2015 Volvo V60 T6 R-Design. Click image to enlarge
Review and photos by Brendan McAleer
Saab: Born from jets.
Volvo: They’re boxy, but they’re safe.
Of course, only one of those taglines is accurate – the second, fictional one, made up by Dudley Moore in the semi-terrible ’90s movie Crazy People. Truth is, despite an ad campaign that showed the SAAB Gripen fighter banking overhead as frequently as possible, the car division of Saab was founded when the aircraft division was still making propeller-driven aircraft, and the two were well-divided by the time jet aircraft showed up.
But I digress and we’re only one paragraph in. The point is, Saab wore a flight suit and Volvo wore cardigans. Saab turbos did strafing runs and Volvo 240s did knitting and listened to NPR. Saab was weird and interesting and sexy, and Volvo… well, as the sign on the wall of Moore’s office said: “We know they’re not sexy. This is not a smart time to be sexy, with so many new diseases around. Buy safe, not sexy.”
And that, my friends, ignores something quite important about the company whose name is synonymous for rolling strength. They’re out of their borking minds!
Exhibit A: This fire-red compact station wagon, with a transversely mounted inline-six engine, packing a Polestar tune and making 325 hp at 5,600 rpm and 354 lb-ft from 2,100 rpm. Looks pretty good, doesn’t it? Not much boxiness to be found here – the V60 carries the refreshed front end that’s swept through the rest of the Volvo lineup, with a new hood, headlights and front fascia.
When Volvo first arrived in Canada, and the brand would eventually set down roots with a factory in the Maritimes, it was used extensively in rallying and road-racing. Hit up any major historical racing event in your area, and you’ll likely see 123GTs and PV544s dicing it up with BMWs and Porsches on the track. Volvos won the East Africa Safari rallies, they won the European rallycross title in the early 1980s, and when a TWR-prepped Volvo wagon was campaigned in the British Touring Car Championship, it managed to place on the podium despite a rule change on allowable aerodynamics that favoured sedans only. [One also campaigned in the Australian Super Touring Championship with the legendary Peter Brock at the wheel –Ed.]
With guys like Gunnar Andersson at the wheel, who spent much of his driving time airborne, Volvo’s racing and performance division was entirely successful, just not as well marketed as BMW’s M or Mercedes’ AMG. He started the R-team with that 1980s rallycross effort, and some of that racing and rallying spirit now finds itself infused into that most unlikely of places, a compact luxury wagon.
2015 Volvo V60 T6 R-Design gauges, navigation, centre stack. Click image to enlarge
Inside, the V60 is both a triumph and a let-down. Up front you get simply excellent seats, comfortable and grippy. The floating dash is dominated by metallic-feeling HVAC controls, including the silhouette of a seated person to more quickly identify where to direct the air.
However, in terms of Scandinavian design, it’s a bit like the bargain section at Ikea: last year’s stock. For drivers who place technology as a priority, the Volvo will likely disappoint, with its small screen for navigation and button-y interface. Connectivity wasn’t an issue, but this car is simply non-competitive compared to the touchscreen-based infotainment systems found elsewhere, including even Chrysler products.
Moreover, where safety is concerned, the Volvo does very well passively – scoring a top safety pick plus from the IIHS – but much of the active driver assists are optional extras. The blind-spot and cross-traffic assist are very sensitive, but you have to pay for them.
2015 Volvo V60 T6 R-Design seating & cargo area. Click image to enlarge
Worse, as far as young families are concerned, this car isn’t a patch on the old V70R in terms of passenger carrying capacity. The rear seats are not much bigger than a last-generation WRX, making a rear-facing child seat a tight fit, even with my close-to-the-wheel driving position. What’s more, those suede inserts look and feel fantastic, but two minutes of little feet thumping away on them equalled a half-hour’s worth of cleaning when it came time to take the car back.
Happily cargo-space is a sight better, with approximately 430L of capacity. Particularly nice is the pop-up cargo divider, with a strap to hold loose groceries from flying around. An excellent design feature, and you’re really going to need it.