by Frank S. Washington
VAIL, Colo., — The program was billed as Volvo’s Drive-E Experience. It was a sort of out with the old in with the new – as in engines. The Swedish automaker used the introduction of the 2017 model year to debut the installation of Drive-E engines into its 60 Series Cross Country nameplates.
In other words, the 2016 model year was the last to see the venerable T5, the five-cylinder engine powering many of its Cross Country badged 60 Series cars. We were told that we’d be the first to test drive Volvo’s T5 AWD with the Drive-E engine in the 2017 S60 Cross Country, the 2017 V60 Cross Country and the 2017 XC60 Inscription.
Volvo has switched from a family of six engine blocks to a family of two. Both of them are four-cylinders, one diesel and the other gasoline powered. The U.S. will not see the diesel but we’ve got and will get four versions of the gasoline powered four-cylinder.
The T5 all-wheel-drive engine was a 2.0-liter turbocharged direct injected four cylinder engine that made 240 horsepower and 258 pound feet of torque at an incredibly low 1,500 rpm. It was mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission.
The T6 made 302 horsepower and it was mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. And the T6 engine in Polestar, Volvo’s performance line, will make 362 horsepower. Both engines are mated to eight-speed automatic transmissions. And then there is the T8, not used in the 60 Series, that makes 400 plus horsepower.
In the long run, this new engine philosophy will allow Volvo to save a bunch of research bucks and focus its intellectual currency on just two engine architectures. That should lead to more powertrain innovations.
The 2017 Volvo V60 T5 AWD Cross Country that we drove here from Denver’s International Airport had a fuel efficiency rating of 22 mpg in the city, 30 mpg on the highway and 25 mpg combined. It was roughly a two -hour uphill drive on I-70 West. An engine loses horsepower when climbing, about 10 horsepower for every thousand feet.
Denver’s elevation was 5,280 ft., that’s why it’s called The Mile High City. But Vail is at 8,189 ft. If we were anywhere else the climb to the ski resort would be called through the mountains but this is Colorado so these sizable mounds were the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
The point in all this geography is that Volvo’s T5 engine didn’t lose power, not that we could tell. That’s because of the turbocharger. We never got the sense that the engine was working hard.
Heck, it was like we were driving at zero elevation on a long straightaway. Instead, we were climbing up I-70, a three lane highway, sometimes two, that cut through mountains, er, foothills.
The interior of the V60 was of the Scandinavian philosophy: clean lines and minimalist. Still, the grained material used on the top half of the dash could have been softer, so could the material used on the bottom half. Some areas of the door materials were way too hard to be considered luxury, or even premium for that matter. They were of good quality but our test vehicle cost $50,130. As Volvo repositions itself from a premium automaker to a purveyor of luxury vehicles the latter is conveyed in the interior and in the V60 Volvo Cross Country, the interior materials could be a little better.
Still, we got the chance to experience the V60 Cross Country in the canyons that are Urban America rather than the spaciousness of North Central Colorado. In Detroit, where the background was fading into the grays of winter, Volvo’s seats, some of the best in the industry, were soft and cupped the body like easy chairs.
When we come off the Lodge Freeway at Myers and McNichols, we never make it through both lights that are a block apart. But this time the V60’s much appreciated turbocharged acceleration allowed us to make both lights.
And when we were able to make a relatively tight U-turn out of our parking space, we really did appreciate the maneuverability of the V60 Cross Country. Its suspension smoothed out the rough roads here which were ruddy in places. As a colleague of ours often says, the V60 Cross Country was road worthy.
Volvo’s Cross Country 60-Series uses the components from the suspension of the XC70 sport utility. The S60 Cross Country, like the V60, is almost two and half inches taller than the sedan and the wagon. Overall it had 7.9-inches (200mm) of ground clearance and a higher seating position for the driver. The suspension mountings gave it more wheel articulation, the vertical distance that wheels can travel, and that added to its off road and on road capabilities.
The next morning here we drove the 2017 XC60 T6 AWD Inscription south to Buena Vista River Runners with a stop at the Tennessee Pass Nordic Center for a driver change.
In Volvo’s new nomenclature the difference between T5 and T6 is really a supercharger, both engines are equipped with a turbocharger. But Volvo has installed a blower that works in unison with the turbocharger on the T6. The supercharger handles low speed forced air induction and the turbo handles high speed induction.
