- 6 Min Read
- By: Christian Schaefer
Volvo P3 Models Explained
Models based around Volvo’s P3 platform have quickly become affordable and reliable choices on the used car market in the last few years. The platform was filled with new technology, modern drivetrains, high-class luxury options, and several body styles to create a lineup with enough variance to suit a wide range of needs. With the SPA platform in full swing, the P3s have fallen to approachable levels, even in this inflated market. So which P3 Volvo is right for you? Well, that’s going to take some research.
Volvo offered a handful of models with multiple trim levels and updates over the P3’s eleven-year run. Depending on the year, you could get a model with a completely different engine, transmission, and electronics package under identical trims. While that worked for the Swedes at the time, it can make for an overwhelming experience for the uneducated. To give you a better understanding of what those models are and how they might work for you, check out this handy guide.
When the S80’s debut brought out the P3 platform, the XC90 was the only SUV in Volvo’s lineup. While very successful, smaller SUV models like the VW Tiguan and BMW X3 rapidly gained popularity as the small crossover became the fastest-growing segment in the US. Just three years later, Volvo had its answer for the American market with the XC60. The compact SUV shared the P3’s sharp lines and soft curves to provide a different-looking option from the rest of the small SUV market. Buyers took to it in droves in the US, and there are plenty to choose from on the second-hand market.
Powering the vast majority of the XC60s in the American market was the SI6, Volvo’s family of inline six-cylinder engines that first appeared in the P3 S80. The base trim carries the most docile of the bunch, a 3.2-liter normally aspirated variant available only with front-wheel-drive. Stepping up to one of the higher trims, the T6 or R-Design, netted the more powerful, turbocharged 3.0-liter SI6 and a Haldex-based all-wheel-drive system. Beginning in 2015, Volvo added three new engines to the lineup. The last run of RNC five-cylinders and the twin-charged variant of the Drive-E slotted in right next to the SI6 engines that year to supplement the SI6’s eventual discontinuation at the end of 2016. The RNC five-cylinder also met its end at the end of 2016, replaced by what Volvo expected to be their last internal combustion engine, the VEA, marketed as the Drive-E engine.
However, unlike the other P3-based models, the XC60 doesn’t use interchangeable suspension and braking components. An SUV’s suspension is intrinsically different from a sedan’s because of the different sizes and requirements. As such, all of the XC60’s core suspension pieces are unique to the chassis, though bits like bushings and endlinks are interchangeable with other P3s. Braking is handled by another set of unique parts for the P3 platform. However, Volvo used the caliper and pads directly from the XC90. Regardless of their separation from the rest of the P3 platform, they’re still just as easy to service and deliver a very similar feel.
The XC60 underwent a facelift in 2014, doing away with the segmented headlights and restyling the LED lighting on the front facia. The plastic exterior trim was replaced by body color, and the interior was updated to match the S60 and V60 more closely. A year later, the new engines and an updated electronics package found their way into the XC60s. The P3 XC60 was available through 2017 and sold over 144,000 units, the most of any P3 variant. Used examples are all over the web in varying states of condition and can be had for relatively little money. Their shared drivetrain components made the XC60 as reliable as its platform mates, so they’re another excellent used buy for anyone in the market.
The P3 S60 sedan hit the streets in North America in 2011 with a streamlined body shape designed with fuel economy in mind. It was offered alongside its twin, the V60 wagon, elsewhere globally, but not for us. The V60 was withheld from our shores for a full four years while it sold overseas before reaching our dealerships for the 2015 model year, where they sold very well. While they have different body styles, they are mechanically identical for all intents and purposes.
The S60 launched in its middle trim, the T6, sporting the then-new turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six from the SI6 family. The following year, the base trim T5 with turbocharged RNC five-cylinder and the top-spec T6 R-Design trim with its turbocharged 3.0-liter joined the lineup. Those would remain the trims through the facelift until 2015 when the S60 & V60 T6 AWD Polestar took the top position. The first performance Volvo since the last generation S60R, the Polestars presented themselves as legitimate shots at the performance models from Audi and BMW. Mechanically, the SI6 was given a larger turbocharger along with higher flowing intake and exhaust pieces for a significant bump in power. Polestar fitted a massive pair of Brembo brakes on the front axle and a set of manually-adjustable Ohlins dampers sporting their DFV technology to support the extra power.
