Expert Reviews

2021 Volvo XC60 Recharge PHEV Review

AutoTrader SCORE
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car
  • Safety

If you’re wondering why the sky in some of the accompanying photos looks so angry, it’s because they were taken in Barrie, Ont., only a couple hours after the city was ravaged by an EF-2 tornado.

No, this was not planned, nor do I go chasing extreme weather events for the sake of a story. I was, in fact, booked to receive my second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine there and was briskly heading north on the 400 when the emergency alerts started blaring through the stereo system in the 2021 Volvo XC60 Recharge.

In hindsight, I’m not sure I would’ve preferred to embark upon that journey behind the wheel of anything else. This is a compact crossover from a brand renowned for its safety, after all.

Even when it’s not trekking through some of the heaviest, most intense rain I’ve ever experienced and narrowly missing dangerous natural twisters, though, the XC60 – tested here in Recharge plug-in hybrid (PHEV) guise – is a reassuringly high-quality automobile.

Safety: 10/10

For decades, safety has been Volvo’s specialization and that reputation lives on in the XC60. For starters, the advanced driver-assist systems here (part of the $2,450 Advanced package) include some extremely competent adaptive cruise and lane-keeping. It still requires steering input every 12 seconds (yes, I timed it), so it’s intended to be used with your hands on the wheel; and no, it won’t do automatic lane changes like the Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class. But when it comes to maintaining distance from other cars and staying in your lane on long stretches of highway, the XC60 will probably do a better, smoother, more efficient job than the average human driver.

Volvo has packed the XC60 with a lot of other thoughtful safety features as standard, too, like steering-responsive headlights, airbags for your knees, road sign recognition that lets you know when you’re in a school zone or if you’re going the wrong way down a one-way street (this was discovered in Volvo’s literature and not during testing, I swear), and blind-spot monitoring with big and noticeable warning lights on the mirrors.

Volvos also feature a lot of smaller, less advertisable touches that make driving and living with its vehicles safer, such as windows that roll up slower than average, windshield washer nozzles integrated into the wipers for a better clean and less overspray onto other cars, and squishy engine covers intended to reduce pedestrian collision fatalities.

Fuel Economy: 9/10

Volvo says the plug-in XC60 is good for an electric-only range of 31 km, which means if your commute is shorter than that and you have a charger at home or at work, the XC60 could operate as your daily driver while rarely using any gas at all by keeping it in its eco drive mode.

Driven as a hybrid, however, Volvo’s electrified compact crossover is rated by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) for 9.8 L/100 km in the city, 8.7 on the highway, and 9.3 combined. Those ratings turned out to be fairly accurate, and after a week of mixed-but-mostly-highway driving the XC60 Recharge showed 9.0 L/100 km on its onboard trip computer.

For comparison, this beats the plug-in BMW X3’s 9.9 L/100 km combined rating but falls short of the 8.8 L/100 km score achieved by the Audi Q5 PHEV. As a reference to how efficient a gas-only crossover of this size typically is, the Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 is officially rated for 10.0 L/100 km combined but fared a little worse during real-world testing – all without being nearly as powerful or feeling as peppy as this plug-in XC60.

Styling: 9/10

While the XC60 isn’t quite as elegant as Volvo’s V60 wagon – one of the most beautiful cars on sale today, in my eyes – the Swedish automaker’s sharp and understated aesthetic translates well to the compact crossover shape. In terms of style, the XC60 is near if not right at the top of the class. It looks high-end without being gauche or coming off as pretentious, and will probably age quite well too.

The interior here is similarly attractive; fancy and sophisticated yet simple and modest. Wood and metal trim look and feel expensive, while its hard plastics somehow come off as rugged and logically utilitarian rather than cheap.

Practicality: 8/10

Being a crossover, the XC60’s living quarters are appropriately spacious. Front-row storage is decent but leaves room for improvement. The rear seats fold down, the tailgate can be closed with a press of a button, and my tester even came with a steel grille that easily folds down to create a safe separation between the cargo and passenger areas.

Eyeballing said cargo area, it should be big enough for most adventures but, checking the numbers, this Volvo’s 598 L rear-end is significantly smaller than the plug-in BMW X3’s 770 L with the second row of seats upright.

Comfort: 9/10

The seats here are very comfortable, as is the ride. Sound isolation is equally solid, even over extremely corrugated pavement. Armrests are expertly positioned for long trips, and I must commend Volvo’s ergonomics team for placing the volume knob in the perfect position in relation to the shifter (something that often acts as a hand rest while driving).

I know volume knob placement seems inconsequential, but as less expensive mainstream brands continue to up their games when it comes to what I like to call “brochure bullet-point” features, more subtle touches like this are a huge but underappreciated part of what makes luxury rides like this special.

As for comfort features you can find quoted in Volvo’s proverbial XC60 pamphlet, the front seats, rear seats, and steering wheel in my tester were heated. Ventilated seats were absent from this Inscription Expression trim but are part of the more expensive – and “expression”-less – Inscription trim.

Power: 9/10

A high-riding, practical family hauler from Volvo might be one of the last you’d expect to be quick in a straight line, but the XC60’s combination of a 2.0L four-cylinder, turbocharging, supercharging, and an electric motor means 400 combined hp and 472 lb-ft of torque. That’s a lot on both counts.

