Our plane landed in Denver just past midnight. It was April and blizzard season wasn’t done yet. Snow fell thick and heavy.
My wife, my daughter and I packed our gear into a new 2019 Volvo V60 station wagon and set off for Copper Mountain. Thirteen-year-old Skye was entered in the halfpipe at snowboarding’s annual national competition, where Olympic hopefuls compete.
But first we had to get through the blizzard intact. The snowstorm formed weird, disorienting patterns that turned the windshield into some kind of video game, at times completely obscuring my view of the road. Hands gripped tight on the wheel, I prepared for the worst, the ladies blissfully asleep. Yes, I should have checked into an airport hotel to safely spend the night.
While I questioned my own judgment, the car never gave me cause for concern. Volvos are designed in Sweden, and the Swedes know winter. The all-wheel-drive V60 handled the snowy road and icy curves with aplomb. Best known for safety, Volvos are loaded with the latest driver-assist technologies as standard, part of the base price.
That includes Run-off Road Mitigation, which detects when a car is about to leave the road and uses the steering and brakes to put it back on path. I never had to use it, but I was glad it was there. We reached Copper Mountain safe and sound.
I was predisposed to like the V60, newly designed for 2019. My family had tried out the bigger, cushier, more expensive V90 wagon last year, on a winter trip to Mammoth Mountain and Lake Tahoe. It was a hit — though at $70,000, far beyond our price range.
This V60 version — the Momentum — came in at $47,000. Still spendy, but any sports-oriented individual or small family that wants the versatility of a crossover SUV but prefers the superior road handling of a lower-to-the-ground wagon should give it a look. The base model starts at $38,000. The high-end Inscription model can reach the low $60,000s.
The next day, roads plowed, the weather clear, we got ready to take it for a spin. My daughter ran her hand over the seats and the fabric on the doors, the two-tone leather-wrapped steering wheel, in soft black and cream. “It’s so … aesthetic!” she said. The materials are high-quality, the look is clean but not stark. Quite a departure from the awful interiors Volvo put out when it was owned by Ford, before Chinese automaker Geely bought it in 2010.
Thomas Ingenlath, now chief executive of Volvo’s electric brand, Polestar, and formerly Volvo’s head designer, told me later that the company’s aim is to create interiors “that are minimalist and functional, but also Scandinavian, with a sense of warmth, the feeling of a Scandinavian living room.” I liked it.
Even the roof carrier drew oohs and aahs. “Man, that is one sleek box,” my daughter’s snowboard coach said, running her hand along its glossy black surface, a high-quality plastic treated to resist fading from the ultraviolet rays of the sun. The box fit four snowboards with ease. An anti-skid pad kept the boards from shifting around. The inside is illuminated with LED lights. And the station wagon let me load and unload the cargo without having to climb up on the open-door floor of the car, like I have to do with our own SUV. It all comes at a premium price, though — $1,445 for the box and $285 for the rails to mount it on.
The rear passengers said there was plenty of room. Volvo used a few tricks to add a few more cubic inches for knees and cargo, including thinner, but still comfortable, backrests on the front seats. When the rear seats are folded down, the headrests automatically retract, adding a few inches more.
Volvo had engineered its wagons for a sporty ride, and the V60 didn’t disappoint. Steering is precise, cornering is excellent. Some reviewers have said the ride can be a bit stiff, but I’ll take a little stiffness for more precision any day.
The base V60, with front-wheel drive, comes with a 2-liter, 4-cylinder engine that turns out 250 horsepower. Our version was fitted with a supercharger and a turbocharger that pushed the horsepower up to 316. The supercharger kicks in at lower speeds, the turbocharger at higher. An Edmunds review complained that the two sometimes went out of sync at maximum speeds. I didn’t drive fast enough to see for myself; I had a kid in the car.
My wife took the wheel. She liked the sporty drive and visibility, especially in a relatively small car. “A lot of new cars, you just can’t see well, especially out the back,” she said.
I was perplexed, though, when she added, “This car is made for women!” She elaborated: “The way it’s sized, it’s very comfortable. It’s not made for a big, fat guy.”
She’s right about that. I’m 5 feet 11 and 180 pounds, and I had plenty of room — in the driver seat, in the passenger seat, in the back. But if I grew a couple more inches and another 20 pounds, the car would probably seem a bit tight.
After a week with it, that’s about the only bad thing I can say about the V60 — that guys who buy their clothes at Big & Tall stores might find it cramped.
Oh, and the infotainment system. It’s no better and no worse than most other infotainment systems out there. (With some exceptions: I recently drove the new BMW 330i, and its dial, button, and screen infotainment system is one other carmakers should study.)
Voice recognition is what will set automaker infotainment system apart, at this point in their evolution. Whoever comes up with an automobile speech recognition system that actually works well enough to make people happy with the capabilities will have a leg up on competitors.
Volvo has concluded that it can’t do a better job of voice recognition than a well-financed specialist could. So the company plans to base future infotainment systems on the new Android Automotive OS – different from the Android Auto software that lets you use your phone on the car’s screen. It resides on chips inside the car’s own computer system.
The lets Volvo – and potentially outside developers – create apps for for Volvo infotainment on a well-established software system. It’s an interesting experiment in opening up auto software development, and, if it works, it could be trendsetting.
My daughter, by the way, did fine in the halfpipe. She did not place, but her coach said she did well enough to keep practicing and try again next year. By then the 2020 V60s will be out. They’ll include a new Cross Country version with more height to push through piled-up snow. There will also be a limited edition plug-in hybrid version developed by Polestar that lifts horsepower up to 412. And maybe they’ll have the tunes and other infotainment fixed by then too.
Volvo V60 T6 Momentum
Times’ take: Handsome all-weather station wagon
Highs: Sporty drive, comfortable seats, safety features
Lows: Not for the very tall or corpulent.
Vehicle type: Five-passenger small wagon, four doors and a hatch
Base price: $38,900
Price as tested: $46,195
Powertrain: 2-liter 4-cylinder gasoline engine, super- and turbocharged
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Torque: 295 pound-feet
Estimated fuel economy rating: 21 mpg city / 31 highway / 25 combined