This engine too was a 2.0-liter four-cylinder mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. It made 302 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque at 2,100 rpm. The XC60 had a fuel efficiency rating of 20 mpg in the city, 27 mpg on the highway and 22 mpg combined.
The most remarkable thing about this super-turbo engine was its power delivery. We remember testing the engine in Las Vegas a couple of years ago, where the elevation was 2,000 ft. Driving across this plain that was at roughly 9,000 ft., there was no difference in oomph. On two-lane highways, we swung out smartly, passed and got back in our lane quickly without any anxiety. We had the same exhilaration doing the same thing just outside of Las Vegas.
This time of year the pavement was dry. And that meant that although all of the Volvo models we test drove here were all-wheel-drive, on dry asphalt they were front-wheel-drive. When wheel slippage is detected, up to half of the torque can be sent to the rear wheels. What’s more, using the traction control system, torque can be sent from side-to-side.
The 2017 XC60 Inscription’s interior conveyed the luxury that went along with its $53,555 sticker. There were linear walnut inlays on the floating center stack and door handles. It had adaptive cruise control, collision warning with full braking, pedestrian and cyclist detection with automatic braking, distance alert, lane departure warning, active high beams, road sign information and a premium sound system.
That was just some of the safety equipment. Creature comforts included a panoramic roof, smart key, power tailgate, satellite radio, Bluetooth, LED headlamps, blind spot alert and that was not all of its equipment.
But we noticed that an image of the posted speed limit was inside the speedometer/information ring. What’s more, there was a little red arrow at say, 25 mph if that was the speed limit. And it would move up or down when the speed limit changed. In other words, it was almost impossible not know how fast we were going and if it was more than the speed limit.
The XC60 moved like it was powered by a much larger engine. Passing on the two-lane U.S. 24 was quick and sharp as it needed to be on this road. Handling was responsive and the suspension was firm especially in the curves that vacillated between sweeping and tight.
The 2017 S60 T5 AWD Cross Country was dressed with Volvos new concaved honeycomb grille with the Iron Mark badge in the center and it had a lower skid plate. The side was accented with scuff plates while black fender extensions framed 18-inch “NESO” Cross Country alloy wheels. Glossy black window trim and outside mirror covers contributed to the sporty look. At the rear, a lower skid plate provided the finishing touch.
That came out of the press kit. On the way up to Piney Lake for the unveiling of the 2017 V90 Cross Country, we took Red Sandstone Road. And the name conveyed the texture of the road. There was no pavement. It was hard packed red dirt covered with rocks, dented with potholes and laced with washer board surfaces in some places. There was nothing smooth about it.
In some spots, blocks of rocks were like icebergs; four-fifths were underground. In other words, hit one of these and it is not going to move. The only question was whether we were going to damage the car. Handling had to be sharp because this road was more like a trail and it was perhaps one to one and a half lanes wide. In other words, there was a lot of yielding to oncoming vehicles that popped up quickly with all the sharp curves. Braking had to be quick too.
This was the sort of road where five to seven miles an hour would be considered speedy. Our driving partner took it doing about 20 mph. That shook, rattled and rolled our kidneys but the Volvo S60 Cross Country made it up to the lake with no problem.
We came to Piney Lake, at 9,400 ft. it was one of the highest bodies of water in the land, for the unveiling of the 2017 Volvo T6 AWD V90. It was unveiled simultaneously in Malmo, Sweden, Zurich, Switzerland and here. However, we didn’t get the chance to drive it so we only have a few things to say.
In a phrase, the car was stunning. It completes the rollout of Volvo’s flagship 90-Series, the XC90 and the S90. The Cross Country V90 was a T6, powered by Volvo’s 302 horsepower four-cylinder super-turbo engine.
Like it 90 siblings, it sat on Volvo’s new SPA platform. That stands for Scalable Product Architecture. Like the 90 Series, every Volvo going forward will sit on this platform which in plain English can be sized.
Thus, Volvo is moving to one diesel and one gasoline engine block and either can be electrified; that is come in hybrid or plug-in hybrid configurations like the 400-horsepower T8.
Volvo is a lot smaller than most automakers. And to survive, the automaker has got to be a lot smarter, hence, the streamlining of engine blocks and platforms. Consumers will decide if Volvo’s new products are better than competitors.