2016 Volvo S60 Cross Country test drive

When you need an SUV, but don't want an SUV

2016 Volvo S60 Cross Country
2016 Volvo S60 Cross Country. Photo © Aaron Gold

There is a saying in the car-writing biz, stolen from the car-selling biz, that says “There is a butt for every seat”—point being that a writer should think carefully before criticizing even the most unlikely car, because there is someone, somewhere, for whom it is the perfect vehicle

I am pretty sure that there is someone, somewhere, who will see the Volvo S60 Cross Country as their ideal car. If that person is reading this, send me your name and I'll personalize this review to you.

(“Let's talk about the ergonomics, Phil...”)

Larger photos: FrontrearinteriorPhoto tour

This is not to imply that the S60 Cross Country is a bad car—not by a long shot. In many ways, it’s a fantastic car. Volvo loaned me the S60 for a 2,500 mile winter drive from Manhattan and Detroit and back via upstate New York’s rust belt. This coincided with a winter storm (not the winter storm, but a prelude to it), and the S60 Cross Country proved to be great in the snow—no, not just great, but un-friggin’-stopable. Swedes know winter, and between the S60’s all-wheel-drive and raised clearance and the Michelin X-Ice snow tires Volvo was kind enough to fit to the car, I was almost guaranteed to make it to my destination. And that is why you will never, ever, ever hear me call the S60 CC a bad car.

It is, however, a car with limited appeal. This is the car for the person who despises SUVs, wants absolutely nothing to do with them, would rather remove their own spleen with a salad fork rather than drive one—and yet someone who needs the all-weather advantages that a good SUV provides.

To that person, the S60 Cross Country is the perfect car. To everyone else, it may come across as a bit silly.

Try, try again

The S60 Cross Country is not a new concept; every few years, someone gives a sedan the SUV treatment. Subaru did it in the late 90s with the Legacy SUS (which, based on its sales, should have been called SOS).

And some of you might be old enough to remember the AMC Eagle, which was offered in sedan form (and was basically an AMC Hornet on stilts). The SUS and the Eagle were just as silly as the S60 CC, but man, did they go in the snow—just as the Volvo does.

So why is it silly? Because one of the chief advantages to an SUV is practicality, a trait the S60 cheerfully does without. The S60’s trunk (link goes to photo) is tight at 12 cubic feet; my test car had a full-size spare that ate up a big chunk of that space, raising the floor to the point that I couldn’t even stand up my backpack when I shot photos... though I suppose that had I experienced a tire puncture during my winter drive, I would have been very happy to have given up that extra trunk space. The S60 is also short on back-seat legroom, something that afflicts nearly the entire S60 lineup. (Volvo recently launched an extended-wheelbase version called the Inscription that solves this problem, but it isn’t available in Cross Country form.)

Oh, and you can only get the S60 Cross Country in one color, and that’s the one you see in my photos. Fortunately, the car looks good in gray.

A brighter future just ahead

For all the S60's good points—and there are lots—we know for a fact that the best of Volvo is yet to come.

After years of stagnation, Volvo was purchased by a Chinese concern that dumped some serious and much-needed capital into the Swedish brand. We saw the first fruits in the form of the XC90 SUV, and my trip to Detroit for the Detroit Auto Show coincided with the reveal of the S90 flagship sedan. These are the next generation of Volvos, and they are industry-leading cars, especially when it comes to electronics and control layout.

The S60 is old-school Volvo, with a bunch of look-alike buttons to run the stereo, navigation and climate control systems (though I do like the latter, which features a human form; if you want air on your legs, push the little guy’s legs). Volvo’s new touch-screen system is far superior, but we’ll have to wait just a little longer for the next-gen S60.

Volvo has also recently introduced a new four-cylinder engine offered with multiple power outputs.

This unit is available in the S60—but only with front-wheel-drive. All-wheel-drivers like my S60 tester get the old 2.5 liter five-cylinder turbocharged engine. This is not a terrible thing; this engine produces 250 horsepower and 266 lb-ft, and, unusual for an older turbo engine, runs on regular fuel (as opposed to premium). Though the engine pulls strongly, EPA fuel economy numbers are unspectacular at 20 MPG city/29 MPG highway, but my test car delivered as promised, averaging just under 28 MPG.

