2009 Volvo XC60 Review & Road Test
Safe, sexy and strong – what more could you want?
Options (As fitted to D5):
By Karl Peskett
It’s inevitable. The world craves SUVs and so car companies deliver. Supply and demand means that just about every car company has an SUV or a crossover in one form or another, but the thing is, the market is virtually flooded.
It only took a few years, but they’ve gone from almost being able to go off road, to now being luxury vehicles that both the manufacturers and buyers know will never leave the black top, but if it means that soccer mums can feel better with being able to see further from their high driving position, you’ve got a ready made market.
They also feel safer, too. In a bigger car, there’s more room, and more crumple zones. If you add swags of airbags, Electronic Stability Control (ESC) and other equipment, the case is being made for a better buy.
It also has to look good, too. See, you can be in the safest car in the world, but if it looks like a Ssangyong Stavic, then it’s hardly going to be a big seller, is it?
If it’s safety and sexy you want, then Volvo’s new baby, the XC60 will be right up your alley.
It’s a bit of a weird looking thing. It’s kind of like an XC90 that’s been shrunk and slanted a bit. In photos it looks fantastic, but in real life, it takes a few glances to get used to. You have to take your sunglasses off to see whether there’s some sort of distortion through the lens. Upon second inspection though, I’m satisfied it’s actually a good looking car.
It especially looks good with bigger wheels, although they do kill the ride quality to a degree. We tested a D5 and a T6 over a couple of weeks to find out which is the better car, and in the looks department, the T6 (the red car) has it all over the D5. The silver accent on the front bumper, the larger rims, and the darker paint all serve to highlight the T6’s visual appeal.
Regardless of the model, however, the XC60 looks especially nice from the inside. With a driver oriented cabin, the floating console and radio screen pod are angled toward you. The door trims have a spiralled metal pattern that includes the door pull. The space is very good, and the build, although not quite Audi Q5 in quality, is solid and looks classy.
When it comes to SUVs though, all manufacturers should take note of Volvo’s lead in one significant area. Visibility.
Here is an SUV that can be looked out of in all directions without hindrance. Now, there’s one area in which the XC60 sits head and shoulders above the rest, the A-pillars.
It has just about the thinnest A-pillars of any four-wheel-drive I can think of, and as a result, there’s never a blocked car, motorbike, scooter when going through a round-about, it’s absolutely brilliant.
The optional reversing camera, which is included with the $4990 Teknic Pack, is also one of the best around. Instead of just using the reversing sensors to beep at you, the screen displays bars that change colour, and indicate your distance from objects as you get closer. It’s like virtual reality reversing. Sure, it’s not a game, but boy it’s practical.
The child boosters built into the rear seats also suit this car’s demographic perfectly, too. Both mum and dad will be happy to drive this little beast around. For the driving enthusiast, though, it’s a little bland.
The steering, for instance, is a bit numb. You can place the car on the road, but it’s never going to threaten the Tiguan for driveability. It also has a tendency to understeer when pushed, unlike some rivals, which are better balanced.
The ride, for the first time in a Volvo, is excellent though, more so on the D5 with its smaller wheels. There’s a touch of firmness to facilitate grip, but enough initial compliance to remove most of the jitteriness and crash that plagued Volvos past.
The T6 doesn’t nearly ride as well, with a lot firmer vertical movements, and a stuttery delivery. They don’t look as good, but the smaller wheels are also better off road.
Braking is assured, and pedal feel is good without the over assisted feel of some small four-wheel-drives. Where the two cars are completely separated, though, is in their powertrains.
The D5 has a five-cylinder diesel engine, whereas the T6 has a turbocharged, six-cylinder petrol. From that description, you can probably see my preference, but let me qualify why the T6 has my vote.
The D5 is loud. By that I mean when you put the boot in, the noise levels are nothing like a Germanic diesel. The warbly, gravelly sound is a bit much for a luxury SUV, and although the torque and fuel economy is quite good (400Nm and 8.3L/100km) the torque in the T6 is the same, and I’d be happy to use more fuel (11.3L/100km) to get 74 more kilowatts of power and bucket loads more silence.
There are other reasons, too. The automatic gearbox mated to the D5 is a too slow to respond. Slow down for entry to an intersection and if you turn left and roll through when there’s no traffic, you put your foot and wait. There’s no gear change for a while, and when it does finally happen, there’s plenty of lag waiting for you. There’s little adaptability, or predictability.
It should be down shifting as you slow down, but it seems to hold off until you press on. Combine that with the slow take-off of a diesel engine, and it can make for some heart stopping moments pulling out in front of traffic.
The T6, however, is a revelation. The automatic obeys your commands, is smoother, and more willing to hold gears instead of dropping them. There’s also zero lag, despite also being turbocharged, and when the six-cylinder spools up, the car is a rocket ship. It also has a beautiful, smooth and engaging sound while revving.
The all-wheel-drive system, using a Haldex coupling, responds instantly, too, containing wheel spin as soon as it starts. There’s very few instances where the front wheels will chirp, even in the wet, which means there’s enough grip, making it very safe.
But perhaps the piece de resistance of the XC60 is its City Safety technology. A laser scans the road in front of you for traffic, and below 30km/h, in stop start conditions, if you aren’t paying attention, it will slam on the brakes for you, preventing a nasty rear ender.
Volvo claims that with any steering, brake or throttle input, the system leaves it completely up to the driver, without taking over. I however can vouch that it definitely does take over in certain situations.
Pulling into my driveway, there’s a point that I can skim the car underneath our panel-lift garage door while it’s still opening. The City Safety system recognised the panel moving as a car and BAM! The Volvo slammed on the brakes. I had my foot on the brake, and a little bit of steering input as well, which was a perfect real-life scenario.
It could be looked at as a device that dumbs us down, but I prefer to look at it as piece of mind. Insurance, if you will. You might never use it, but it’s there if necessary. In fact, some insurance companies are offering reduced premiums for buyers of the baby Volvo SUV. Something to think about when considering long term costs.
The XC60 has been described by some publications as distinctly middle of the road. But I reckon it’s got enough left-field influences to set it apart from being “just another SUV”. The quirky exterior styling, the quality and presentation inside, and safety features all make the XC60 an excellent choice for the luxury soft-roader buyer.
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