2011 Volvo XC60 R-Design Review – It’s got the brawn, but who’s got the brains?

Expert Reviews Volvo

Blue Watch Dial Instruments

To back up those sporty, good looks and competent handling, the 3.0 liter turbo in-line six produces 325HP and 354lb-ft of torque. With the very broad, flat torque curve there is abundant power everywhere, even in the more usable lower RPM ranges. It feels more like a strong V8.

I drove the car with a lead foot the whole time and still got an impressive 18 MPG. Between the significant low-end torque and the AWD with 255-width tires, the car seemed eager to accelerate onto a busy street regardless of the situation.

Volvo XC6- R-Design aluminum inlaysVolvo floating stack design

The bad:
The biggest let-down with this car, and my chief complaint was with the on-board electronics. There’s a lot of technology here, but the user interface is the worst I have experienced in any car – ever! It feels like Volvo gave it a lobotomy. Menus and options were missing, the owner’s manual walked me into dead-ends looking for options that it said were there, but seemingly didn’t exist. It was bad enough that I took the car to my local dealer, who after 30 minutes, came back and said the car was due for at least 6 software and firmware updates, but they couldn’t tell me if I was on pre-production electronics. I’ve never seen something so broken.

Frustrations included, but were not limited to:

  • The highest-level menu does not come on until you select a sub-menu and then back out of it.
  • The rear view camera does not default to automatically come on in reverse. I had to push the “Cam” button to get it to turn on. The menu for the auto rear camera was not where the manual said it was although I eventually found it by accident.
  • The heated seat icon on the screen does not enlarge when I used it and it was too small to see safely when I drove. And in some screen modes, the heated seat setting display does not come to the top so there’s no feedback one you’ve pushed the heated seat button.
  • I had to push the NAV button to see the Nav telemetry after using Nav features and then push the radio button to see the radio telemetry after using radio features. You‘d think that if you used a radio feature, the radio screen would come up with visual feedback, but that didn’t happen.
  • When trying to enter the house number of a street address, the lettering wheel came up and I had to tell it to use numbers in the numbers field, not letters!!
  • Proximity keyless entry was selected in the menu, but never worked for me. I had to fish the proximity key out of my pocket every time to push the unlock button.

I’ll give Volvo a benefit of the doubt saying these are pre-production electronics glitches. Although, this is not the first year of XC60 production. If their production menus and features are this cumbersome, I’ll think twice before I buy a Volvo. I’d actually still take the time to go test a car from the dealership and have another go at the electronics.

Volvo XC60 flat folding 3-split 40/20/40 rear seat

Aside from the electronics user-interface trouble, this is one of my all-time favorite cars to drive and hands-down my favorite small crossover, due to its looks, performance and versatility.

One option I wish our tester came with was the built-in rear booster seats – for just $500 and foregoing the rear heated seats, you can adjust both the rear seat cushions to fit your toddlers. Adding to that versatility is a 40/20/40 split folding rear seat configuration which allow you to use both back seats and stow longer items like a snow-board, Lacrosse or Hockey sticks coming up the middle.


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  • Bill Clark says:

    Thanks, Peter. I think only the black ones come with a complimentary vampire. A friend of mine just bought an outback as well and he loves it. I personally like having this kind of power in an SUV. I think it depends on how you will use it. Load one up with camping gear, four mountain bikes (on the receiver hitch), and four passengers and head up into the Sierras and you’ll appreciate the power. If you are not going to need the power, Volvo makes a non-turbo model starting at $32k, which would be a great alternative. The crossovers do put you at a higher level where you might have a better chance in the case of an impact with an over-sized SUV – compared to sedan vs. oversized SUV.

  • Peter Anastopulos says:

    Nice review Bill but does it come with a Vampire since it’s the car of choice in the Twilight series?It is nice looking but does one need that kind of power in an SUV because the R type was never meant to tow anything.I don’t believe tall cars should be fast since it’s against there nature.Low cars should be fast and tall cars should be useful.Having bought my first SUV I can see why people like them our 2012 Outback is great and it is slow.My previous vehicles have been turbo charged wagons from Audi, V.W., and Volvo .Low slung shooting breaks with tons of power with the 2 box styling working as a foil.The comfort that the SUV gives is what I think it’s main purpose above all and I am told Women with a baby like the ease of entry .

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