2011 Volvo XC60 D5: 2.4-litre five-cylinder twin-turbocharged diesel engine with six-speed adaptive Geartronic transmission - $60,450 (manufacturer's list price)
I know looks are subjective, but for my money Volvo’s mid-size luxury SUV, the Volvo XC60, has got the styling just right, and is arguably the pick of the bunch in a segment that includes such distinct lookers as the Audi Q5 and the Land Rover Freelander 2.
Overall the Volvo XC60 is a sporty looking vehicle with an almost avant garde styling treatment, which sets it apart from all other offerings in this medium SUV segment. That’s despite the fact that it has been around since 2008.
The signature high-rise rear taillights are unmistakably ‘Volvo’ especially at night, while the strong side panels and tapered belt-line gives the XC60 more of a muscular stance.
Safety is hard thing to market, but with two kids of my own in tow these days, there’s something quite re-assuring when you and your family are travelling at the speed limit on a motorway in what is arguably one of the world’s safest vehicles. There’s an extra bonus for those with small kids too with Volvo’s ingenious two-stage built-in booster seats, which deploy with a simple pull of a lever. This feature alone and will save you several hundred dollars per child at the baby shop.
Side-by-side with its larger SUV sibling, the Volvo XC90, the XC60 looks a considerably smaller. It’s only when you’re comfortably behind the wheel with a full car load that you realise the baby in Volvo’s SUV stable isn’t so small after all. Certainly for a family of four like us, there would be absolutely no reason to upsize at all. The seating architecture alone ensures more than enough space (that’s head and legroom) for five adults with plenty of luggage room behind the rear seats.
I’m of fairly short stature, say 5’9” if I’m being generous, but the rear load deck on the XC60 is at the perfect height so as not to have to bend your back when dumping all those grocery bags each week. Not only that, this is the widest rear opening in its segment, so large packages such as new dryers should slide straight in.
Our test car was fitted with a couple of well priced option packs, which equip this car with everything under the sun, including a power operated tailgate, which for my money and convenience is worth every cent. Other goodies in the Lifestyle Pack are a set of 18-inch Merac alloys (easily worth more than the entire $3500 package price), heated front seats, power passenger seat and Volvo’s Air Quality System.
Fold the 40/20/40 split rear seats dead flat, as they do, and you convert the XC60 into a proper large-volume station wagon, which makes trips to the tip a breeze, not to mention sports equipment such as surfboards and snow skis.
Older kids will like the versatile rear seat architecture too, especially if there are only two in the car, as the centre seat doubles as an extra-wide armrest complete with cup holders and a perfect size storage cubical for a Nintendo DSi console.
Today’s automotive seating design is light years ahead of where the industry was even 10 years ago, but I doubt very much you’ll find seats as comfortable, or as anatomically supportive as those in the XC60. They simply mould to the curvature of your back, while the standard leather trim is both supple and sufficiently bolstered to hold your torso in place while cornering.
Volvo has used soft-touch materials throughout the cabin and all the metal accents you see on the switchgear, dash and door trim, are real brushed aluminium and a similar treatment to what Audi does on its more prestige models.
While the so-called ‘floating console’ has been a feature of Volvo cockpits for several years now, it still looks contemporary and is refreshingly uncluttered by today’s luxury car standards.
The inventory of standard fit creature comforts on board the XC60 is extensive and include such items as one-touch auto up and down windows all round, rain sensing wipers, rear park assist, auto dimming rear view mirror, electric park brake, Bluetooth audio streaming and an excellent eight-speaker sound system that I would rate above most of the Bose in-car systems I have heard.
As you would expect in a Volvo, the XC60 is fully loaded with all the latest safety features including the patented City Safety Technology as standard kit. It’s a system that is supposed to reduce both the likelihood and severity of accidents that happen in the speed range up to 30km/h, which is the where 75 percent of all accidents take place, according to Volvo.
It works using a laser sensor mounted behind the windscreen, which monitors the traffic up to 8 metres in front of the XC60. City Safety is supposed to detect an impending collision and brake the vehicle to a stop if the speed differential is 15km/h or less. Even if the speed differential is above 15km/h the system will brake the car and thereby reduce the impact speed, which is a good thing in every respect.
If I liked the way the XC60 looked and the superb cabin design it offers both driver and passengers, I’m even more enthusiastic about this twin-turbo five-cylinder powertrain. While you can still hear that diesel clatter on start up and during initial idle, the moment you squeeze on the throttle and hit 420Nm of peak torque, you’ll be rewarded with a thoroughly sporty growl that sounds more like the T6 petrol version.
It gets going too, with power up to 151kW and a bucket load of torque, in-gear acceleration is way better than I expected from a solid SUV weighing 1836kg. The published 0-100km/h sprint time is 8.9 seconds, but give the right pedal a good shove from standstill and the XC60 definitely feels quicker than that.
Handling is equally commendable. You can throw it into corners as you would a small car, but with an unusual degree of confidence for a vehicle of this size and proportion. That’s down to a number of factors including very short front and rear overhangs and Volvo’s current all-wheel drive system, which uses a fourth-generation Haldex Instant Traction system. That means all-wheel drive when you take off (I found this particularly useful in wet conditions) and then switches 95 percent of the drive to the front wheels for better fuel efficiency around suburbia.
Even when most of the drive is to the front wheels, the Haldex system continually monitors grip levels to all four wheels and if needed will direct up to 50 percent of power the rear wheels if it senses a loss of traction. It’s also one of the principle factors which allows the XC60 to negotiate sharp turn-ins with a relatively neutral handling balance, as the Haldex system channels power back and forth during the cornering manoeuvre.
Even during torrential downpours, the XC60 displayed no loss of traction when pushed along or during the mid corner point. In fact, there was little need to slow down, despite the obvious safety concerns in such conditions.
Volvo has always had good feel and weight through the steering wheel, and the XC60 is no different. There’s a natural feel to the quick response electro-hydraulic steering that I only wish more vehicles could emulate. It allows the XC60 to go exactly where you point it, while high-speed driving on freeways is equally reassuring.
I’m not so fond of Volvo’s six-speed Geartronic automatic gearbox, which I found slow to shift, even when resorting to the sequential shift option using the manual shifter (paddle shifters aren’t available on this variant). It’s certainly no deal breaker, but a faster shift option would make the XC60 an even better drive than it is.
Make no mistake, the Volvo XC60 is a highly accomplished vehicle with a lot going for it. With an entry-level price of $54,150 for the turbocharged direct injection T5, it also represents the smart choice among some very tough competition.