The transverse inline-engine arrangement and efficient unibody construction make for a compact exterior, a roomy interior, and friendly driving manners. Volvo also claims the engine packaging allows short and direct plumbing between the exhaust manifold and the under-floor catalysts, meaning quicker light-off and lower emissions. Indeed, both engines meet the ULEV (Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle) standard. The chassis and steering responses are remarkably carlike on the road. We do, however, have some reservations about the perceived accuracy of the 2.5T's steering, which lacks the T6's ZF speed-sensitive-assist system, but there's no complaining about the generous wheel travel, balanced shock damping, and good cornering precision.
Although well served by its former boxy-but-safe look, Volvo's fresh portfolio wears an exciting new visual signature. The XC has a brawny stance with its extra-wide track and a long wheelbase with short overhangs front and rear. This layout provides excellent stability on- and off-road and substantive yet sporting appearance despite the XC's extra height. It's a daring, modern design that has strong personality without any penalty from awkward proportions.
The XC has an interior-packaging hat trick with fold-down third-row seating, impressive in a vehicle only 3.5 in. longer than a V70 wagon. Our drivers also like the XC's lofty seating position, which is useful when picking lanes in dense city traffic or carefully placing wheels on rocky trails. The icing is the cabin's minimalist Scandinavian flavor, with excellent fits, soft leathers, bright gauges, and rich nickel trim.
This new unibody chassis is based on the same architecture and mechanicals as used in the flagship S80, the sporty S60 sedan, and the robust V70 wagon. It delivers the precise feel of a fine road machine along with sufficient toughness for backroad forays, while 60-plus-mph cuts through our 600-ft slalom put the XC in the front row of best-handling SUVs. And such agility doesn't come at the expense of a sweet ride.
"A wonderful synthesis of Volvo luxury, wagon tradition, and sport/utility toughness" is how Senior Editor Ron Sessions sums it up.