulse-quickening torque. I know hybrid-electric and fully electric motors totally own internal combustion in terms of pure gut-twist capability, but they lack the drama — the sense of occasion that occurs when turbo boost kicks in. Mid-range horsepower, or “merging power,” also rises from 225 to 242, all while fuel economy remains the same at 22 mpg city, 31 highway, 25 combined. Admittedly, those aren’t outstanding numbers, but they’re not bad, either, considering the wagon’s capability. While future iterations will surely put up better numbers, I doubt they’ll match the balance of function and entertainment this car possesses.
An all-new V60, powered by a hybrid-electric engine, is slated for a 2018 debut and, while I’m sure it will be impressive, I worry that it will lose some of the current model’s charm due to the incorporation of hybrid technology. On top of that, Volvo has chosen to spin off Polestar into an EV-only brand with a focus on performance. Their recently unveiled first model, the gorgeous Polestar 1, has made it clear they’re serious about the performance bit, though I can’t help but lament the loss of excellent turbocharged combustion engines, especially those that have been worked over by Polestar. It was a good time — not a long time — and I suppose we should be glad it happened at all.