First Drive: Volvo XC60
Over 900,000 customers bought an XC60 since its market introduction in 2008, making it Volvo’s best-selling model worldwide since 2009 and the most popular midsize SUV in Europe since 2015. Rejuvenation was at place, nonetheless. Has it become a small XC90, or does it have more in store to shake things up in the premium D SUV segment? We went to Barcelona to check it out.
There are cars that grow on you after an initial hesitation, and there are cars that strike you immediately as ticking all the boxes. The new XC60 belongs to the latter kind. It brings elegance, athleticism and aesthetic excitement to a segment that has long been dominated by conservatism – until the ‘disruptive’ Jaguar F-Pace came along. Proportion-wise, Volvo’s newcomer has a lot in common with the latter: a 2.85-metre wheelbase, 1.65-metre wide tracks, a total length of roughly 4.7 metres and a swept-back cabin with muscular schoulders.
Even the powertrain specifications are very similar. Both Jaguar and Volvo build turbocharged four-cylinder diesel and petrol engines with a displacement of two litres, delivering comparable performance and efficiency. And still, they speak to an entirely different audience. The Jaguar F-Pace positions itself as a sharp-handling, corner-cutting cross-over – like the Alfa Romeo Stelvio, whereas the Volvo takes a more composed, comfort-focused approach. You could say it is more of a long-distance runner than a hurdler.
Welcome to Sweden
As soon as you pull the driver’s door open, your eyes are caught by a beautifully crafted dashboard made of premium materials that do not only look good, but also have a sumptuous feel to it. There are some 90-Series elements, but the design is much lighter. Right in the centre is the vertical tablet which has become Volvo’s trademark since the current XC90 was launched, but its menu structure has been improved for a more intuitive operation. Ergonomically, there is still some room for improvement, but finding your way seems easier than before.
The map graphics are not in the same league as that of the latest Audi and BMW systems, though. Volvo is developing a new Android operating system with advanced connectivity with Google, incidentally, but this won’t be ready for another two years. For now, we will have to do with the current Sensus system – which is not bad at all, mind you. Thanks to Volvo On Call, you can send map destinations to your car from your smartphone. The app also allows you to check the vehicle’s fuel level, door lock status and location. Furthermore, you can log your trips and even start the engine and pre-climatize the car remotely.
The Volvo XC60 is proof of the fact that safety is a work in progress, as it raises the bar yet again. Volvo’s renowned City Safety system (AEB City in EuroNCAP terms) has been updated in the XC60 to include steering support. At speeds between 50 and 100 km/h, the car actively steers around an obstacle when automatic braking alone would not suffise to avoid a collision. Volvo has also added a system called Oncoming Lane Mitigation, which helps prevent a crash with a vehicle in an oncoming lane.
Blind Spot Information System now features steer assist to help prevent collisions in a blind spot. And then there is Pilot Assist, which keeps the car in its lane and maintains a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you. If you indicate you want to overtake, the system allows you to close in on the latter – simply brilliant. Competitor systems usually unnecessarily and frustratingly slow down the vehicle. Indeed, fully-autonomous cars – and the brand’s ambition to have zero road casualties by 2020 – suddenly seem much more feasible.
King of cruisin’
The first vehicle we tried was a T6 AWD Geartronic packed with optional extras, including an advanced air suspension on all four wheels. It allows you to choose between five programs: Comfort, Dynamic, Eco, Off-road and Individual. The Eco position lowers the ride height to reduce drag, the Dynamic position does the same to increase dynamics. Still, we would have preferred an even more aggressive, stiffer set-up for the latter. Unfortunately, there were no test vehicles available with the standard suspension. Does it contain body roll better than before? Probably, but we can’t confirm. What is absolutely certain, however, is that the turning radius is no longer that of a large van and that the XC60 lost some 150 kilos, making it more agile, but still no featherweight.
The D5 AWD - our second test vehicle - proved nothing short of thoroughly convincing. It has mountains of torque and works hand in glove with the Geartronic (Aisin) 8-speed. With such forces released onto the tarmac, you need all-wheel drive, in this case an electronically controlled system with a wet multi-disc coupling which leads up to 65 percent to the rear wheels. Grip is plentiful, acceleration is pleasing, and – not unimportantly – the four-cylinder behaves in a well-mannered way. Demanding customers can always opt for laminated side windows to create an even quieter cocoon.
A case of BMW-ism
All test vehicles were ‘Inscription’ models – the most luxurious of the line-up. Hardly your typical fleet trim, but demonstrative of the level of refinement and sophistication Volvo has reached nonetheless. The seats are sheer heaven for back sufferers and long-distance travellers – they even feature a length-adjustable seat cushion and adjustable side bolsters plus ventilation and a massage function if you pay extra. Regarding the latter: it seems that Volvo is copying BMW’s bad habits. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto do not come standard, not even on the Inscription, and neither does the power tailgate, front and rear park assist and paddle-shifting at the steering wheel.
Indeed, it is not difficult to increase the sales price of this already quite expensive new Volvo by 10,000 euros or more. Current XC60 drivers will probably struggle fitting the new one into their budget, even more so because the typical fleet model, i.e. the D3 front-wheel drive in Kinetic trim, won’t be available until later this year. Big spenders are served first, it’s as simple as that. Besides, good things come to those who wait. So… 12 points for Sweden, again? Ja, säkert!
- Advanced driver assistance systems
- Inimitable Scandinavian interior, fit and finish
- General comfort, improved agility
- Significant price jump, BMW-esque option policy
- Still heavy, in spite of weight loss
- Slightly disappointing sat nav graphics