As a family car, crossovers have become almost ubiquitous -- having vanquished the station wagon and minivan, and having even overtaken the sedan with their excellent versatility, high seating position, and in-demand image; they're now appealing to buyers across a significant swath of the market.
Volvo was among of the first automakers to recognize the appeal of a compact but luxurious crossover, launching the first-generation XC60 in 2010. It offered the brand's traditional safety, comfort, and Scandinavian aesthetics, but without the bulk of its larger sibling, the XC90.
Since then, a host of comparable luxury marques has made a compact premium crossover offering, including Lexus, Jaguar, Porsche and Alfa Romeo. Most of these models — generally priced starting in the upper $30,000s to lower $40,000s — have emphasized sporty styling and performance, taking advantage of their relatively svelte dimensions to position themselves as the more fun alternative to a larger-sized crossover.
But despite a redesign for 2018, the XC60 is standing by its original formula. More boxy than sleek, it prioritizes a roomy interior and provides respectable outward visibility. The cabin is both posh and quite spacious for a compact crossover, and what comes under the cabin allows the vehicle to boast quite the smooth ride.
Volvo's reputation as the choice of any 1980s mother notwithstanding, this car is hardly dull. It adopts the award-winning styling that Volvo used so successfully on the seven-passenger XC90. Clean, modern and classy, the XC60 stands out aesthetically from its competitors. Its lovely dashboard with gorgeous materials and a user-friendly plus-size touchscreen is a particular high point. Moreover, at least based on a brief preview drive, the XC60 is moderately sporty to drive. Volvo didn't build it for racing, but the XC60 offers respectable composure that inspires confidence for the driver nevertheless.
The redesigned XC60 modernized not only its styling and technology but also its fuel consumption. The base 250-horsepower T5 model achieves a respectable 24 miles per gallon, and the 316-horsepower T6 still manages 23 mpg. There's also a plug-in hybrid, called the T8, which combines the thrust of 400-horsepower acceleration with the ability to travel on all-electric power for up to 17 miles per charge. The 2018 XC60's price starts at $42,495.
Buyers more interested in the sporty type of crossover, meanwhile, would do well to consider the all-new 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio. It's the crossover version of the Italian luxury brand's critically acclaimed Giulia sports sedan.
In case you missed it, Alfa Romeo has been edging its way back into the U.S. market in recent years for the first time since 1995. Given today's preference for crossovers, the Stelvio is the best way yet for the brand to get attention.
And it's a formidable option in the class. In addition to the distinctive look of Alfa's signature triangular grille, the Stelvio retains much of the Giulia's delightful handling. Despite a higher seating position and respectable cargo hold, the Stelvio responds willingly and eagerly to being flung around a fast corner. At least based on a brief preview drive, it balances a decent ride with super-responsive handling.
The Stelvio also achieves respectable gas mileage for a sport-focused model. Its powerful 280-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder engine returns EPA ratings of 24 mpg in mixed driving. Prices aren't even unreasonable for the class, starting from $42,990.
That said, if you don't find the Stelvio charming for its performance or styling, you may be happier with a roomier, more opulent XC60 or Audi Q5, or the extra-posh Mercedes-Benz GLC. While it's decently pleasant and acceptably spacious, the Stelvio's interior isn't a standout either for its décor or its total passenger or cargo volume.
Meanwhile, note that a class of subcompact premium crossovers is also burgeoning in the U.S. market. These include such models as the Audi Q3, BMW X1, Infiniti QX30, Mercedes-Benz GLA, and soon, the recently-debuted Volvo XC40 -- an even smaller way to get Volvo's safety and style. Keep these options in mind if you prefer a smaller vehicle or a lower price tag.