Why go German when you can pick a Swede?
The Volvo XC60 remains the most popular Swedish car in Australia thanks to its European styling, excellent safety features and practical interior. But are those enough reasons to buy it over its German rivals?
The once all-encompassing drawcard of Volvo models was safety, however in the last decade most of the company’s active and passive safety features have been matched and in some cases even surpassed by competitor brands. That means the Volvo XC60 needs to win the battle for your purchasing decision based on other merits.
From a styling perspective the Volvo SUV ticks a lot of boxes, without being too conservative. It doesn’t sit as high-up as some of its rivals, which means you don’t get that extra height advantage in traffic, but it certainly looks like a sturdy yet city-friendly SUV.
Inside, Volvo continues to impress, with high quality finishes throughout the cabin and limited noise intrusion even at highway speeds.
The centre console controls are laid out in a simple, yet elegant and driver-focused manner that helps you get the most out of the now-undersized 7.0-inch screen.
Credit where credit is due, the Volvo Sensus multimedia system is pretty smart. It worked flawlessly with our new iPhone 6+ test unit, both for phone calls and Bluetooth audio streaming. Nothing unusual there, but then there are features like being able to send your planned journey on your smartphone to the car’s navigation system (via Google maps).
We found the eight-speaker audio system almost impeccable. The sound quality both in terms of bass and clarity was far better than we were expecting and a sign that Volvo doesn't skimp on basic features.
But the infotainment system does have some useless features too, like a built in web browser (via a tethered internet connection to your phone). We couldn’t think of one situation when this would ever be required, as the system only works when the XC60 is stationary and considering it switches itself off to save fuel, you may as well use your smartphone as it’s infinitely simpler to use and less likely to leave you frustrated.
The digital speedometer is a nice touch, being bright and easy to read. The front seats are very supportive and both are powered.
Moving to the back seats, there is heaps of room to fit two large adults, with a third possible for short journeys. We had no knee or headroom issues with a 179cm-tall tester comfortably fitting in both front and direct rear seats.
Volvo’s trademarked built-in booster seats are pretty useful if you have young kids, however it’s worth noting that the ISOFIX points in the XC60 were not nearly as easy to find as some of its rivals, making the once-off installation a little more annoying than it ought to have been. Thankfully, though, the 495-litre boot (although 45L and 55L smaller than that of the Audi Q5 and BMW X3 respectively) expands to 1455L with the 40/20/40 split rear seats folded forward.
Our week-long test car was a Volvo XC60 T5, the brand’s front-wheel drive turbocharged petrol model that delivers a whopping 180kW of power and 350Nm of torque from its new 2.0-litre four-cylinder Drive-E engine.
Those are superb figures for a medium SUV that takes on the Land Rover Freelander 2, Range Rover Evoque and the popular Audi Q5 and BMW X3. In fact, apart from the BMW X3 xDrive28i, which matches the Swede, the Volvo will all-but guarantee you won’t wear the ‘slow Volvo driver’ stigma.
There is a slight problem, however, as the Volvo XC60 T5 is front-wheel drive. Unlike its all-wheel drive diesel or the higher spec petrol T6 siblings, the T5 pushes all its torque and power through the front wheels, which results in a rather daunting drivetrain setup that seemingly wants to destroy its front tyres as fast as possible.
So much power and torque via the front end had us carefully examining when we would engage the right foot to ensure the front wheels where pointing in a straight direction first, as to avoid the ever-present torque steer. Even then, an enthusiastic press of the right pedal would have you holding the steering wheel with a bit of force to make sure it doesn’t suddenly jerk in an unwanted direction.
Its power-equivalent rivals are all-wheel drive, which makes a huge difference for everyday driving when you have a powerful motor under the bonnet. It does beg the question as to why the power is there when it’s largely unusable.
The engine start-stop system is also a little slow at times (but can be turned off entirely), with the time taken for this tester’s right foot to forego the brake pedal for the accelerator more often than not being quicker than is required for the Swede to awaken from hibernation.
Thankfully, then, the eight-speed automatic gearbox, instead of a six-speed dual-clutch transmission, is super smooth and effortless in its shifts. Fuel economy is officially rated at 7.0L/100km, though the best we could do in a city and highway lap was 9.9L/100km.
The XC60's driving dynamics, apart from the torque steer, are typically Volvo. That means a slightly cumbersome turning circle, but it is otherwise a sharp and responsive SUV to drive. It rides a little harder than one might hope for but it’s by no means uncomfortable.
Despite its safety credentials no longer being a primary buying motivator, the XC60 does come with its fair share of active systems, including the very useful ‘City Safety’ feature that automatically brakes the Volvo at up 50km/h in the event of an imminent collision.
This will not only bring down your insurance premiums, but means if you happen to be momentarily distracted in traffic and the car in front stops, you won’t have that annoying - yet all too common - low-speed rear-ending accident.
It’s a system available in numerous other cars as well and one we would highly recommend you invest in as it will no doubt come in handy at some stage.
Overall, we are impressed by the Volvo XC60, but would probably go for an all-wheel drive diesel variant rather than our T5 model (which should be available in AWD next year), which was priced at $62,890, with an additional $1750 for metallic paint and $375 for heated front seats bringing the total price to $65,015.
Its pricing also puts it in direct competition with the AWD Audi Q5 2.0 TFSI, which, although lacking the Volvo’s extensive list of standard features, is a standout choice in its segment.