Considering the turbo engine’s tendency to produce lots of torque over a broad RPM range—something that does not bode well for snow driving—the all-wheel-drive system did a brilliant job of managing the traction. Though I live in California now, I have a lot of years of snow driving under my belt, and the S60 was brilliant, even in the worst conditions.

A little new tech sneaks in

While it may be an older design, the S60 Cross Country does benefit from some of Volvo’s newer technology. Volvo’s adaptive cruise control system is one of the best I’ve ever driven—it does a good job keeping pace with changing traffic and doesn’t panic if another car pulls out in front. And should the radar sensor get covered with snow and ice, as it did on my drive, the system reverts to normal cruise control.

I liked the integration of the navigation system with the rest of the car; for example, when the Volvo started to run low on fuel, the nav system asked me if I would like to navigate to a nearby gas station.

(My answer: Yes, please.) My test car had other nifty techno-bits like rain-sensing wipers and automatic high-beams, all of which worked very well.

I loved the heated windshield; it meant I could clear the windshield cleared and start driving without waiting for the heater to produce warm air. Unfortunately, it’s only offered as part of a $1,550 option package that includes heated washer nozzles, a heated steering wheel, and heaters for both front and rear seats. (A word of warning: On their highest setting, Volvo seat heaters can just about broil a steak.)

About the only winter accessory I missed was a remote starting system, something my kinfolk in Rochester, New York, tell me they don’t want to live without.

The verdict: Maybe I was wrong about you, S60

I’ll be honest: I’ve never really been in love with the S60, but this excursion gave me a new-found respect for the car. Talk about a foul-weather friend!

The S60 Cross Country starts at just under $45,000, which is a bit steep compared to other European all-wheel-drive luxury SUVs like the Mercedes-Benz GLA250 4MATIC ($35,425) and the BMW X1 xDrive 28i ($35,785). (One could argue that these are entry-level SUVs, but they compare favorably with the Volvo on back seat and cargo space.) The problem comes when you start adding options: The BMW can be optioned up to well over $51,000, while the Mercedes will close in on $55,000. The base-model S60 Cross Country is better equipped to begin with, and tops off at just under $48k.

Would I recommend the S60 Cross Country?

For the right person, it’s a great car; for everyone else, it’s still a bit ridiculous. But don't let that stop you from visiting your Volvo dealership, because they have a wagon version called the V60 Cross Country. It has all the cargo space you'll need, though the back seat is still on the small side. There’s also the ordinary S60 (and the extended-wheelbase Inscription); it may not be the best of the breed, but it is a nice change from the ubiquitous BMW 3-Series and Mercedes C-Class. The replacement for the S60 can’t be too far off into the future, and my winter adventure in the S60 Cross Country has only whetted my appetite further.

In the mean time, enjoy your new Volvo S60 Cross Country, Phil, and send my regards your wife and son. – Aaron Gold

Pros:

  • Unstoppable in the snow (especially with snow tires)
  • Reasonable options list

Cons:

  • Small back seat and trunk
  • Only one paint color available
  • Limited appeal

Details and Specs

  • Cross Country is the raised-suspension, all-wheel-drive version of the Volvo S60
  • Price range (including destination and options): $44,640 - $48,265
  • Price as tested: $47,865
  • Powertrain: 2.5 liter turbocharged five-cylinder engine/250 hp, six-speed automatic, all-wheel-drive
  • EPA fuel economy estimates: 20 MPG city/29 MPG highway
  • Observed fuel economy: 27.8 MPG
  • Warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles bumper-to-bumper (no additional powertrain coverage)
  • Roadside assistance/free maintenance: 4 years roadside assistance / first three maintenance visits (up to 3 years/36,000 miles) free / lifetime warranty on dealer-installed replacement parts
  • Where built: China
  • Best rivals: Most luxury-themed all-wheel-drive SUVs

 Disclosure: The vehicle for this test drive was provided by Volvo. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.