Volvo, as a brand, has always been a little bit of an oddball and all the better for it. They’ve made cars that are both sensible and cool: consider the turbo’d, boxy wagons and sedans of the ’80s and ’90s, affectionately referred to as “flying bricks.” They’ve ran audacious ads comparing their family cars to exotics with taglines like, “Until Ferrari makes a wagon, this is it,” and “What to do when your family outgrows the Lotus.” And while the Germans and Japanese continue to stir the pot in their luxury car rivalries, Volvo continues to do its own thing.
But even when you’re Volvo, making the compact executive sedan exciting nowadays can be a bit of a challenge. The segment is full of good cars — great cars, even — and they’re almost all very attractive and well designed, but very few (if any) actually stand out as anything but unpredictable. The S60 has been just as much an offender as anybody, but Volvo has decided to take its bread-and-butter sedan and give it a couple new variants that are unlike any other car in its segment: the S60 Cross Country ($43,500) and S60 Inscription ($38,700).
When Volvo released its V70 XC in 1997, it created a car that could dole out modest off-road power without the impracticality of a huge 4×4 — essentially what has now become the popular crossover. The XC70 then enjoyed a modest, albeit loyal following from Volvo enthusiasts, so it was no surprise that Volvo created a Cross Country version of its sexy V60 wagon. What was a surprise was when Volvo unveiled a Cross Country version of the S60. The notion of an off-road wagon isn’t peculiar (that’s essentially a crossover), but off-road sedans are genuinely rare. Volvo isn’t the first to do it — AMC beat them with the Eagle decades before, and the Subaru Outback Sedan brought back the concept not very long ago — but the S60 Cross Country is the only off-road sedan you can buy today.
Compared to the regular S60, the most apparent change to the Cross Country version is its extra 2.5 inches of ground clearance, which gives it an overall ride height of 7.9 inches. It also gets exclusive body accents like black fender extensions, black-capped side mirrors, a black honeycomb grille and front and rear skid plates. The overall effect is an S60 that looks the most likely in the Volvo lineup to hit you if you look at it the wrong way (which you just might — the Cross Country treatment gives the S60 an awkward stance that doesn’t look awful, but is a little off).
Inside, the Cross Country looks like just like any other S60, save for the slight vertical increase in seating position that has become so popular among crossover buyers. What’s worth mentioning about the Cross Country’s interior is that the premium package comes standard — which includes navigation, a Harmon Kardon sound system, rear park assist, etc. — so it’s well equipped from the get-go. The only available add-ons are a climate package and Volvo’s Blind Spot Information System (BLIS).
While the interior doesn’t gives any hints as to the Cross County’s ride hight, it does become very apparent in the way the car drives. Admittedly, it does admirably for what is essentially a crossover. Put yourself in that mindset and it corners pretty well — it’s sharp and the steering is well weighted. But there is a whiff of body roll that can get annoying on long stretches of driving on a curvy road at speed. It isn’t by any means a sport sedan, but it isn’t impossible to have a fun drive behind the wheel of an S60 Cross Country. Just have your handling expectations set to crossover.
Since the Cross Country comes standard with AWD, your only engine option is the 250 horsepower, 2.5-liter turbo’d five-cylinder. (Volvo doesn’t currently offer its new Drive-E engines with AWD.) It’s a nice engine, albeit a little laggy in the low revs if you’re in standard driving mode. But put it in sport, and it sharpens up and makes for a modest but fun 0-60 sprint in 6.7 seconds.
When you consider the fact that it can handle some (light) off-road abuse the S60 Cross Country comes together as a good all-around vehicle. The only question is: “why buy one over a V60 Cross Country?” Volvo states that the S60 Cross Country will appeal to city dwellers for its more secure trunk, and satisfies the need for buyers who want crossover capability but a traditional sedan package. Ultimately, though, the S60 Cross Country is a quirky sedan that will appeal mostly to the hardcore Volvo fanatic. And Volvo knows this; they’ll only be making 500 of them, so really it’s a special edition more than anything.
On the other end of the spectrum, Volvo expects its new S60 Inscription to be a bigger seller in the S60 lineup: in fact, Volvo expects it to eventually make up about half of future S60 sales. What’s going to make the Inscription such a hot commodity? An extra three inches of rear legroom and a whole bunch of luxury accoutrements as standard.
Volvo realized that the other luxury brands were updating their compact executives, and the rear legroom was growing on those models. When the S60 first debuted, it was near the top. Since then, it’s inched toward the bottom of the segment. The Inscription version looks to change that, putting the S60 back on top as the segment’s leader in rear legroom. For buyers who put interior space at a premium, that’s a huge win for Volvo, and it may even draw customers shopping for executive sedans, the next size up in the luxury car class scale.
The American versions of the Inscription are also built in Chengdu — thus it is the first production car to be fully built in China and sold in the United States.
What’s unique about the S60 Inscription is not so much its size, but its origin. The Inscription was originally built exclusively for the Chinese market (there it is called the S60L), one of the many iterations of small luxury sedans stretched for Chinese buyers obsessed with the prestige of owning an elongated car. As such, it was built in Chengdu, China. The American versions of the Inscription are also built in Chengdu — thus it is the first production car to be fully built in China and sold in the United States.
If this frightens you, it really shouldn’t. After all, you’re likely reading this on a device built in China. Volvo is quick to emphasize that the Inscription was designed and built to the same standards as the cars it makes in Sweden. Some driving time in the Inscription confirms that claim, at least in the short term. The Inscription interior has the same fit and finish as other Volvo iterations — in fact, the interior is at its best in the Inscription.
The most notable interior appointment is the beautiful, unfinished linear walnut wood trim — standard in the Inscription. Also standard are a power rear sunshade and manual side window sunshades at the back, to keep the sun from bothering your rear passengers. Since the Inscription will become the new top-of-the-line version, it comes standard with items like navigation, a rear backup camera and 18-inch alloys. For $3,000 more, you get the Platinum version, which then adds Harmon Kardon sound, adaptive cruise control and keyless drive. Considering that the Inscription starts at under $40,000 that’s a solid deal.
Ultimately, the new S60 Cross Country and Inscription represent two compact executive sedans that stray from the pack, for better or for worse. Compared to other cars in their segment they’re both novel and a little odd, which will be great for the buyer who wants to be different for the sake of being different. But are they hits? No. At their core they’re simply good, sensible — and markedly unique — sedans that a niche of drivers will be happy with every day they drive.
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