The modern car industry has a disease. About 15 or so years ago, just about every luxury automaker in the land woke up one morning and decided they wanted to be BMW. Cadillac no longer wanted to be known for soft-riding luxo-barges, and neither did Lexus. Jaguar went from making some of the most atrociously stodgy AARP-mobiles in the game to breaking the production four-door Nürburgring lap record with the XE SV Project 8. And Mercedes-AMG looked at all of them and said, more often than not, “Hold my beer.”
(BMW itself, meanwhile, appears to have abandoned any and all intention of remaining the BMW we all once knew and loved, but that’s a discussion for another day.)
In the current automotive climate, luxury means sporty. But what if you’re a luxury car buyer who has no interest in how a car feels around a corner, or how quickly it can lap the Nordschleife but refuses to cross over to the dark side of crossovers?
Where are the true cruisers? There was Lincoln, but as of 2021, the luxury Ford brand is a strictly SUVs-only affair. Enter Volvo and, specifically, its 2020 V60 Recharge Inscription. It’s an absolutely gorgeous compact luxury wagon with a plug-in hybrid powertrain. Refreshingly, it comes with almost zero sporting pretensions to speak of but, get this, is better for it.
The fact that it looks exquisite is just the cherry on this pragmatically tasty Swedish cake.
A bit of preamble for our American readers: Like the Mercedes-AMG A 35 Hatch I tested last year, this particular Volvo V60 with this plug-in powertrain and this trim is a bit of a Canadian exclusive. Volvo USA does sell a plug-in V60, but only in the form of the slightly more powerful Polestar Engineered model. All other American V60s are of the T5 variety featuring a 250-hp turbo-four and front-wheel drive.
The 2020 Volvo V60 Recharge Inscription, By the Numbers
- Base Price (As Tested): $48,915 CAD ($81,865 CAD)
- Powertrain: 2.0-liter supercharged and turbocharged four-cylinder | 65-kilowatt electric motor | eight-speed automatic transmission | all-wheel-drive | lithium-ion battery
- Horsepower: 400 combined horsepower | 313 engine hp @ 6,000 rpm | 87 electric hp @ 7,000 rpm
- Torque: 472 combined pound-feet @ 2,200-5,400 rpm
- EPA Fuel Economy: 28 mpg city | 34 highway | 30 combined
- Curb Weight: 4,518 pounds
- Seating Capacity: 5
- Cargo Space: 23.2 cubic feet
- Quick Take: A gorgeous, practical, and solid luxury tool that refreshingly refuses to concern itself with the uncouth business of “sporty” driving.
That’s A Handsome Wagon
How anyone can look at the V60 and feel anything other than unbridled lust is beyond me. Even in this relatively drab shade of silver, the V60 stands out in a sea of overly-angry grilles and puffer-fish styling. It looks Scandinavian in the best way possible and is more appealing to the human eye than pretty much any SUV on sale today.
Go ahead. Name on SUV that looks better than this. You can’t, because there aren’t any.
While not quite as glorious as the sheet metal, the inside of the V60 follows the exterior in representing a pragmatic, relatively unshowy example of luxury. The handsome rounded-off square motif influences everything from the air vents to the steering wheel airbag to the engine start switch. It’s all finished pretty nicely as well with lovely unvarnished, open-pore wood, stitched leather, metal, and decent-quality plastics. It’s classy and pleasant and—Orrefors crystal shift lever aside—doesn’t beat you over the head with its luxury.
The $3,750 CAD Bowers & Wilkins Premium sound system is plenty good and has that mode in which it apparently mimics the acoustics of the Gothenburg Concert Hall and makes everything reverberate slightly but, to my peon ears, doesn’t sound significantly better than most other upgraded luxury car sound systems worth their four-figure price tags.
That sound system is controlled by a nine-inch, vertically-mounted infotainment touchscreen that’s slightly canted towards the driver. On top of audio, that screen is also responsible for HVAC and lets the driver adjust numerous vehicle functions, like whether or not you’d like to force the gas engine on to charge the battery. It is also where you turn on/off the HUD, the active bending lights that move the headlight beams in tandem with the steering wheel, active safety aids, and, of course, tell the backseat headrests to fold down, among other things.
It’s a lot to relegate to a touchscreen, but the layout isn’t as distracting as you might think thanks to big, clear options and a clean, high-contrast UI. Less positively, the actual screens themselves aren’t as crisp or high-quality as displays found in, say, a modern Mercedes product, a trait that extends to the 12.3-inch instrument unit that sits behind the steering wheel.
While we’re on the subject of things that aren’t very good, front-row storage space on this T8 V60 is, and I don’t use this word lightly, woeful. The armrest cubby that in some other cars is big enough to swallow entire purses, is merely a shallow shelf that barely fits this year’s standard-issue iPhone with a cable attached (necessary to run Apple CarPlay).
This is likely due to Volvo’s decision to place the plug-in hybrid battery in the center tunnel of the car, something that appears to have also contributed to an extra-big hump at the foot of the middle-rear seat. That doesn’t really excuse, however, the concealable cupholders that are smaller than average and the complete lack of an overhead sunglass cubby.
