The wagon’s heyday has come and gone, along with vinyl records, “Saturday Night Live,” and Prince. Yet these former industry royals refuse to disappear despite the powerful forces of time edging them to the fringes of relevancy. Volvo knows that crossovers and SUVs such as its new XC90 are the way of the future, but it went ahead and introduced the 2015 Volvo V60 wagon anyway. The Swedish brand’s nostalgic stubbornness proved to be to our advantage—we spent 23,354 miles living the wagon life, and we’re pleased to report that it lived up to the reputation Volvo built back in the glory days of rear-facing seats. But the best news is that with the V60’s next-generation powertrain and fresh-faced looks, kickin’ it old school doesn’t mean living in the past.

Although the V60 succeeds in manifesting familiar Volvo traits of simplicity, utility, and comfort, we found the wagon to be less of a throwback than its body style suggests. For starters, it’s sleeker and sharper-looking than any of the endearingly practical boxy Volvos that college students have been inheriting for the past three decades. We still appreciate the basic anti-styling of those old wagons but love the luxurious image that the V60’s striking metallic red paint, graceful body lines, and vertical taillights project. Our 2015 Volvo V60 was equipped with a $1,500 Sport package, which includes a stiffer suspension and shift paddles, as well as 18-inch, multi-spoke aluminum wheels that add a dramatic, modern flair.

Volvo’s boxy professor-mobiles of yore have charm, but our V60’s tasteful design is more snazzy blazer than chalk-stained sport coat.

Daily news editor Joey Capparella noticed the contrast with old Volvo wagons firsthand, on a long-distance road trip to his hometown of Nashville, Tennessee. (Shocker: The station wagon went on a whole lot of vacations.) “There’s a healthy crop of charming yet staid Volvo wagons puttering around my parents’ neighborhood,” Capparella said. “But Volvo is now competing in a different price class than it used to. The V60’s finer sense of style and luxury doesn’t fit the more durable, workaday stereotype that people have about the brand.”

This progress is also evident inside the 2015 Volvo V60, where one finds nice materials and the clean elegance of a Scandinavian living room. The cushy sport seats, trimmed in rich Beechwood leather, won the most praise. “Swedish furniture rules,” Detroit bureau chief Todd Lassa said. “These bottom-huggers just might be the best in the business.” With the perfect balance of supportive bolstering and soft, comfortable leather, the seats are perfectly suited to long hauls and spirited driving alike. The cabin is bright and airy, thanks to a sunroof that’s standard on the Premier Plus trim. The infotainment system relies on a dumpy and dated-looking screen that hasn’t changed since the current S60 arrived in 2011, but it works just fine and incorporates a useful rearview camera. Otherwise, the neatly housed center stack features user-friendly buttons and knobs.

There’s clearly a lot of luxury and style for $40,825. But there isn’t a ton of equipment. When winter rolled around, the logbook overflowed with dogged complaints that a $40,000 Volvo station wagon could lack heated seats. The full $1,550 Climate package that we declined adds heated seats front and rear, a heated steering wheel, heated windshield washer nozzles, and a heated windshield. Even if that’s too much coin to swallow, it’s at least worth spending the $500 for the stand-alone heated seats to avoid constant whining from cold-bummed passengers. We also went without the navigation ($2,105) and blind-spot monitoring packages ($1,400), both of which would have fit the V60’s identity as a safe and forward-thinking modern family car.

Neither rough road nor nasty salt could throw our V60 off its game.

On the other hand, we did not regret ordering our 2015 Volvo V60 with its standard engine, a turbocharged four-cylinder. Volvo’s new, fuel-efficient Drive-E engine is well worth the wait it took to enter production, even if it’s only available with front-wheel drive for now. The 240-hp, 2.0-liter turbo-four mates seamlessly with an eight-speed automatic transmission, a combination that’s every bit as refined as what BMW serves up in the 3 Series. The eight-speed, which seemed to anticipate our every move, has intelligently spaced gearing to make the most of its wide ratio spread. We loved the engine’s quick and punchy power delivery around town and its buttoned-down demeanor on the highway. Daily news editor Jake Holmes found the V60 to be a spectacular cruiser on his trip to Michigan’s famed Sleeping Bear Dunes. “The V60 is so calm and quiet that even at 65 mph, my dog’s heavy panting was the only thing drowning out the gentle tick-tick-tick of my watch.”

However, even on our best behavior, we were stumped by the EPA’s fuel economy ratings, which were difficult to replicate in real-world driving. We averaged 27 mpg overall—shy of the EPA’s estimated 29-mpg combined rating. Even our best highway tank topped out at only 33 mpg, well short of the EPA’s 37 mpg rating. On the upside, we could occasionally cruise for more than 500 miles on the highway without filling up the wagon’s generous 17.8-gallon tank.

The Volvo’s range wasn’t the only thing that made it a staff favorite for weekend getaways to Chicago; northern Michigan; Columbus, Ohio; New York; Milwaukee; and Bowling Green, Kentucky. The car’s classic combination of generous storage capacity, pleasant driving dynamics, and confidence-inspiring solidity (the doors would feel at home on a bank vault) is still a winning one in our eyes, even as comparable crossovers become better and better each year. Utility never goes out of style, after all, and the V60’s wide tailgate opening and low liftover height still reign supreme. We thought the Volvo’s optional sport suspension and bigger wheels might compromise the ride quality we’d want from a family wagon, but the balance proved to be just right. “Man, this thing tracks like a champion on the freeway,” senior editor David Zenlea said. “The V60 stays firmly planted in the sweepers and is agile during quick lane changes, yet it remains comfortable enough for passengers to nod off while listening to NPR.”

Despite its Spalding-orange color scheme, we grew to enjoy the V60’s lovely cabin during its various interstate road trips.

One of the reasons you still see tons of old Volvos around is that they’re resilient, and our 2015 Volvo V60 was no different. It only required one repair, a cracked vaccuum hose that was replaced under warranty. And even with all of its long-distance duties, the wagon held up to the rigors of the Four Seasons test. Bridgestone Blizzak WS80 tires from Tire Rack kept us trudging through yet another unforgiving Michigan winter. The four-cylinder, as noted, is only offered with front-wheel drive. Nevertheless, we regularly whooshed past SUVs at 50 mph as they crawled through the snow on all-seasons at about 20. Those who want the greater capability of all-wheel drive must opt for Volvo’s aging turbo five- or six-cylinder engines, which pair with a six- rather than eight-speed transmission. Indifferent to the harsh impacts of deteriorating roads, the Volvo’s interior remained rattle-free. The only sign of wear was on the driver’s seat, where the leather developed some slight creases from repeated ingress and egress.

The masses will likely keep buying crossovers. Volvo gets this, and has introduced the higher-riding V60 Cross Country, with cladding and standard all-wheel drive.

A year with the 2015 Volvo V60 nonetheless reaffirms why we still love wagons. There’s still a place in this world for a high-quality, smooth-driving family wagon, and if executed properly, there might be in the future as well. Old school can eclipse new cool when the conditions are right, so until that time comes, you’ll find us stubbornly jamming out to “Purple Rain”—on vinyl.

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