SAN DIEGO — When people find out what I do, they invariably ask me — the expert car journalist — what car I own. Presumably they feel this will reveal some great insight into the automotive world, or they just are curious that, of the many hundreds of cars I've driven and reviewed over the years, which one stuck out so much that I decided I needed to have it.
The answer is, of course, a Volvo wagon. Journalists love Volvo wagons. I once borrowed one from Volvo for a month (it was brown, of course), and my dad had one when I was growing up (and then another one when I was learning to drive as a teenager). I've written about them before. I have a 2016 Volvo V60 and I just drove it from New Hampshire to San Diego over four-and-a-half days and it was absolutely lovely.
New Hampshire to San Diego is a three-thousand-mile jaunt and is about as far as you can go from one end of the country to the other. I also managed to visit Oklahoma and Arkansas, two of the states I hadn't visited before, on the way (Remaining: AK, HI, OR, MT, ND).
Volvo wagons are also sporty, eminently practical, rather good looking, and extraordinarily safe. Curiously, they're also rather unpopular here in the States because there exists something that Americans love even more than sporty, practical wagons: the Sport Utility Vehicle.
Luckily, in addition to the V60 wagon that I own, Volvo makes the XC60 SUV. It's the mid-size variant and is probably the vehicle I recommend the most when people ask me which car to buy because it's sporty, practical, good looking, and extraordinarily safe. It's not as good looking or as sporty as the V60, but it's arguably even more practical and equally safe.
In Volvo-parlance, the V in V60 stands for "Versatile" and the XC in XC60 stands for Cross Country, which is also an off-roady variant of the V60. Confused yet? Don't be.
These days, Volvo sells sedans (S), wagons (V), and SUVs (XC). The number at the end tells us how big it is (40, 60, 90). So, XC60 is the medium sized SUV which means that's the one to buy. The XC90 is larger and drives like it. Sure, there are three rows and more cargo space, but if you don't need three rows, you should buy the XC60 because it's far nicer to drive and quite a bit nicer on the wallet as well.
My tester was a top-tier Inscription model with almost all the bells and whistles, with a "T6" engine — that translates to a 2.0-liter super- and turbocharged four-cylinder unit that makes 316 horsepower. It's incredibly clever and they've been building that engine for more than five years now. In one form or another, it powers every car that Volvo makes. There's also a T5 variant that is solely turbocharged and a plug-in hybrid T8 variant that goes more than 20 miles on a charge (I reviewed the XC90 T8 last year).
But like with the XC60, the T6 is also the engine sweet spot. It purrs like a kitten and propels you from zero-to-60 mph faster than you expect. I don't quote the actual time here because what does it matter? This is a family SUV. It's got plenty of go when it needs it.
The Inscription trim is the luxury version and it isn't strictly necessary, but includes niceties like four-zone climate control, fancy interior lighting, auto-dimming mirrors, power-folding rear seats, nav, and some other stuff. The Advanced Package is $2,500 and includes Volvo's Pilot Assist driver assist system which I would have enjoyed greatly on my cross-country drive. It's an advanced lanekeeping system that makes driving on the highway considerably less taxing because the car does a bunch of the steering for you. It's not hands-free, but it's close.
The Luxury package is another $2,200 and includes extraordinarily comfortable seats that massage you, but isn't strictly necessary if you're on a budget. The 4-corner air suspension ($1800) and 20-inch wheels ($800) are also skippable items, though I'd be hard-pressed to pass up on the exquisite $3,200 Bowers and Wilkins premium sound system. It can perfectly replicate the acoustics of the Gothenburg Concert Hall which is a nifty party trick.
All in, my XC60 was $65,740 delivered to you straight from Gothenburg, Sweden. If you're frugal and willing to sacrifice some lux features, you can get the XC60 Momentum trim down into the low-50's or even high-40's.
Whichever you buy, the XC60 will keep you safe and treat you right, and you can't ask for more.