More commendable, however, is the volume knob underneath the center screen. It’s perfectly placed, sized, and weighted, something other automakers often bungle or omit entirely despite how simple of a thing it may seem. Another thing more manufacturers can and should take note of: The way Volvo’s heated steering wheel stays in the setting you left it every time you start it up. If it was cold enough for me to want it on yesterday, it’s probably cold enough for me to want it on today too.
Historically, Volvo prioritized safety ahead of many other competitors. It invented the three-point seatbelt, curtain-style side airbags, and blind-spot monitoring. In recent years, however, as those other automakers also decided that the safety of their customers was Very Important—and because regulations got tighter—the security gap between Volvos and other cars has shrunk.
However, modern Volvos continue to set themselves apart from the rest of the pack with a bunch of smaller, less tangible safety-minded touches such as a traffic sign recognition system that flashes at you when you’re exceeding the limit over a certain amount and also lets you know when you’re in a school zone. Mazdas do this as well but the speed limit is always marked in red on the speedometer. Even the tick-tock of the V60’s turn signals are louder than average.
Washer fluid comes out of the wipers themselves for a better, more thorough clean and, thus, better visibility. Its platform “extensively” consists of boron steel and makes for a frame that Volvo can call, physically, one of its strongest to date.
Is the V60 still significantly safer than, say, a new 3 Series in the event of a collision? Honestly, probably not. Nobody plans on crashing their $80,000-plus luxury car, but the V60 does a lot of little things to let you know that it’ll probably have your back if you ever do.
The Drive: 2020 Volvo V60 Recharge Inscription
Remember the disease I was talking about earlier? The one that afflicts an abnormally high number of modern luxury carmakers and causes them to exclusively build cars that ride stiffer and steer heavier than necessary in the pursuit of “sport”? The Volvo V60 doesn’t really show any symptoms of this at all. It’s refreshing and relaxing to drive while still feeling like a solidly-put together machine.
The T8 hybrid powertrain is silently and satisfyingly smooth at low speeds but with the turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-liter in play, things can get appropriately brisk. Steering is light and decidedly slow-ratioed but not so vague as to become an issue when it comes to placing the car where you want it. It rides quite nicely too and coupled with a driving position that’s spot-on, excellent seats, and soft driver’s armrests both positioned perfectly for cruising, this is a car you could easily drive for hours on end without getting numb or breaking a sweat.
Zero to 62 mph takes 4.6 seconds and top speed is a reasonable 112 mph, if you were curious.
Driven aggressively, though, the V60 feels like a drama geek trying to get through compulsory high school phys ed. He’ll hold his own at casual volleyball, but you get the sense that he’d rather be doing something else. Oh, and he also happens to be extremely well-dressed, well-groomed, and well-spoken. He spends Saturday nights at the theater (Hamilton, not the latest Fast & Furious) with Mother and Father. And there’s nothing wrong with any of that.
It’s as if the driving experience was engineered, first and foremost, to be breezy and intuitive for the sake of safety. The V60 a nice and pleasant car to drive not because its owners necessarily want a car that’ll get their heart racing on every trip to Whole Foods or beat AMGs between the lights but because a car that’s nice and pleasant to drive is inherently safer than one that isn’t. The less you have to adapt to a car’s inputs and actively think about the act of driving, the fewer mistakes you make. The fewer mistakes you make, the less likely you are to get into an accident.
It’s a pragmatic brand of luxury that not only applies to its drive but extends to its ergonomics and interior design as well. In an age when pretty much every automaker in Volvo’s arena has some sort of engineering presence at the Nürburgring, the V60 is novel and quite appealing.
I’ll be honest. On outward aesthetics alone, I went into this review wanting to like the Volvo V60. In all honestly, there really is a lot to like here. It’s relaxing and nice to drive without feeling like it’s trying too hard. It’s one of the most beautiful cars on sale today, again, without looking like it’s trying too hard.
Its biggest flaws? The driver-area storage situation is not ideal. The screens, while intuitive to use, don’t exactly feel top-shelf anymore. I can’t remember the last time I heard a more coarse-sounding internal combustion engine and, no, the V60 won’t really cut it if you’re the sort of person who spends their Sunday afternoons taking their daily driver out to the twisting backroads for a spirited romp.
Even weeks after returning the car, though, I found myself missing my time with this Volvo. It takes a couple of drives to get there but the V60 makes you feel good and cared for. Maybe it’s the way it always remembered to warm my hands without me having to ask it to every time. Maybe it’s the perfectly-placed armrests, perfect driving position, and the thoughtful, tasteful interior design. Maybe it’s the Green Vehicle license plate that, here in Ontario at least, gave me a free pass onto any and all of the province’s HOV lanes. Maybe it’s Maybelline.
With the wagon genre occupying a smaller and smaller slice of the auto industry pie, Volvo’s alternative definition of what modern luxury really means, and an unconventional, twin-charged plug-in hybrid powertrain (and a fairly steep price tag), the V60 Recharge Inscription is the definition of “not for everybody.” Which is weird because it’s beautiful, practical, efficient, and immensely satisfying to live with.
If, in the eyes of most luxury car buyers, liking the Volvo V60 is wrong, then I don’t want to be right.
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