Also arriving in 2015 was a slew of new engines and electronics. With plans to phase out the SI6 and RNC engines and replace them with the Drive-E variants, Volvo offered them simultaneously for the 2015-2016 model years. It’s worth mentioning that the Drive-E engines were also fitted with an eight-speed automatic, replacing the six-speed found in all earlier models. While very beneficial with its handful of advanced safety features and UX improvements, the updated electronics package was fitted to the S60/V60 in the middle of production, leaving a good portion of the 2015 models without it. Look at the rearview mirror for a tell; the updated package uses a frameless mirror.
Although the Polestar models were around during the transition to the Drive-E engines, they were only given one at a time. The SI6 used in the 2015-16 models was replaced in 2017 with the twin-charged four-cylinder Drive-E power plant. Power and supporting equipment remained the same, though a new eight-speed auto made the transition.
In 2016, Volvo expanded the lineup to add Cross Country versions of the V60 and S60. The two new models sported extra trim around the wheel arches and a suspension lift and got special tech goodies like adaptive cruise control and xenon lights. They may look like rugged off-roaders, but their relatively stiff suspension, big wheels, and low-profile run-flat tires work best on long smooth roads. Also introduced in 2016 was the S60 Inscription, a long-wheelbase variant mostly meant for the Chinese market. The Volvo S60L, or Inscription in the ‘States, would become the first Chinese-manufactured car sold in America.
The S60 and V60 would end their run as P3 chassis models in 2018, ending the transition to the succeeding SPA platform. Like the other P3 models, the S60 and V60 make great, reliable daily drivers. With few issues to worry about, they are comfortable and reliable drivers with the proper maintenance.
The V70 and XC70 were the absolute icons of the Volvo lineup. Ask any random person on the street what the first Volvo comes to mind, and I’d argue that it’d be the XC70. The large lifted wagon, and its non-lited counterpart, were continuous sales successes from the day they debuted through the P3 generation. Their size made them a hit among families and large pet owners, while the European luxury was enough to rival the likes of BMW and Audi. The V70 had a short run in the US, disappearing after three model years at the end of 2010. The XC70, on the other hand, lasted nearly throughout the P3 platform’s production, with the last models appearing in 2016.
The S80 is the sedan counterpart to the V70/XC70 and shares many of its mechanical components with its long-roof siblings. The most significant difference from the wagons was the shortly available Yamaha-designed, 4.4-liter V8. It was the only V8 sedan Volvo ever produced, and as the top-spec model, many were treated to an extensive options list. The S80s were never as popular as the V70/XC70s, so they can be harder to find. They were the first P3 to appear, though, so they’ll be the only ones to carry a 2007 model year. They left the US market in 2016 alongside the XC70.
All three chassis were given the then-new 3.2-liter SI6 engine for their base trims, although that was the only trim for the V70. The XC70 and S80 used the turbocharged 3.0-liter SI6 as the more powerful alternative to the 3.2. As mentioned above, the S80 received the 4.4-liter V8 in the range-topping trim until its discontinuation in 2010. Around 2015, Volvo introduced the Drive-E. Made from advanced metals and processes, the direct-injected inline-four-cylinder engine was available in parallel with the SI6 engines for a time before completely replacing them and the last iteration of the RNC five-cylinder engine in 2017.
As the larger vehicles on the P3 platform, there were plenty of options to choose from when speccing a car. Some of the most important were the suspensions fitted to each. The XC70s received the self-leveling Nivomat rear shocks to help out owners who towed or regularly saw the trunk filled. The Four-C suspension was the special option on the S80s, an active damper setup with three firmness settings for drivers to choose from. The suspension’s ability to serve luxury or utilitarian purposes helped make the P3 platform much more capable.
The V70 would be discontinued in the states after 2010, leaving the XC70 as the only wagon available for a time. Like the rest of the lineup, the S80 and XC70 would get an exterior and interior refresh in 2014, followed by mechanical and electrical updates the following year. The S80 and XC70 ended their run on the P3 platform in 2016. It marked the end for both models, neither of which Volvo resurrected for the SPA platform.
No matter which P3 Volvo you end up with, you’ll have a reliable and comfortable performer. Hopefully, this guide could sort you out or point you toward more specific research and learning. Head to our DIY blog if you want to know more about the P3 chassis and its various systems; we have enough Volvo content to keep you busy for a week! If you prefer to watch something instead, subscribe to our YouTube channel for DIY content, guides, and exciting new builds!
Owner of a flat-six swapped 1998 Impreza 2.5RS and a 1973 Porsche 914. Horizontally opposed views, only.