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It’s hard to understate the importance of this new-generation 2018 Volvo XC60.
It’s the car that replaces the best-seller in the brand’s range, which had its best year of sales in the last year of its production. It is vital, then, that this thing be not only good, but good enough to help boost those sales even further.
And based on our first drive of the second-generation XC60, it should be entirely capable of doing exactly that – and not just because of the way it looks.
I mean, sheesh. It’s a bloody pretty thing. Right?
It has the chiselled styling of the larger XC90 with a more squat and muscular stance, thanks to its shorter body. The ‘Thor’s Hammer’ LED daytime running lights pervade a sense of similarity with the other models in the Volvo range, but it is still distinctly cut of its own cloth: and it needs to be, in order to stand out against impressive rivals such as the Audi Q5, BMW X3, Land Rover Discovery Sport and Mercedes-Benz GLC. In this writer's humble opinion, the XC60 looks better than all of those cars.
Unlike some of those aforementioned vehicles, the all-new XC60 is a model that doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not: it is a luxury-focused mid-sized SUV, one that aims to offer a premium and upmarket driving experience, with good space, an elegant and technical interior, and a level of driving dynamism that, while perfectly suited to this type of car, is not necessarily going to sway buyers who want a sports car on stilts.
But you know what? That’s totally okay.
It’s a size down from the XC90, obviously, but it uses the same platform and underpinnings as that car, albeit with a shorter wheelbase (2865 millimetres, as opposed to the larger model’s 2984mm span), though it is larger than its predecessor in length and width, but it's lower to the ground. It also shares a bunch of tech with its bigger brother, including drivetrains.
There are a few to choose from, all 2.0-litre four-cylinder units: there’s a twin-turbo diesel, a turbocharged and supercharged petrol, and a third option with the latter petrol engine and a plug-in hybrid system with a battery bank and electric motor.
We only got a chance to test the T6 petrol, as it’s known, and the D5 diesel. There’ll be less powerful versions of the petrol (T5 and possibly T4) and diesel (D4 and possibly D3) in the future, but Australia is launching with the T6 and D5 (the T8 plug-in hybrid will follow) so it made sense for us to sample them straight up.
We started in the diesel, which Volvo Australia reckons is going to be the bigger seller.
It features a system called PowerPulse, which is essentially an anti-lag technology that uses a tiny electric compressor to squirt compressed air into the turbo chamber to get it spinning sooner. That should mean, theoretically, taking off from a standstill is more effortless than usual – and in practice it’s pretty close to lag-free: we tested it in traffic, holding on at roundabouts and then pushing hard on the throttle, and it took off rapidly. We'd have to do a back-to-back against an older diesel to quantify the difference – that might be something we look into down the track.
Because it’s a twin-turbo diesel engine, it built pace with grace and terrific refinement: often diesels can be a bit rumbly, but the XC60’s diesel offered almost vibration-free acceleration and, perhaps the best thing about it, was that it was extremely quiet, even under full throttle. The eight-speed auto did a terrific job when called upon for a quick shift, or when just cruising along the highway.
The petrol engine was more vocal under acceleration – in fact, where the diesel was almost imperceptible at highway speed, the former was more of a constant accompaniment, depending on the drive mode chosen.
The default drive mode is Comfort, which is set for easy driving, with relaxed throttle response, smoother shifts that will more eagerly aim for higher gears, lighter steering and softer suspension, and there is a Dynamic mode for sharper response, Off-Road for unsealed surfaces and Individual, which allows you to tailor your preferences.
In Dynamic mode, the T6’s throttle response sharpened up notably – to the point where you’d likely be unable to leave it in that mode in daily driving, lest your passengers feel like they’re in with a bad taxi driver. The gearshifts were fine, no matter the drive mode, though in comfort it could be a little eager to upshift to save fuel.
On that topic, Volvo claims the T6 uses 7.7 litres per 100 kilometres, which isn’t as low as some competitors, while the D5 is said to use 5.5L/100km. Our drive routes weren’t really indicative of ‘normal’ driving, so we’ll see how those numbers stack up at a later date.
