The boxy Volvos of the 1980s almost seem like classics, and few would have guessed then that the automaker would make a premium, sporty crossover such as the 2012 Volvo XC60.
Although rather large and heavy, the mid-sized XC60 has shapely sculpted styling, with sexy chromed exhaust outlets, and drives much like a smaller sports sedan. In fact, it's based on Volvo's athletic S60 sedan architecture.
The firm steering is quick, handling inspires confidence during hard driving, backed by stability and traction control systems. The ride is a bit firm, but supple. Powerful anti-lock brakes have a nice pedal action.
Rivals include the BMW's popular X3, and other formidable competitors such as the Acura RDX, Audi Q5, Infiniti FX and Mercedes-Benz GLK350.
The XC60 comes with a standard non-turbocharged 3.2-liter six-cylinder engine rated at 240 horsepower, which should be sufficient for many buyers.
However, this Volvo weighs approximately 4,100 pounds, so it's not really fast unless it has a turbocharged 3-liter six-cylinder, which kicks out either 300 or 325 horsepower. All work with a smooth six-speed automatic transmission, which has an easily used manual-shift feature..
Acceleration from 65 to 80 mph with the 325-horsepower engine is neck-snapping, but city fuel economy with either turbo engine is not. They're rated at 17 miles per gallon in the city and 23 on highways. The non-turbo engine delivers an estimated 18 and 25.
Prices range from $33,300 to $48,150. It's sold with front- or all-wheel drive and comes in base, Premier, Premier Plus, R-Design and R-Design versions of the Premier Plus and Platinum.
The base $33,300 3.2L non-turbo model is fairly well-equipped with items including a power driver's seat, adjustable wheel, multi-zone automatic air conditioning, AM/FM stereo, keyless entry, power windows and mirrors and a bunch of safety items.
All XC60 versions are nicely built and offer all-day comfortable driving fun, especially the turbo models.
Move to the $35,800 3.2L Premier and there's a power passenger seat, leather seats and a panoramic roof-while the $37,550 3.0L Premier Plus adds a rear parking aid, power hatch and keyless start.
The $39,450 all-wheel-drive 30L R Design has the turbocharged 325-horsepower six-cylinder and lower-profile tires.
There's a long grocery list of standard and optional features. I tested a 325-horsepower XC60 with all-wheel drive. Its price sticker was a mouthful, calling it the "XC60T6 AWD R SR."
The test XC60 listed at $43,700, but options brought the bottom-line price to $52,675, including an $875 destination charge.
Still, they were desirable extras and included Volvo's advanced safety Collision Warning and Pedestrian Detection systems.
Leave it to Volvo to come up with advanced safety features. I tried the Pedestrian Detection system in a 2010 XC60 and found it to be very effective in automatically making the XC60 stop at speeds up to 19 mph before it hit a simulated pedestrian during a Volvo demonstration.
The XC60 has room for four tall adults. A stiff rear-center seat prohibits a comfortable position for a fifth rear occupant. Rear door openings are rather narrow.
The floor is just moderately high, so athletic moves aren't needed to get in or out. Still, once aboard, occupants sit high with a good view of surroundings. However, driver visibility to the rear is poor, so thank goodness for the large outside mirrors. An available backup camera also helps.
Climate controls are large, but there are too many small audio control buttons. The easily read dashboard screen doesn't cause much driver distraction.
Extra-large outside door handles assist quick entry to the quiet, nicely finished interior, which has upscale materials and large, supportive front seats. Dual cupholders have a sliding cover on the front console, which contains a deep, covered storage bin. All doors have storage pockets.
It's easy to load the large cargo area, and rear seatbacks flip forward and sit flat for significantly more cargo room. The automatic-close feature of the available power hatch is handy.
The hood swings open smoothly on twin struts to reveal an engine with a huge plastic cover. But the dipstick is handily located right in front of the engine and other fluid filler areas can be easily reached.
The XC60 is for someone who needs practicality, but doesn't want to give up driving enjoyment.