Executive wheels: Volvo’s simple beauty

2015.5 VOLVO XC6 T6 AWD

All the luxury and near-luxury brands these days, including the American, Japanese, Korean and European labels, have the high-technology that people crave and all of the creature comforts one expects. Volvo is no exception – and this XC60 small or crossover SUV is loaded with apps and connections and Bluetooth and automatic braking systems, and pretty much what you’ll find in any other car of this ilk.

Competition now, however, has to be fought on other grounds, and for my money, Volvo has a winning formula in its vehicles of late — and in this vehicle in particular. It is called simplicity.

I drove this XC60 after going through a slew of high-end Lexuses (Lexi?) and decked-out Toyotas and BMWs, many other pretenders to the thrown of Top Car, and I have come to the conclusion that most want to win by being gauche. As I said, they all have the good stuff – it’s in there – but with Lexus (and Toyota) and BMW especially – the Germans and the Japanese – they want you to know it right off, and they want to show off their engineering skills in a way that is designed to overwhelm you rather than just impress.

It’s overkill. It’s like being in the cockpit of a private jet. While I am indeed impressed by private jets, and wish I could fly around in one from time to time, in a vehicle I am the pilot and I want control systems that I understand and that don’t get in the way of the ultimate experience, driving.

That is Volvo and that is especially the XC60. After tooling around for a few weeks in what appeared to be the set of “Star Trek 2200” in Lexus and BMW, it was a simple pleasure to relax in this Volvo and just drive. 

Volvo makes everything simple. The climate control is headed by an icon of a person that is used to direct air flow, and then – radical idea – dials to, well, dial in temperature and fan speed. It is all so simple, and it never detracts from the driving experience. The radio and audio controls are the same thing: even my mother, who has trouble with television remote control, could hop in this car and work all of the necessary (to her) systems without consulting the owner’s manual. Simple. Sure, there’s all the good stuff that I mentioned, but again, compared to Lexus and the Germans, operating the apps and the Bluetooth phone hookups is easy.

They call this SUV a crossover SUV for some reason, but let us just say that it is not a large truck-like SUV, but rather a mid-sized vehicle. It isn’t truck-like in any respect, but it sits a little higher than the average car and has plenty of room. Plus, of course, in this iteration it has Volvo’s excellent All Wheel Drive system, so I felt safe and secure on the little wet, snow and ice I encountered as winter was going into reverse here in Colorado.

The XC60 is just a pleasure to drive. There are several trims available – too many for my money – and the basic difference is in the powerplant.  You can get a 3.2L inline 6-cylinder engine with 240 hp, the  3.0L turbocharged inline 6-cylinder featured here with 300 hp, a couple of 5-cylinder engines and a smaller four-banger 2.0L. They range in base price from a high of just over $49,000 for the AWD R-Design, to a low of about $35,000. This one, the T6 AWD, carries a base price of $42,400.

I can kind of understand how you could get by with less than 300 hp in that the T6 I drove had plenty of zip, but to be honest I think this is the model I would choose. The more expensive trims have a little more hp, 325, and a few more extras as standards, but this one was loaded. It felt luxurious, it was very quiet, and it drove like a dream. So easy to maneuver, plenty of power when needed, even in the mountains, easy to park, and just a great feel for the road.

This trim isn’t cheap, however. The base price of $42,400 places it solidly among the competition, and you can bet that the add-ons – which add an additional $10,000 onto the bottom line – are in line as well. I got the Platinum edition, which added $4,400, and it included some small stuff – e.g. a cargo cover – and some big stuff – Harmon Kardon premium audio system (very nice). But the big things here on the add-ons, which I recommend, are all of the monitors – blind spot, pedestrian and cyclist detection, automatic braking when approaching an object (called City Safety by Volvo), cross traffic alerts, corner lighting, automatic high beams, road sign information, and speed monitoring. Lights go on, bells ring – and it all is unobtrusive. Simple.

This is, by far, the best-selling vehicle in the Volvo line, and it is easy to see why. SUVs are popular vis-à-vis sedans and coupes, but some people don’t want the behemoth SUVs so this one fits a lot of bills. Plus, you get 300 hp – great performance – and wonderful handling and still enjoy a mileage rating of 17 mpg city/24 highway. Not bad.

This XC60 is quiet, very quiet, luxurious, very luxurious, drives superbly and can easily and beautifully handle every city driving duty while also being an excellent mountain and road vehicle.

And, of course, it’s best feature: simplicity.