Volvo invited TechnoBuffalo to test drive its all-new 2015 Volvo V60 last week. It wasn’t any run-of-the-mill test drive, either. We started in beautiful, rolling wine country in Calistoga, California and drove four hours to the mountainous tree-filled slopes of Tahoe, California. It wasn’t as snowy as we had hoped, but it was the most fun I’ve ever had in a car.
That says a lot, because if you know me (or Sean Aune, for that matter), I really despise driving. It’s uncomfortable and I usually get claustrophobic on longer-haul drives when I feel like I have to sit in the car. That wasn’t my experience with the Volvo V60 Cross Country.
I had a freakin’ blast in this speed wagon.
The Volvo V60 Cross Country
The Volvo V60 Cross Country is, as I just referred to it, technically a wagon. Not quite the Volvo station wagon you might have remembered growing up, the sort with the two rear-facing seats. It’s more of a hybrid today, a mix between an SUV and a sedan, though more like the latter in its form and more like the former in its capabilities.
The V60 has a $41,000 base price with two trim levels, premier and platinum. The vehicle sports 7.9-inches of ground clearance, more than you’ll find in some of the car’s closest competitors, hill descent control, Haldex 5 all-wheel drive, leather seats and a sunroof come standard, as do navigation, 6 months of connectivity and beautifully contoured sport seats. It also features city safety, the ability to stop on a dime if you’re not paying attention and the car approaches an obstacle, though you can also pay extra for cyclist and car detection, which come part of Volvo’s advanced technology package.
The car I drove had all of the trimmings, including climate controls, BLIS for blind spot detection, a 5-cylinder turbocharged engine with 250 hp at 5,400 rpm. The company’s target markets, at least at launch, are where those seeking adventure live: the northeast, the west coast and the rocky mountains.
We started in Calistoga, California and I had the first leg of the drive to Tahoe, which meant I drove for about two hours before switching at a Starbucks with another driver. This allowed me to experience the car both as a driver and a passenger, both of which I found to be real first-class experiences.
I spent most of the drive taking the car on route 20 in Northern California, which cuts through Yuba City and Nevada City. We then took 80 the rest of the way through Tahoe National Forest to our final destination. My fellow driver, an experienced racer, taught me things I’d never learned before: how to accelerate through turns, how to properly hold the wheel for the most control, and even where to look so that I was focused more on what was ahead of me instead of what was in front of me. This wasn’t Volvo’s plan, he was an autojournalist just offering me tips along the way, but it added to the experience.
The turns were fun — we were cutting through the woods with mostly empty roads in front of us, a 70s station playing on the radio and through the Harman Kardon speakers, keeping small talk while experiencing what the car had to offer. As I hit steeper downturns, I noticed that the hill descent control would turn on automatically; all-wheel drive and antiskid system was also always on.
“I think I took that turn too fast,” I said at one point, wondering whether my lead foot was pushing the car to its limits. “Yeah, probably don’t want to hit the turns much quicker than that,” my co-pilot said. We pushed the car to the limits, at least so far as we could tell, on the roads we were given. It handled flawlessly and, at times, I admit I probably had too much fun behind the wheel.
My favorite part about the Volvo V60 Cross Country aside from its relatively solid pickup and beautiful interior, was the sport seats. There’s padding right on your kidneys and excellent lumbar support, which meant I wasn’t slipping around the seat and readjusting while taking those hairpin turns. My back felt fine when we exited the car 2 hours into the trip, which is something I can’t say about my 2006 Ford Explorer at home.
We switched spots somewhere around Yuba City, California, if memory serves me. I rode shotgun from there for the rest of the drive, which was relatively flat and boring until we hit Tahoe National Forest. That’s where we had some more fun with sharp turns, the chance to pass slower trucks and more. As a passenger, I found the drive to be just as comfortable. When we arrived in Tahoe, I walked out of the car feeling refreshed and not tired, as I often do. I could have easily continued on another four hours which, again, is really saying something as someone who usually despises driving.
That was just the start of my experience with the Volvo V60, however, because the next day we had a chance to learn evasive driving moves with professional drivers, the folks who train military and other people how to do the same.
It was a blast.
The original plan with Volvo was to take the Volvo V60 Cross Country on an ice driving course at the Truckee Airport in Truckee, right near Tahoe. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate with us and the ground was too warm: the ice simply wouldn’t stay frozen long enough into the waking morning. So, instead, we learned how to drive the Volvo V60 evasively.
Honestly, it’s the most fun I’ve ever had in a car, and the photos you see above (taken by a professional photographer along for the trip with Volvo) show the real course we were on, and our instructor.
We started by driving about 200 yards or so toward a set of cones, by which we had to have the car cruising at about 50-55 miles per hour. At that point, our goal was to slam on the brakes, and properly steer the car around a set of cones in front of us, which represented another car or an obstacle we’d want to avoid last-minute. It’s harder than it sounds, and I admit I wasn’t too good — often hitting the brakes while cruising at around 60 mph instead of slower, as I was told to. The car handled well with its antiskid controls on — much harder with them off — even when I slammed on the brakes, and I was able to avoid the obstacle, though wasn’t able to pull the car back over into my lane as well as the professional did.
In another test, we took the car crisscrossing between cones, forcing it into drifting, pedal to the metal the whole time. The V60 managed to hold up really well, even as I slammed the wheel left, then right, then left again, all the while moving full speed. “Should I brake?” I asked the instructor. “Not unless you lose control of the car.” I didn’t — at least not with the car’s antiskid braking system on. With it off, however, I could hardly control the car, often missing one cone, then another, then endlessly sort of drifting back and forth without any proper direction. It’s amazing how well the system works when it’s on.
Finally, just for kicks, we learned the moves to execute a proper J-turn. That’s when you’re driving straight then, realizing last minute that there’s danger ahead, you kick the car in reverse, pull the wheel, and spin a complete 180-degree turn so you’re driving in the other direction. My instructor did the test — adrenaline pumping through my veins the whole time — but we didn’t have a chance to give it a try ourselves. I think it would have probably taken a few hours of instruction to understand how to execute properly, but it’s something I never thought a station wagon could actually pull off. How fun!
I spent a lot of time in the Volvo V60 Cross Country, and I’m really excited for it to hit the market this spring to see what other consumers think about the car. I’m currently talking to Volvo to see if my wife and I can take a loaner up to Vermont for the weekend, where I hope to see just how well the trunk space can fit a few snowboards and some luggage. It looked like there’s plenty of room back there, and I wonder a bit how the back seat feels, especially considering the front truly felt like a first-class cabin.
There are a lot of car journalists out there, and I know my focus is mostly on technology and gadgets. As a consumer, though, I do have an opinion on the Volvo V60 Cross Country: it’s easily the most fun I’ve ever had in a car before.
No, I’m not saying it’s the most fun car, because, honestly, there are plenty of other options out there and, frankly, I haven’t driven them all. But if you’re an active person who needs a car that’s reliable, safe, comfortable and quick, the Volvo V60 Cross Country should definitely be at the top of your list.