Test Drive: 2018 Volvo XC60 T8 Hybrid SUV

Courtesy Volvo

A swift mid-sized SUV from Sweden puts safety first.

I’m driving the new Volvo XC60 T8 Plug-in Hybrid SUV on steep, curvy roads that have names like Stagecoach Boulevard and Squaw Pass in the Rocky Mountains north of Denver. I pass a few horses out to pasture and I can’t help think that time is soon approaching when cars powered by standalone gas engines also will be a transportation option of the past.

The horsepower is still there, but in this athletic-looking vehicle the mix is 313 from a gas engine and 87 from an electric motor for a total of 400 horsepower. The gas engine powers the front wheels while the electric motor powers the rear wheels. That combination, governed by an 8-speed automatic transmission, works well here: there is plenty of quick acceleration for passing maneuvers and there is no wheezing uphill.

The horses momentarily catch my eye, but what is grabbing my attention throughout my drive is the interior. Getting behind the wheel, I was very curious to see how the Swedish car maker would translate the rolling Scandinavian spa feel of its very successful XC90 SUV into a smaller mid-sized model. To Volvo’s credit, it’s not like booking into a smaller spa. The interior design is still very Scandinavian—the magical crystal shifter, the start-stop button that feels like a cufflink, the infinity-pool style rear mirror, and the clever, vertically-aligned center touch screen are standout features—but it’s become a more intimate Swedish style cocoon full of safety features that makes me feel well minded.

Courtesy Volvo

Volvo aims to reduce the number of fatalities in its vehicles to zero by 2020 and this XC60 is not going to take any guff from the driver about it. There is a new Steer Assist feature that works with other safety systems to reduce the chance of head-on collision with oncoming traffic and to keep the car from drifting off course. It’s very assertive when it comes to keeping the car centered in its lane.

There also is an auto-braking system that will automatically brake if a collision is imminent, preventing impacts entirely at speeds under 31 mph. A Pilot Assist option will even take care of steering, acceleration, and braking on well-marked roads at speeds up to 80 mph. Driving the XC60 feels like a partnership between man and ancient Norse gods who have agreed to put safety first. The Thor’s Hammer outline in the headlights is a reminder that they mean business.

$71,590 as driven; volvocars.com.