Published on Sunday 20 April 2014 21:59
Ten Second Review
Volvo's XC60 offers a rather more measured and mature proposition than the typical premium compact 4x4. It's one of the latest generation of products from the Swedish brand that feature both genuinely smart design and an industrial measure of inbuilt desirability as standard.
There's something to be said for turning up late to any party. Volvo's large XC90 was one of the last luxury SUV designs to make it to market at its introduction in 2002, yet it's done really rather well, despite a falling market. Its smaller stablemate, this XC60, has exactly the same job to do in an even poorer economy with even tougher well established rivals. If it fails, Volvo's long term viability is going to look even more shaky. It is, then, an extremely important car for the brand.
Just as well then that this really isn't just yet another compact 4x4. For a start, it's not really that compact - but we'll come to that. While other manufacturers have battled over whose small SUV was the trendiest, the sportiest to drive or the most striking to look at, Volvo has stuck with what it knows. Sturdy build. Restrained Swedish style and class-leading safety.
Why do marketeers of this type of car always insist on calling them 'sporty'? As with virtually every contender in this sector, there's nothing very 'sporty' about an XC60 to drive, especially when fitted with the slightly noisy five cylinder 2.4D and D5 diesel engines that the overwhelming majority of buyers will choose. There's also a minority interest 304PS T6 3.0-litre turbo petrol model at the top of the range. These are all mated to 4x4 drivetrains, but if you don't want that, then you might want to consider one of the entry-level 2WD variants that feature less potent but more frugal 2.0-litre 163PS diesel power.
Whichever variant you decide upon, you should find it to be an accomplished thing in day-to-day tarmac use. This indeed is what marks out the premium end of the compact all-wheel drive market. Cheaper small 4x4s offer the old lumbering SUV experience in bite-sized form: whereas drop into one of these premium-badged alternatives after owning an executive saloon and you'll notice very little difference, save the pleasure of that higher-set driving position.
Of course, this Volvo isn't really intended to go off road, though you wouldn't really know that from the pages devoted to its supposed mud-plugging prowess in the instruction manual. This reminds you that its 230mm ground clearance is superior to that of the larger XC90, that there's a 22 degree gradient approach angle (plus Hill Descent Control to get you down the other side) and that the car's wading depth is 350mm. Torque is automatically distributed between all four wheels by an Intelligent Traction 4x4 system, which is certainly useful on those muddy fields the road-going tyres will allow you to cross but has really been developed with traction on wet tarmac in mind.
Design and Build
Can we really class a 1,825kg car measuring 4,628mm in length and 1,891mm in width as a 'compact' 4x4? British designer Steve Mattin says we can. The suspension of disbelief is made easier by the way the XC60's exterior styling disguises its bulk. Imagine an XC90 that's been on a hot wash cycle for a couple of hours and that's what the XC60 resembles; shrunken slightly, a little chamfered in its edging but recognisably a Volvo product and one that the company claim has turned up the visual volume. The grille is a little bolder, the car's 'shoulders' more distinctive, especially when viewed from the rear.
There's only room for five but at least the rear seats are higher than the front pair to give better visibility for children and the two outer seats in the back can be specified with two-stage booster cushions. The rear passenger compartment is roomy and a couple of six footers would be comfortable here over a long trip. The load opening at the back is also the widest amongst the XC60's direct competition, opening to reveal a 655-litre capacity. As in the XC70, the rear seat is a three-piece affair that folds 40-20-40, with each section capable of folding down completely flat to ultimately create a 1455-litre carrying space. Under the boot floor, there's a secure storage area that can't be opened without the tailgate being lifted, making it a great place to keep valuable items safe when the car's parked.
Market and Model
XC60 prices sit mainly in the £30,000 to £40,000 bracket common to premium-badged compact 4x4s like this car and models like Audi's Q5 and BMW's X3. Volvo's take on that is that it represents a pretty small premium over, say, a Toyota RAV4 or a Honda CR-V for a much stronger product. And they point out that there are useful savings to be made if you're comparing this car with more natural German-built premium competitors.
Under the bonnet, the range kicks off with a 163PS 2.0-litre D4 diesel, but if you want AWD, you'll need a D4 variant with the thirstier 2.4-litre 163PS unit fitted. Above this sits a 215PS AWD diesel D5 offered only in automatic Geartronic form. Also only offered as an auto is he rare 304PS T6 3.0-litre turbo petrol model.
We won't bore you with the huge equipment list save to say that it matches or beats that of German premium rivals. One feature we especially liked was the 'Clean Zone Interior' system which will vent the interior at higher temperatures to ensure that allergy and asthma sufferers aren't left wheezing.
Standard across the range is the City Safety set-up which uses a radar mounted at the top of the windscreen to constantly scan the road ahead for potential collision hazrds. If one is detected, the driver will get audible and visual warning. If he or she doesn't respond - or can't - the car can actually brake itself.
Cost of Ownership
A combined cycle economy figure at close to 50mpg for the D5 diesel is an impressive showing for a 4x4 of this type. Even the 149g/km of CO2 showing is pretty good for a vehicle like this. The entry-level 2.0-litre 163PS D4 manages 53.3mpg on the combined cycle and 139g/km of CO2, figures that fall to 41.5mpg and 179g/km if you go for an AWD D4 variant fitted with the older 2.4-litre diesel.
Few will opt for the 3.0-litre petrol T6 model with its 26.4mpg combined fuel economy and 249g/km CO2 figure. Residual values, for the diesels at least, should be buoyant (44% say CAP after 3years and 60,000 miles) and servicing costs will undercut equivalent Land Rover and BMW models. Insurance groups for mainstream models range between 28 and 35 but shop around as some insurers are offering useful discounts courtesy of the XC60's City Safety set-up.
Volvo knew that they needed to do something special to wrestle buyers' attention away from the usual suspects in the premium compact 4x4 sector and against the odds, they look to have delivered. Even IKEA-haters will admire the restrained Swedish design, plus the XC60 is polished on-road and very versatile as long as you only need five seats. Best of all, this is one of the safest cars you can buy full stop. Of course, the opposition is very good - but it will certainly need to be to keep this Viking challenger in its place.