Warren Brown
Warren Brown
Columnist

2012 Volvo XC60: A wagon loaded with appeal

Photo courtesy of Volvo

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There are good urban wagons costing much less than this week’s test vehicle. But few of those available for less than its manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $43,700 are better.

The all-wheel-drive 2012 Volvo XC60 is worth the price. It beats most things its class. In the top-of-the-line XC60 T6 R-Design version driven for this column, it’s a bargain.

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Even the base model, the XC60 3.2, elevates the notion of “base.” It is so structurally sound and well equipped with standard equipment, it flirts with premium.

Consider a shortlist of things offered:

●“City Safety.” The older I become, the more willing I am to let go of my youthful control-freak fantasies. Holding on to them is not worth it, especially not in situations where things happen more quickly than I can manage them. Nowadays, I appreciate a little assistance. I get it with Volvo’s trademarked City Safety system, which, at speeds up to 19 mph, employs infrared laser sensors to detect slower-moving or stopped cars in front of me.

City Safety automatically applies the brakes on the XC60, slowing the car enough to avoid a crash, or at least lessen the bang between the striking and struck vehicles. That’s a good thing, particularly in the urban traffic in which most low-end collisions (75 percent, according to traffic-safety experts) occur.

Luckily, in the XC60 wagon, I did not have the heart-pumping event experienced last year in the Volvo S60 sedan, equipped with a prototype sample of City Safety. Leaving a garage at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, I almost ran into a man aimlessly walking into the traffic lanes. The City Safety system saved both of our days.

●Utility. This is why wagons are wagons despite the current marketing predilection for calling them everything and anything else. Utility is why you buy wagons, and the XC60 has lots of it, including an ample, easily accessible hide-away compartment beneath the load floor. The rear seats fold flat to yield a commendable 67.4 cubic feet of cargo space. And flat means “flat” here. You have a perfect load floor in the XC60 with those rear seats down.

●Interior design. Witness luxury redefined, a vehicle designed more to show than it is to show off. The gauges and instruments on the oh-so-thin central instrument stack are easy to see, reach and use. The cabin is a delicate balance of supple leather, brushed aluminum and fine wood veneer. It is more a work of investment banker than it is “cash-money millionaire.”

But those things probably hold little appeal for zoom-mentality buyers. The base XC60 3.2 is a bit of a slug, especially when moving uphill. It does well enough on the straightaways with its 3.2-liter in-line six-cylinder engine. But it is a heavy wagon, with a curb weight (poundage minus passengers and cargo) of 4,012 ponds. If you throw several hundred pounds of stuff into the cargo bay, you’ll have more of a truck than a wagon.

But the XC60 T6 R-Design driven for this column is something else. It has the same basic structure as its XC60 3.2 sibling. But it has more guts. It comes standard with a turbocharged 3-liter in-line six-cylinder engine that develops a maximum 325 horsepower and 354 foot-pounds of torque. Volvo also tweaked the suspension to handle that extra power. The result is a wagon that behaves much like a sports car.

The XC60 T-6 R-Design best illustrates the current creative tensions at Volvo. For that matter, it says something about the forces affecting the entire global automotive industry.

Back in the days when it was owned by Sweden’s AB Volvo, the car company was known worldwide for its dedication to and expertise in automotive safety. But safety in those days did not sell as well as sex. AB Volvo wasn’t making money, which is why Ford bought the company in 1999.

Ford wanted Volvo’s safety panache. But it tried to increase the brand’s mass-market appeal in a market that wasn’t buying it.

The Geely Holding Group of China acquired the Volvo car brand in 2010. Finally, it seems, the company is controlled by a corporate parent that knows how to guide it through the temptations of sex without sinning against safety. You design a car that offers both, which is what you get in the 2012 XC60 T6 R-Design.

 
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