What’s Best: Practical wagon is stylish and fun to drive
What’s Worst: auto stop/start is annoying; console has multitude of buttons (although direct selection can be easier)
What’s Interesting: SUV-like ground clearance and skid plates on a wagon
BODY STYLE: Mid-size sport wagon
DRIVE METHOD: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive
ENGINE: 2.5-litre inline DOHC five cylinder with turbo (250 hp and 266 lb/ft of torque)
FUEL ECONOMY: 11.8/9.1/10.6 L/100km (city/hwy/comb)
CARGO: 430 litres with seats up, 1,241 litres with 40/20/40 second row folded
TOWING: 1,588 kg (3,500 lbs)
PRICE: base $44,100, T5 AWD Premier $46,300, T5 AWD Premier Plus $47,100, T5 AWD
I’ve always liked wagons.
Not the graceless behemoths from decades past, but today’s modern interpretation.
I’m talking about Audi A4 allroad, BMW 3 Series Touring, Mercedes E-Class Wagon, and the like.
These handle like their sport sedan siblings, but can haul big-screen TVs, a couple of bikes or even a load of camping gear.
I’ll concede they’re somewhat less cavernous than their predecessors, but are a more elegant solution than the lumbering Roadmasters and hulking, faux wood-panelled Country Squires that were eventually replaced by the minivan, and the SUVs and crossovers that soon followed.
All were – and still are – more vehicle than many families really need.
“Oh, but my kids are in hockey…”
Somehow my generation – and our larger broods – survived the trek to the arena without a barge-sized cargo carrier.
Leading to my point that today’s wagon – in particular, the sport wagon – is the perfect ride for those needing a little space, but who still love to drive.
One of my top picks last year was the Volvo V60. More precisely the V60 Polestar, which is a high-performance version of Volvo’s mid-size wagon.
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But one doesn’t need such track-ready capability to reap most of the rewards.
The V60 is a premium product that starts just a tick over $40K, with both FWD and AWD models powered by a choice of engines that include a 240 hp turbo four-cylinder, 250 hp turbo five-cylinder, 300 hp turbocharged inline six, and an R-Design version of the latter pushing out 325 horses and hitting the wallet at $51,700.
All that, plus superb fit and finish, good material choices and some of the best seating in its segment. And put together with the bank-vault-like build quality synonymous with this Swedish automaker.
My recent tester was the V60’s AWD Cross Country sibling, which narrows engine options to Volvo’s turbocharged 2.5-litre inline five (T5) that produces 250 hp and 266 lb/ft of torque. It’s mated to a six-speed automatic with Geartronic sequential shift.
Aside from powertrains, the most noticeable difference between the Cross Country and regular V60 is ride height. It sits up another 65 mm, with a SUV-like ground clearance of 201 mm or about eight inches. And guarding its underbelly are front and rear skid plates in case you take it off the tarmac.
18-inch alloys are standard, as is hill descent control and rear park assist. Other upgrades are cosmetic, such as black fender extensions, honeycomb grille, exclusive window trim and mirror caps.
It looks a tad more aggressive than the V60, but both vehicles benefit from wide shoulders, a high beltline and rear-sloping roofline that give this wagon an athletic shape.
The back end is well put together with integrated dual exhausts, a prominent roof spoiler and vertical taillights that follow the contours of its beefy haunches.
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Inside, the quarters are well appointed with ample soft touch, nice graining and brightwork, and seats upholstered in optional “Beechwood Sport” leather.
The centre stack is angled toward the driver, but is replete with buttons, looking a bit dated compared to some of today’s touchscreen infotainment systems.
I do, however, prefer hitting a single button rather than tapping my way through menus and submenus to achieve the desired result. For example, to quickly disable the auto start/stop feature that saves fuel, but annoys.
A base V60 Cross Country starts at $44,100 and comes standard with rear park assist, power moonroof, roof rails, dual-zone climate control, eight-way power/heated front seats (with memory for the driver), seven-inch colour display, eight-speaker audio and more.
My Platinum tester, which starts at $50,400, adds such items as keyless drive, rear park assist camera, leather seating, upgraded Harmon/Kardon audio, navigation and adaptive TFT instrument cluster.
Driver aids and premium amenities come in several reasonably priced option packages. I won’t list them here, but if you want all the nannies like adaptive cruise control, collision warning, pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane keeping aid, blind spot warning and more, be prepared to pay a little more.
Safety is where Volvo truly shines, and on that note, a company goal is “that no one shall be killed or seriously injured in a Volvo by the year 2020.”
V60, like most wagons, scores well on practicality, although its tapered cabin and sloped roofline – which provides a more pleasing shape than it brick-like predecessors – does cut into interior volume.
With the 40/20/40 second-row in place, cargo capacity is 430 litres. This expands to 1,241 litres when you drop them. It’s less than some compact SUVs and crossovers, but enough for most needs – and quite functional with seats that truly fold flat – not angled up like most.
And with a separately folding middle position, there’s no problem carrying two rear passengers when lugging long objects like skis or lumber.
Function aside, this family hauler is also fun to drive. Its turbocharged inline five pulls strongly, with peak torque starting at a low 1,800 rpm, meaning there’s minimal turbo lag. Zero to 100 km/h takes only 7.4 seconds.
Some journos have lamented that Volvo hasn’t equipped its Cross Country with the new Drive-E turbo four that gets two more cogs in its Geartronic.
Indeed the older, odd-cylinder engine may be less fuel efficient, but I appreciate its punchy character, and its robust exhaust note when you plant the pedal.
And although the eight-speed is smoother, I’m not averse to sensing a car’s mechanicals when they’re doing the right things.
Drop the six-speed into ‘sport’ mode and you’ll see what I mean. Not only do you get later shifts and a quicker throttle, but the ability to choose your own gears.
Bump the lever forward or back (there are no paddles), for rapid-fire shifts that some may consider abrupt. I, however, am tired of ‘manumatics’ that lazily up- or downshift instead of snapping to attention when I pull the lever.
The V60 may not be your father’s station wagon, nor his Volvo, but it’s yet another example of how this automaker has reinvented itself.
Still safe and sensible, and maybe – dare I say it – just a little bit sexy.
?RELATED: Why Wagons Don’t Suck: The 2015.5 Volvo V60 Cross Country