As a result, 100 km/h arrives in 5.3 seconds. Unlike its rivals from Germany, which often boast top speeds of more than 200 km/h, Volvo has capped the XC60’s speed at a relatively low but adequate 180 km/h as part of its commitment to safety. Sorry, no stunt driving for you.

Piloting the XC60 PHEV around like a grownup, its implementation of the hybrid system is really well done. Setting off and navigating parking lots at low speed is EV-level smooth, while the internal combustion engine comes into play seamlessly. Highway passing is also impressively effortless.

Driving Feel: 8/10

Taken through corners, the XC60 is perfectly capable when it comes to controllability while having a refreshingly calm personality that doesn’t attempt to mimic the feel of a sports car with artificially stiff suspension or steering racks with manufactured heft. Smoothness is the name of the game here, and whether it’s accelerating, braking, or turning, this Volvo crossover seems to move with a pleasingly creamy edge even when its driver doesn’t.

Features: 8/10

The Volvo XC60 Recharge being tested here is the entry Inscription Expression model, which includes as standard dual-zone climate control, a panoramic sunroof, portrait-oriented 12.3-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, 12-inch digital instrumentation, powered and heated front seats with driver memory, and a power tailgate. $8,700 worth of options packages later, our tester was further decked out with heated windshield washers, a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, road sign recognition and park assist, a head-up display, those fantastic driver aides, a 360-degree cameras, wireless charging, metallic paint, 20-inch wheels, an upgraded sound system, and a cabin air cleaner.

It’s a well-equipped space but misses out on goodies like the company’s world-class sound system and crystal shifter. Ventilated front seats are also locked behind the more expensive Inscription grade.

User Friendliness: 7.5/10

There’s a slight learning curve with some of Volvo’s controls. For example, the wiper stalk is inverted, the shifter takes double-taps to get into gear, and despite having been in a Volvo not too long ago, it took me an embarrassingly long time to remember how to reset the trip computer. Once you get acquainted, though, the XC60’s minimalist cabin is fairly easy to make sense of.

A lot of its functions, including all of the HVAC settings, are relegated to the big touchscreen in the centre. Like the hardware that surrounds it, the software here is also a bit unconventional but weirdly intuitive after learning it, mostly on account of the display being so big. After a while, I was able to adjust the temperature using peripheral vision, without taking my eyes off the road. (Fanatics of all things foreign will love the fact that this car displays temperatures using commas in lieu of decimal points, as they do in Sweden.)

One screen-related downside is that because of the vertical orientation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto only take up the bottom half of the screen and, as a result, feel a tad small – especially in contrast to the wonderfully big and wonderfully wide implementations from rivals like Genesis and BMW. What’s more, the onboard screens themselves (including the instruments located in front of the driver) look dated and a bit dull compared to the ones found not just in its luxury contemporaries but even in some much cheaper, mainstream cars these days.

Another mark against the XC60’s usability is a wireless phone charger that’s too small for the current standard-size iPhone, requires you to manually close two sliding wood covers to keep your phone in place, and, most damningly, just never seemed to work, complaining of other objects that were apparently obstructing its operation even though there was nothing else there.

Value: 8/10

Volvo’s plug-in XC60 starts at $68,665 including a non-negotiable $2,015 freight fee, but when it was all said and done the tester you see here came out to a total of $77,465 as tested. That’s about what you’d expect to pay for a crossover of this type, but quick trips to the online configurators at Audi and BMW reveal similarly equipped Q5 and X3 plug-ins, respectively, costing somewhere in the $80,000s. This price gulf isn’t exactly big enough to call the XC60 good value, but it’s still something to keep in mind.

Value-minded buyers in the market for a pluggable luxury compact crossover should pay attention to the upcoming 2022 Lexus NX 450h+ set to be built in our own backyard of Cambridge, Ont. Lexus is claiming an electric-only range of 58 km, quite a bit more than the XC60’s 31 km, but a slower 0–100 km/h time of 6.2 seconds. Official pricing has yet to be announced, but it’s not unreasonable to assume it will be less expensive than this Volvo given the Japanese brand’s track record.

The Verdict

Those not willing to wait for Lexus’s next move, however, will find a solid choice in Volvo’s 2021 XC60 Recharge. It offers a comfortable-yet-capable driving experience and world-class safety all wrapped up in a supremely stylish Scandinavian package. And if you ever absolutely must drive towards an active tornado, you may as well do it in something with standard knee airbags and a built-in humidity sensor.

Engine Displacement 2.0L
Engine Cylinders Turbo- and supercharged I4 with electric motor
Peak Horsepower 400 hp combined
Peak Torque 472 lb-ft combined @ 2,200–5,400 rpm
Fuel Economy 9.8 / 8.7 / 9.3 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space 598 / 1,395 L seats down
Model Tested 2021 Volvo XC60 T8 Recharge Inscription Expression
Base Price $66,650
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $2,015
Price as Tested $77,465
Optional Equipment
$8,700 – Climate Package, $1,000; Premium Package, $1,500; Advanced Package, $2,450; Crystal White Metallic Paint, $900; 20” 5-Double Spoke Tech Black Diamond Cut Alloy Wheels, $1,000; Harman Kardon Premium Sound System, $1,500; Air Quality with Advanced Air Cleaner, $350