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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, Nov. 24, 2014

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From behind, the Volvo XC60 looks aggressive.
From behind, the Volvo XC60 looks aggressive.
It's an incredibly capable family car.
It's an incredibly capable family car.
The interior controls, however, are a bit busy.
The interior controls, however, are a bit busy.
This SUV drives like a car.
This SUV drives like a car.

Look out soccer moms, the Volvo XC60 is coming through

I have a soft spot for Swedish cars, having owned two Saabs and one Volvo. And Volvo is even more near and dear to me: I learned to drive on my parents’ 1987 Volvo 740. When a kid rear-ended me at 40 miles per hour while I was at a dead stop, the car crumpled just like it did in those commercials and I walked away fine.

So I was open-minded when it came time to evaluate the latest car that Fields Auto Group lent me to review, the 2013 Volvo XC60. I’ve always been just a little curious about this car, but I passed it up when buying our 2011 BMW X3. And I remembered how much I liked the '99 Volvo S80 T6 I had a few years back. That car was fast.

Still, Volvo has such a unique sense of style, yet I find myself alternating between like and dislike with this car’s modern lines, sneaky-fast power and quirky interior. For as cool as this SUV’s rear end is, the front looks oh-so-conservative. While its profile casts a similar shadow to a Honda CRV, the Volvo would smoke it under any circumstances, easily running laps around my X3. The interior is unintuitive to me, but it’s spacious and comfortable at the same time.

So what you see with this car is not exactly what you get. Actually, you get more. The XC60 rides low and cushy like a sedan. But it also sports 300 turbocharged horses, 325 pounds of foot torque and fuel efficiency similar to my naturally-aspirated and much punier straight six-cylinder Bimmer.

That’s why the XC60 feels to me like a stealthy soccer mom car, or more accurately, a stealthy soccer dad car. For its many comforts and insane safety features, it plows through snow with the power of a much more expensive car. So I’m split on this one.

To me, the good outweighs the bad. Comparing the XC60 to my everyday car, I appreciate the panoramic moon roof, the quick-to-heat-up front seats and the large rear windows and sight lines, which are a nice departure from that tiny rear slit in my BMW. The blind spot monitoring system comes in handy every day. The car has a floating center stack in brushed aluminum, which is convenient for stashing stuff behind. The power rear tailgate, an option in the "premium plus" package, is very nice.

The XC60 feels quite fast and competent on the road, too. When you floor it, you’re thrown back in your seat, and in snow, it performs excellently, just as a Swedish car (now owned by the Chinese, mind you) should. Over almost two months of mixed driving, the XC60 registered 20.2 mpg, which is a little bit less than the 23.1 mpg I get in my BMW – but this vehicle offers 60 more hp and much more torque.

My experience was not all positive, though, but the XC60's negatives may not be negatives for you. The suspension, for example, is quite soft and cushy. If you like the road feel of a German car, you won’t appreciate the Volvo. And even after two months, I just couldn’t get used to the console’s ergonomics. Though much of the action can be controlled from the steering wheel, the main control button is small and pushed all the way to the right. I don’t understand the purpose of the over-sized silhouette for visualizing heating and cooling, and the many phone-pad-like numbers/letters buttons seem extraneous.

But this being a Volvo, it offers one amazing safety feature that I’ve never seen before. At speeds under 31 miles per hour, the "City Safety" will automatically stop you if you’re about hit a car in front of you. While I didn’t try it out, thankfully, the car did loudly beep at me a few times when it thought I got too close to someone, too quickly, in heavy traffic. Better to be safe than sorry.

So, would I buy it? Maybe. The base front-wheel drive package starts at $34,350, which is less expensive, though with roughly the same 240 hp engine configuration, as my car. The car I tested, the T6 AWD, costs more than my X3 at $45,395, but is quite a bit more powerful and feature-rich, especially with the "premier plus" and "climate package."

I guess it comes down to personal preference. The XC60 is an impressive, value-driven luxury SUV, but I don’t like it as much as my own car. It doesn't feel quite as refined, if that makes sense.

But this is a very capable, super comfortable, nimble and safe SUV. It's a great family car with tons of room.

Moms and dads of Milwaukee, you could smirk to yourself at those soccer games. The Volvo XC60 is a wolf in a Swedish sheep’s clothing.

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