My parents have been casually car shopping, looking to replace their 2011 Subaru Outback. The Outback is an interesting vehicle, in that it feels more like a go-anywhere wagon with a slight lift than a “crossover.” The driving position, ride height, hip height, and cargo space all scream “wagon” in a way that most new vehicles don’t. But then you have the 2023 Volvo XC60 – the same formula as the Outback, but Volvo-fied. Volvo sent over a 2023 XC60 Recharge – our first Volvo featured on this little website – for a week so I could see what’s what.
The XC60 in this form has existed since 2016, and got an update in 2022. The vehicle I actually drove was a 2022 model year, but everything I’m discussing applies for 2023 as well. Volvo made three big updates last year – updated front and rear styling, more range out of the Recharge models, and a new Android Automotive whole-car operating system.
For 2023, trim levels are renamed compared to the 2022 I drove. Mine was loaded, which would be an “Ultimate” in 2023-speak. The other big change between model years is in drivetrain availability. Gone are all gasoline-only options, on offer last year. Given mine was a Recharge, range is the big deal, discussed further below.
2023 Volvo XC60 Recharge Powertrain
Every Volvo is now “electrified” in some way. The more basic models are regular hybrids, and every Recharge model is a plug-in hybrid. For 2022 (and 2023), the XC60 Recharge is able to travel 35 miles on a full charge. This is finally useful EV-only range, up from about 18 miles in prior model years.
If you’re driving on just the battery pack, propulsion comes on the rear axle from an electric motor that pushes 143 horsepower and 228 lb-ft of torque. It’s fine in city driving, but won’t be considered “fast” in any sense of the word.
“Fast” sneaks up on you when driving the XC60 Recharge in any of its hybrid drive modes. Here the electric motor is augmented by a 313 horsepower, 2.0 liter turbo four driving the front wheels. Oh, and there’s a crankshaft-mounted starter/generator that can produce 111 lb-ft of its own as needed. Total system output is rated at 455 horsepower and a whopping 523 lb-ft of torque.
Zero to sixty times aren’t the best measure of how a vehicle performs in the real world, but a lifted Volvo wagon getting to highway speed in 4.5 seconds is impressive indeed.
Android Automotive is not Android Auto
Clear as mud, right? Keep reading. Volvo is following sibling company Polestar in adopting Android Automotive as a whole-car operating system. This is software that powers everything, from the gauge cluster to the main infotainment screen. It’s different from Android Auto, the infotainment-only software that comes up when you plug in your Galaxy Swhatever.
I first used Android Automotive in a Polestar 2, and liked it there. It’s great here, too, with crisp and clean graphics and generally snappy response. Google Maps is integrated into the gauge cluster, so it’s more beneficial to look up directions using the car itself and not Google Maps on your phone. While Apple CarPlay is supported, Android Automotive will read your iMessages and stream music from your phone just fine, so I ultimately didn’t use CarPlay that much.
Music streaming was a highlight in my specific XC60 Recharge, as it was equipped with the $3,200 Bowers & Wilkins sound system. Using proper lossless files streamed from Apple Music was key to exploring the system’s full capabilities, but it was fantastic when I did. Worth it for every buyer? No. Worth it for a self-proclaimed audiophile? Absolutely.
The Driving Experience
Volvo’s turbocharged and electrified drivetrain is generally peachy. The car was set (and I preferred) to start every drive in EV-only “Pure” mode, which would then transition to a traditional hybrid mode as the battery depleted. This worked fine as I only needed the range and power for highway drives covering longer distances.
The shift from electric to hybrid operation was generally seamless, though I did catch the car off-guard once, as it brought the gas engine online and the turbo hadn’t yet spooled up to fully take over during acceleration.
One fascinating item in the gauge cluster is a “fuel drop” icon that moves around in the not-tach power gauge and shows roughly where you’ll make the gas engine kick on relative to your throttle input. It was a nice way to see just how far I could push the hybrid or electric operation as I drove.
Beyond the drivetrain, the 2023 Volvo XC60 Recharge is a pretty traditional Volvo. It’s not sporty, nor does it try to be. Seats, wool-covered in my test car, were exceptional. Steering is heavy but offers minimal feedback. Suspension is adaptive, though it’s tuned to be generally on the firm side. This adds confidence, mixed with all-wheel drive and a lower center of gravity – thank you, batteries – and the car has a ton of grip on hand. Continental all-season tires take some confidence away, especially in the rain, though.
Visibility overall is good, with plenty of light inside. I appreciated the minimalist dashboard, with enough hard buttons to control most regularly-used functions. Oddly enough, Volvo stuck their drive mode controls in the infotainment screen, and it takes several taps through menus to access those settings. It was annoying given how often I wanted to change between Pure and Hybrid operation and the obvious blank buttons next to the volume dial below the screen. Give me a button there, Volvo!
There’s a lot to like with the 2023 Volvo XC60 Recharge. It is indeed very Outback-esque in its execution, and that holds a ton of appeal for people who don’t want a truck-cosplay crossover, but who also don’t want a low-riding wagon. If you can charge at home overnight, the 35 miles of range allow plenty of electric-only driving. Average fuel economy as a hybrid was okay for this size of vehicle, around 30 miles per gallon.
Cost was my biggest hang-up with my specific XC60 test car, as it came in around $75,000 fully loaded. The XC60 Recharge is quite nice, but I’d be more comfortable with a more modestly-equipped example around $65,000 if I were actually buying.
I generally prefer sportier vehicles if I’m not driving an outright pickup truck, but I found myself looking for reasons to drive the XC60 Recharge despite it being so comfort-first. It was a serene, refined place to spend time and eat up miles. This is the brand’s best-selling vehicle and it’s easy to see why.