I did not expect to find myself falling in love with a post-Chinese buyout Volvo wagon, but it sure happened.
I’ve long been a fan of Volvo’s famous “brick” sedans and wagons because of their putting substance above style. The nickname “brick” implies that there was strength built into those old cars just as much as aerodynamics were decidedly not built into them. True to that implication, I’ve known of many, many Volvo wagons of the era that crossed the 200,000-mile mark without complaint or major issues. But somewhere in the crack cocaine-like infusion of Ford Motor Company cash in the aughties, I felt like the brand lost a lot of that appeal. People I worked with who had “Volvord” cars often reported their mechanical frustrations, and I thought the cars lost a lot of that brickish appeal as Volvo designers took their first stabs at aerodynamic sheet metal.
Ford soon realized the error of its ways and sold off Volvo at a huge loss — to Chinese holding company Zhejiang Geely.
Like every lover of old Volvos, I was afraid of what this might mean for Volvo’s already uncertain future. Turns out I was wrong to worry. In the intervening four years since the sale, it has become clear that the Chinese are only in it for the money. Volvo Cars’ headquarters is still located in Gothenburg, Sweden. Swedes still build the cars — our tester was assembled in Gothenburg, according to the chassis tag in its door jamb. And clearly, Swedish design sensibilities still reign supreme, perhaps now more than when Ford owned the company.
The 2015 Volvo V60 T5 Drive-E that joined us for a week was handsome. Nay, it was downright sexy, in the same way a confident, athletic-bodied person can be. The wagon’s sheet metal made the car like a lean soccer star wearing a finely worsted suit that gave some sex appeal-enhancing modesty to the strong physique beneath.
I used the word “understated” to describe the Volvo V60 T5 Drive-E’s design to a lot of people who asked about it during the test week. That’s a trait the wagon possessed outside and inside, where the clean Swedish interior design made the V60 a tranquil place mostly free of extraneous distractions. One thing that often comes with today’s car technology and design sensibilities is cluttered design, so the Volvo V60 T5 Drive-E’s minimalist dashboard design and well-sorted infotainment control interface were refreshing. More about the V60′s infotainment controls in a later piece.
I liked some of the historical design cues that sneaked up on me the more I admired the car. The front grille was part Amazon, part P1800, and at the same time, all-modern Volvo. The rear lights harkened back to the P1800 and even the last of the brickish Volvo wagons, with trademark taillights that comprised the entire height of the D-pillar.
In design terms, this Volvo is clearly evolved from the Swedish DNA that made the brick-shaped cars and their predecessors special, while they also carry forward some design elements that worked well on later-model Volvos like the C30.
What’s “Drive-E” all about, anyway?
So in a nutshell, Drive-E signifies this version of the Volvo V60 T5 is equipped with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine displacing 2.0 liters, whereas the non-Drive-E T5 gets a 2.5-liter five-cylinder and the powerhouse T6 gets a V6 engine. Overseas, there are diesel powertrain options and even a super-efficient diesel-electric hybrid, but of course we don’t get those here in the States. “Drive-E” also signifies this is a front-wheel drive model only — there is no all-wheel drive order code for the Drive-E version of the Volvo V60.
Though positioned as somewhat of a “cheapskate” engine option within the V60 lineup, the little turbo four-cylinder is no slouch, making a Volvo-reported 240 horsepower at 5,600 RPM and 258 ft-lbs of torque in a relatively flat arc between 1,500 and 4,800 RPM. An eight-speed Geartronic driver-adaptive automatic transmission is responsible for delivering that power to the front wheels only, and it does a fine job of that all the way up until you do a drag-race launch to test the car’s acceleration. At that point, torque steer is quite evident if you let the wheel get off-center at all.
In daily driving, the engine delivered power deftly as commanded by my right foot. For passing situations, the throttle had a hard detent like European cars of old — including, I’m told, old Volvos that I never got to drive. Push past this detent, and the transmission would go into “kick-down” mode, allowing the pass to be made with expedience. In casual driving, the engine’s wide torque curve allowed the transmission to hold its gear much better than some cars when pulling long hills.
This had benefits for fuel economy, I’m certain. Knowing the V60 T5 Drive-E was rated at 37 MPG highway by the EPA, I persuaded my wife that we needed to take a road trip in this car. After all, with the relative rarity of true wagons in America today, there was no telling when we’d get another opportunity to Griswold it up by hitting the highways. Through more than 130 miles of mostly 55-MPH country roads in the hills of Tennessee and Kentucky, the engine and transmission were flawless, and I was able to average 37.4 MPG according to the one-day trip computer feature located within the Volvo’s telematics tools. Even after resigning to 70-MPH interstate highways and fighting rain and city traffic through Nashville that slowed us to a crawl at a few points, the average only dropped to 34 MPG. I was thoroughly impressed.
One of the biggest reasons city traffic didn’t make a huge impact on the fuel economy of the 2015 Volvo V60 T5 Drive-E was its aggressive auto start-stop system. Some hate it. I loved it. More about that in our next installment, which will focus on fuel economy notes.
Disclosure: Volvo provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of gas.