Sitting at just five per cent of the total sales in the Luxury SUV segment, the Volvo XC60 is one of the segment's best-kept secrets. That's a shame because it's a fantastic car that deserves more attention than it currently receives.
So with a horde of manufacturers releasing cost-effective, fuel efficient front-wheel drive SUVs, earlier this year it was Volvo's turn to introduce us to its XC60 T5 and try to capture some of the entry-level buyers.
Using the same drivetrain as the Volvo V60 T5 we tested last week, the Volvo XC60 T5 features a 177kW 2.0-litre turb0charged four-cylinder petrol matched to a six-speed dual-clutch transmission, which powers the front wheels only.
While it may seem odd to have a four-wheel drive which is really only a front-wheel drive, you'd have to say that almost all of these sorts of cars stay on the blacktop - the exception is very rare indeed. The attributes that buyers want are space, a higher seating position, and - let's be brutally honest here - the prestige factor.
A 2WD SUV fits that bill perfectly, and with less moving parts to take care of, servicing is easier and fuel consumption is down on the AWD equivalent, not having the drain of extra driven wheels to take care of. In the case of the XC60 T5, fuel use is listed at 8.7 litres/100km - curiously, exactly the same figure as the V60 T5.
Compare the weight of the two - the V60 is 1580kg and the XC60 is 1740kg. The 160kg heavier XC60 also takes an extra 0.4 seconds to get to 100km/h, which means that achieving the same fuel consumption is no mean feat.
During the week of our running around, we saw consistent low 10s in the average fuel consumption, however, given the opportunity to stretch its legs, we've no doubt the ADR figure would be achievable.
The engine has to work harder in the XC60, and it shows, with turbo lag more noticable than in the V60 T5 as it winds up to get into its stride. While going, the engine is excellent, smooth to rev and with enough grunt for everyday use. The Powershift dual-clutch transmission also works against the extra weight with a slightly shunty feel as it engages away from lights, but on the roll is sufficiently smooth and like the V60 has quick, decisive changes.
There's a tad of torque steer if you're accelerating hard around large roundabouts, or turning sharply at a T-junction, being evident particularly as the weight transfers from front to back under power, but it's not too distracting. If wet, the ESC catches any power-on understeer pretty quickly making it quite safe in all conditions.
It's not a particularly sharp handler, especially with its tall-profile tyres in base specification, but the XC60 T5 does hold onto the road well, and offers a ride which is quite comfortable and quiet. In fact, comfort describes the rest of the car rather well.
The front seats are excellent in both shape and padding and are a wonderful place to spend the daily home-to-work-and-back-again grind, while the back seats offer enough legroom and plenty of headroom. Like other models in Volvo's lineup, the outside pews of the back bench feature integrated boosters for two different weight/size ranges. We had no complaints from our kids.
The boot size is a little small on paper (495 litres) considering one of the main appeals of an SUV is a big boot, but in practise, the boot is a lot larger, and the wide opening at the base, courtesy of the Volvo scallop, makes for easy loading; prams will fit without an issue.
The interior is nicely designed, with the silver spiral featuring on both front and rear door trims, and plenty of angular, modern features. The dash plastics are all soft-to-touch and the whole interior feels well put together - even the doors close with a solid thunk.
Those looking for a sporting drive, however, may want to look elsewhere. The steering is a bit muted, the brakes work well, but can be a little wooden, and with its tall-boy handling, this is not the car for a backroad blast.
What it is, is a safe, practical and easy to drive SUV that gets buyers into a premium brand at a price that one would normally buy a high end Mitsubishi, Ford or Subaru SUV - at $54,990 it's certainly one of the cheaper luxury SUVs going around.
It does have to contend with the Land Rover Freelander 2, and the Jeep Grand Cherokee - both of which are cheaper, and both of which have diesel and all-wheel-drive. If we're honest, the XC60's cabin quality is a lot nicer than either of the above, however the Jeep counters with plenty more space.
Certainly, the XC60 T5's edgy styling makes it an SUV that doesn't look like an entry-level model, and represents good value for the brand.
Volvo does have its history in safety too, and with City Safety, which either reduces the severity of, or eliminates rear-end collisions altogether, the XC60 is certainly the best option for those who want to keep their family well protected.
As a practical family car with an edge of indulgence, the XC60 is well worth a look. It's easy to get in and out of, has enough room and has an interior that will impress. Now that it comes in T5 guise, it's affordable, making it accessible to a whole new realm of customers.