Back to that earlier comment about the way it drives: Volvo has said that this model was designed with a theme in mind – confidence, comfort and connection. And unlike the first-generation XC60, which was trying to keep pace with the Germans for driving dynamism, this car treads its own path. It performs completely respectably in corners, but with steering that is clearly focused on ease of use rather than outright driver enjoyment. It is, as I said, perfectly suited to the purpose of a parent-friendly prestige SUV, with a nice light steering action and a slightly better on-centre heft compared to the XC90, which can feel a little remote on the straight-ahead.
All cars on the test loop were fitted with the brand’s air suspension system, and it coped differently depending on the drive mode chosen: but no matter which setting, the car rode extremely well over bumps and lumps, especially considering all models were on 20-inch rims with 245/55 Michelin Latitude Sport 3 tyres. In Comfort the suspension is soft enough to dismiss small inconsistencies with ease, but not wobbly when it comes to changes of direction. We even decided to head off the planned drive route, with its marble-smooth road surfaces, and find some pockmarked coarse-chip and even a soft gravel track, and neither upset the comfort and quietude of the XC60.
The grip on offer was great, and while the car wasn’t egging me on to carve up corners like a fool, it didn’t disappoint with its road holding and traction in a series of twisties. Still, you can feel the weight of the car in corners – the XC60 is a bit of a porker, with a minimum weight of 1814 kilograms and a max mass of 2115kg.
The drive experience, then, is much like you would expect: similar to the XC90, with great levels of comfort, while being just a little more involving and agile.
The interior, too, is like the XC90 lite: that is to say, properly luxurious and comfortable, with plenty of thoughtful elements and a technical edge to give the German brands a run for their money.
Most elements have been lifted directly from the larger SUV, including the seats, dash treatments, materials and Volvo’s all-encompassing tablet-style touchscreen media system with satellite-navigation, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and on-board SIM for app connectivity.
The screen can take some getting used to: it can be a little over-sensitive to inadvertent touches at times, but it is logical in its operation: you can pinch and swipe like you would using a smartphone, and there’s a home button (a bit like an iPhone or iPad). The screen is used to control all the safety elements of the car, allowing you to switch on/off the lane-keeping assist system, semi-automated parking system and all the other assistance technologies like blind-spot monitoring etc. There’s a driver profile system that allows you to save your preferences against your car key, too.
It’s a good system – on first impressions, at least – but as we’ve found with our long-term Volvo S90, it isn’t flawless, and the fact it is a touchscreen and there is no rotary controller means you can expect it to need a wipe down regularly. The same can be said of the piano black buttons on the steering wheel, which are easy to learn but smudge easily.
The finishes and materials echo the focus of this car: it is about sophistication and comfort first and foremost, with niceties like massaging front seats with heating and ventilation (which won’t be standard, but are quite delightful), and three-zone climate control with a rear heating/cooling and fan control panel. We can expect a rear powerpoint to keep devices charged, too.
The space in the second-row is very good, with easily enough room for two six-foot adults or a couple of kids, and there are dual ISOFIX child-seat anchors and three top-tether hooks as well. But one glaring omission is the brand’s brilliant integrated booster seats, which aren’t available in the initial production cycle. CarAdvice understands they will be offered, likely as an option, when the car arrives locally.
There’s good storage all around, with bottle holders in the rear doors, a set of cup-holders in the centre armrest, and up front there are larger door caddies and a couple of cup holders between the seats, not to mention a good-sized centre bin and glovebox.
The XC60’s boot capacity isn’t as good as some of the competitor vehicles in the class, with 505 litres of boot space, about 10 per cent less than its European rivals. In cars with the air suspension, the load area can be raised or lowered to make it easier to put stuff in the back, and there are remote flippers if you need to drop the 60:40 split-fold back seats.
What will and won’t be standard, and prices Volvo Australia will charge, will be the determining factor in this car’s success when it arrives locally from October this year.
No matter what price the brand asks for the new model, buyers can rest assured that this generation XC60 is a very good thing. We can’t wait ‘til October.