Volvo gifts its medium premium SUV with a new engine that is more powerful and economical than German rivals; we test the results
Not to be confused with iDrive from a certain rival manufacturer, a new engine tagged Drive-E is the headline act in the latest 2014 Volvo XC60.
Volvo has invested heavily, engineering twin petrol and diesel four-cylinder engines of 2.0-litre capacity to challenge German competitors for power and economy, and on paper it has succeeded.
This $59,890 XC60 D4 Kinetic Drive-E is the entry-level front-wheel-drive diesel grade, and its claimed combined economy of 4.9 litres per 100 kilometres is unmatched in its class.
That figure is 1.9L/100km thriftier than the outgoing XC60 D4 Kinetic, enough of an improvement to on the way pass the Audi Q5 2.0TDI (by 1.2L/100km) and BMW X3 xDrive20d (by 0.7L/100km), though both are only available in heavier all-wheel drive. That said, even the size-smaller, rear-wheel-drive BMW X1 sDrive18d needs a manual transmission to match the Volvo eight-speed automatic’s figure.
The X1 can only manage 100kW and 320Nm, though, to claim a 9.6 second 0-100km/h. By comparison, the XC60 D4 Kinetic makes 133kW at 4250rpm and 400Nm between 1750rpm and 2500rpm, with the same freeway speed reached in 8.5 seconds.
The figures are even more impressive considering the Volvo medium-sized SUV weighs a portly 1748kg and seats five in comfort. And by comfort, we mean class-leading comfort, as the XC60 still has one of the nicest cabins around.
Seats that are covered in real, high-quality leather make an instant impression, and the deep and supremely supportive front buckets ensure that impression isn’t lost many kilometres later. Only the driver gets six-way electric adjustment, however, which makes for an excellent driving position, though matching the same on the passenger side requires a $1500 extra spend.
The rear bench sits higher than the front seats, delivering excellent vision for those back there, and Volvo’s innovative integrated two-stage booster seats are a marvellous touch. Legroom is about average for the class, though the combination of good storage – map pockets, side door pockets, fold-down armrest – and twin air vents mounted conveniently at face level on the B-pillars makes for an impressive total accommodation package.
Further back, the carpeted (auto lift) tailgate and plush-pile carpet inside the boot reveal attention to detail not often found at this price. The boot itself is capacious, with a large underfloor storage bin that runs the full length over the spare tyre. The 40:20:40 split rear backrest is also super-handy if you want to feed in skis, for example – though you might want to choose the all-wheel-drive $69,990 XC60 D5 for those occasions.
It’s the little premium touches that impress in this Volvo, too, the sort of stuff that elevates it beyond BMW levels and toward Audi standards. The centre console storage box is lined with soft black velour, for example, and the twin cupholders have a rollerdoor-like cover that slides back elegantly and also features a 12-volt socket inside.
The dashboard plastics feel a bit like the hide of an elephant, but they’re soft and nice, and an interplay of bright chromework and ‘copper dawn’ inlays creates an inviting ambience. Fit and finish is flawless, too.
Volvo’s latest infotainment system is also in this tester’s opinion easier to operate than any rival system. The seven-inch central display isn’t huge, but it is high in resolution, and the graphics are brilliant both to look at and access. The scroll-down menus are simple and intuitive, accessed on the ‘floating’ stack – where the slimline stack has a storage cubby behind it – by a simple rotary dial with ‘OK’ and ‘back’ buttons inside it. A keypad beside it then allows simple insertion of either numbers or letters.
In addition to the usual CD, DVD, Bluetooth phone and audio, and USB and iPod connectivity is internet access with apps availability. Rarely is it so easy to use your phone as a wi-fi hot-spot to access websites on the central screen when at standstill, or use TuneIn internet digital radio on the run, for example – perfect for reading CarAdvice while listening to your favourite US radio station while waiting for the kids to finish football training.
Incidentally, the XC60 was also able to sync with my phone in mere seconds, where in the same week a Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class with its optional Comand system required a full sign-up procedure with name, address and email boxes filled in.
It’s a little bizarre, though, that satellite navigation is optional on this base XC60, and for a hefty $2950 surcharge too. A reverse-view camera and rear parking sensors are standard, however front parking sensors ask for another $325, while heating the front seats needs another $375.
City Safety low-speed auto braking is standard – as it has been in all XC60 models since launch – though a bunch of other active safety equipment such as a forward collision warning, lane departure alert, auto high-beam and road sign information together costs another $2075. You can also go a step further and get all of the above in addition to active cruise control, auto braking at higher speeds and cyclist and pedestrian detection, but packaged for a hefty $6250.
Although the Volvo XC60 has the potential to be one of the most safety-packed models in the medium SUV class, in addition to being one of the most plush inside, the way it drives doesn’t quite continue the same standard.
Despite wearing chubby 65-aspect tyres (that should in theory help cushion large impacts), the XC60’s ride comfort is fidgety on seemingly smooth roads and clunky over sharp-edged imperfections, leaving passengers to rely heavily on the lovely seats to be comfortable.
The Volvo is generally enjoyable to drive around town thanks to nicely direct and mid-weighted steering, and the firm suspension helps the XC60 feel secure and planted when weaving through urban streets. There is no auto parking feature available, though visibility is good and manouevrability fine.
Despite coming with a Sport stability control that is much less restrictive than the standard setting, the XC60 isn’t as enjoyable on a twisty road as the BMW X3 or Range Rover Evoque, both of which are more absorbent. It feels a bit squidgy and pushy at the front end, but this will only concern the parent who needs a break from the kids on a country holiday roadtrip.
The new engine is the star of the show, and once up and running it’s a smooth and punchy unit. There is plenty of turbo lag down low in the rev range, and in Eco+ mode the eight-speed auto slinks into tall gears and can be slow going back down the range when throttle is applied (and then the front wheels can be overwhelmed by 400Nm going to them).
In Eco+ the stop-start system also cuts the engine at 7km/h, making its usage in crawling traffic almost impossible. Shift to Sport mode and the transmission and throttle response improves, though not to the detriment of refinement (and even on coarse chip roads, the XC60 is impressively hushed).
Smooth driving on urban arterials (briefly) allowed us to glimpse 5.0L/100km on the trip computer, though heavier urban driving saw it double its claimed figure. After a long freeway run and some country driving, overall consumption settled at a creditable 8.3L/100km. Thanks to a 70L fuel tank that makes for a driving range of 850km.
More economical and tech-packed than ever before, with a cabin that’s as welcoming as the family Good Room, the Volvo XC60 remains a largely convincing premium family SUV. It is feeling its age the way it drives, though if it delivered a more generous equipment level this likeable Swede could lift its overall score here significantly.