The 2018 Volvo XC60 Inscription is one of the best luxury SUVs on the market

Key Points
  • The XC60 is fantastic to look at and is priced competitively
  • The T8 model is a plug in hybrid. While you save money on fuel and get a tax credit, the powertrain feels artificial and unrefined
  • The best bet is to get an XC60 T6, which offers more refinement at a lower price. You sacrifice some power, but it's a significantly better package than the hybrid.
The 2018 Volvo XC60
Mack Hogan | CNBC

The Scandinavian resurgence is in full swing, with Volvo sales still skyrocketing and limited by production capacity, not demand. We took a spin in an XC60 T8 — T8 means plug-in-hybrid — to see if the automaker's new midsize SUV is keeping the momentum.

It didn't disappoint.

The XC60 is easily one of the most compelling luxury SUVs on the market, though the plug-in hybrid model probably isn't worth the extra cash.

The Good

Check out those Thor's Hammer headlights
Mack Hogan | CNBC

This is the first midsize Volvo to get a top-to-bottom redo under the company's new ownership. The 90-series cars got gussied up first, with the XC90 leading the charge, but now the new and improved Volvo look is being applied to the the mass market models.

It's important Volvo gets this one right. Even the tired, outdated XC60 of last year outsold the S90, XC90 and every other Volvo model in the lineup. Consumers want midsize SUVs.

The basics are all nailed.

The XC60's styling is fantastic, carrying over the brand's signature "Thor's Hammer" headlights but taking a different, more angled approach out back. Even in white, the car has a visual presence that rivals such as BMW and Mercedes lack.

Better still is the interior, where Volvo has once again did bang-up job. Unpolished, lovely driftwood inlays and supple brown leathers work well with the brushed metal accents. Physical controls sit below the slick touch screen command center, with another LCD sitting in the gauge cluster for more information.

I love the polished and high-tech interior.
Mack Hogan | CNBC

You also get Volvo's seats, some of the best offered by any car-maker for long drives. They're assisted by air suspension, which smooths bumps at all four corners of the car and allows for adjustable ride height. I'd definitely spring for it. Get it? All together, few cars at the Volvo's $71,590 price-point can match it for comfort alone.

Splurge for the high-end speakers, if you can
Mack Hogan | CNBC

Volvo also offers the fantastic Bowers & Wilkins sound system, which the company says can perfectly emulate the acoustics of Gothenburg concert hall in the appropriate mode. I don't have the ear to tell you if that's true, but the reverb and echo of concert hall mode is fun and sounds great regardless.

You won't need to blast the music. Road and wind noise are virtually nonexistent, though some complaints from the four-cylinder powertrain do get in under heavy load.

The Bad

The 2018 Volvo XC60
Mack Hogan | CNBC

Let's talk more about the powertrain. The base motor is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder mill, the same unit that underpins every other car on the company's Scalable Product Architecture. Starting with the T5 models, it gets a turbocharger, which adds power but introduces some lag. T6 models have a supercharger in addition to a turbocharger, which adds more power still but doesn't increase efficiency in the way a turbo does.

When you leap to the T8 model, though, you add an entirely new motor setup. In addition to the supercharger, turbocharger and base engine you now also have a plug-in hybrid setup with a 10.4 kWh battery. The result is 400 horsepower and 472 foot-pounds of torque.

The refined back of the Volvo Xc60
Mack Hogan | CNBC

That's a healthy dollop of power and a tidal wave of torque, but it's clear that they took a complicated route to get there. All's well if the driver doesn't feel that, but I'm afraid in the XC60 T8 you're always aware you're commanding a complex array of systems and you're never quite sure which ones are at play.

When you step on the gas, for instance, the electric torque is instant. Then the engine fires up and you get the base power plus the supercharger kicked in. A tiny bit later, the turbo spools and you're at full power. Your foot hasn't moved, but the amount of acceleration you feel has changed twice in a second or so. It makes it hard to drive the T8 smoothly.

The 2018 Volvo XC60
Mack Hogan | CNBC

This is also true when it comes time to stop. The T8 has regenerative brakes, which recover kinetic energy to charge the batteries. They make the brake pedal feel spongy at the top, with little actual braking. To compensate, you dip further into the pedal. The T8 screeches to a halt. It seems your options are "slight regenerative braking that won't fully stop the car" and "total panic stop." It's behavior that's unbecoming of a luxury car.

Sure, the T8 can go about 18 miles without using any fuel. It's also eligible for about $5,000 in federal tax credits, though that doesn't make up for the $8,000 spread between the T6 Inscription and T8 Inscription. It has its perks, but the lack of powertrain refinement means that I can't recommend an XC60 T8 to a luxury buyer.

The 2018 Volvo XC60
Mack Hogan | CNBC

Luckily, there's an easy solution. Get an XC60 T6. You still get plenty of power, but this time the powertrain won't spoil what is otherwise a near-perfect SUV.

How We'd Option It

I tested the T8 model.
Mack Hogan | CNBC

Configuring the right XC60 is relatively easy. Start with a XC60 Inscription T6 for $49,695, though that only gets you a white model. If you want any other color, it'll add $595 to the price. Keep the standard wheels, as bigger ones will hurt the ride.

$2,000 more gets you the convenience package, which includes a few small things and one big one: Volvo's Pilot Assist semi-autonomous system. That's a must. The $1,100 Vision package gets you parking sensors, blind spot monitors and cross traffic assist. Add $750 if you live in an area where heated seats and a heated steering wheel will serve you well.

Finally, $3,200 gets you the Bowers & Wilkins audio system. Steep for sure, but everyone who rode in the XC60 loved hearing concert hall mode and blasting their favorite songs.

Final Thoughts

The 2018 Volvo XC60
Mack Hogan | CNBC

Optioned like that, the XC60 will cost you $56,590. That's a shocking amount of car for that money, with essentially every feature you'd want. We skipped a few gadgets — massaging seats and a heads up display, for instance — but all of the essentials are on tap.

It rides unbelievably well. It's quiet, except for the occasional engine noise. It looks ace, and the interior could rival some six-figure cars. So has Volvo blown their momentum? Ten seconds in an XC60 will show you they're just getting started.


Exterior: 5

Interior: 5

Driving Experience: 2

Value: 5

Overall: 4.5

Price as configured: $71,590