As impressive as Volvo's new-model rollout has been over the past few years, it's the second-generation Volvo XC60 D5 R-Design launched here just weeks ago that's most important.
The outgoing (developed under ex-owner Ford's watch) version remained the Swedish-Chinese company's biggest seller worldwide in its ninth and final year, with around 160,000 delivered. It's long been Volvo's mainstay in Australia as well.
Given this gestation period, the 'brand new' iteration we're driving here is exactly that. New platform, drivetrains, cabin design and tech. New Volvo. Certainly enough to tempt existing owners to put money down, but what about its rivals?
That list includes $60,000-plus offerings such as the newly launched Audi Q5 and BMW X3, as well as perennial favourites the Mercedes-Benz GLC and Land Rover Discovery Sport. Throw in a Volkswagen Tiguan Highline for good measure, too.
The Volvo range kicks off at $59,990 before on-road costs, but here we're in a higher grade called the D5 (D for diesel) R-Design, priced at $73,990 – equivalent to an Audi Q5 TDI Sport and Mercedes-Benz GLC 250d, and sitting between the BMW X3 20d/30d.
First impressions last, as they say. This new XC60 is quite a looker. Volvo's design team have done a great job shrinking the XC90 down into smaller form: clean, classical and perfectly proportioned. Those 21-inch wheels add some kerbside sex appeal, too. Just don't get too close to said kerbside with them...
Same goes for the interior, which is every bit as premium and interesting within the segment, as the larger XC90's is compared to its rivals. The mixture of materials (leather, soft plastic, real metal) are first-rate, and the layout is unique.
Thus the signature Volvo elements are all here. For instance, the large touchscreen has a portrait orientation rather than a horizontal one. This allows a great map layout, and also adds a certain aesthetic interest.
The software running on the slick, swipe-able screen includes a home page with four tiles that serve as broad shortcuts to all things related to navigation, media playing, phone usage and, perhaps, your Apple CarPlay/Android Auto window.
Swiping left or right brings up various sub-menus. The right lets you delve into the on-board computer or change your audio settings, to the left lets you configure the various active safety features (detailed in a sec) and the head-up display (HUD).
The only traditional buttons and knobs are one to return to home, one to change the volume, two to skip tracks, two to set the AC/heater to blast the windscreen or rear glass, and the hazard lights. Other inputs are done via touch or via wheel buttons.
This fact, paired with glossy black plastic used extensively, makes the fascia something of a magnet for dust and smudging fingerprints. That means your interior can look pretty shabby, pretty easily. Unless you're dutiful with a microfibre cloth.
We also lament the fact that Volvo makes you use the touchscreen the change the cabin temperature or fan force/direction. This just feels needlessly sparse.
Let's not get weighed down with negatives, though. The configurable digital TFT gauges are great, able to show your maps and audio information, but defaulting back to black so as not to distract you. The standard HUD is also most welcome.
Then there's the lovely perforated leather gear knob, the tactile silver metal starter dial and rolling drive-mode adjuster, the slick paddle shifters with damping, the quality white stitching and the widely adjustable, well-bolstered and rather attractive seats – always something the Swedes do well.
In terms of storage, there's a big glovebox and door pockets offsetting the small console (with two USB inputs), and a closing cubby along the transmission tunnel with cupholders. No sunglasses-holder, though.
Somewhat unlike the S90, the XC60 D5 R-Design also comes extensively equipped for its asking price, which as tested here was $76,390 thanks to the optional heated seats ($500) and metallic paint ($1900).
There are 10 speakers, a head-up display, digital radio, Sensus satellite navigation, road sign readout (sometimes gets the speed limit wrong, we noticed), the 12.3-inch digital display, R-Design Nubuck textile/Nappa leather memory seats, charcoal headlining, paddle-shifters, four-zone climate control, a chilled console, 21-inch wheels, roof rails, LED active bending headlights with auto high-beam mode, and keyless-go.
Safety-wise, the headline act is Evasive Manoeuvre Assist – active from 50–100km/h – which can apparently detect a potential collision with a vehicle, cyclist, pedestrian or large animal ahead, and avoid by adding steering input, and by braking the inner wheels individually to help the driver steer away.
There's adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, cross-traffic alert, a 360-degree camera, run-off-road mitigation, and Pilot Assist that can nudge the car back between clearly marked road lines, allowing hands-off driving for a legally limited time frame.
It may just be us, but this driver-helping system feels more refined than the one fitted to the early S90s we drove. Volvo is making ground when it comes to creating an assist suite that feels intuitive, much like those now being rolled out by the big German luxury brands. Or maybe Melbourne's newly painted EastLink toll road just proved a particularly friendly test site...
There are also front/side/head/thorax protection, and driver's knee, airbags, and a recently announced five-star ANCAP crash rating against tough 2017 protocols. It scored 37.3 out of 38.
Being a luxury offering, there are of course many options to make your car unique. The best value is to be had in various packages, including the:
- Lifestyle Pack: includes heated front seats, panoramic sunroof, tinted rear glass – $2500
- Premium Pack: includes heated front seats, panoramic roof, tinted rear glass, power folding rear headrests, power folding rear backrest, Bowers & Wilkins audio system, air suspension – $7500
What about cabin practicality? The first thing we noticed was that the back door aperture is quite small, meaning entry/egress isn't as easy as it is in some rivals. Once you're in, though, the leather/suede seats are superbly comfortable.
Amenities include rear vents with temperature adjust via a slick little touchscreen (there are also vents on the B-pillar, tick), a 12V input, decent in-door storage, LED lights, damped grab handles and a flip-down centre armrest with cupholders.
The hard plastic (but not cheap, scratchy plastic) seat-backs are ideal for those mounting child seats. Your kid can kick away with their muddy shoes without scuffing the trim.
Legroom and foot room is fine, without being exceptional. Two 180cm people will be more than happy. Ditto the headroom, helped by the lack of a standard sunroof. The large-ish window between the C- and D-pillars helps outward visibility.
The big disappointment is Volvo's decision to remove the signature integrated pop-out booster seat base, which it uses in other models (and in the outgoing XC60). That's a tough one to work out.
The cargo area has a claimed 500L of storage, which is 10 per cent inferior to many rivals, though superior to a Mazda CX-5. The loading floor is high and there's only a temporary spare wheel. The back seats do fold quite flat to accommodate longer items, however.
Father-of-one Mike Stevens fitted his little boy's stroller in the back, but remarked that the room was somewhat inferior to his two-generation-old Subaru Liberty wagon.
As the D5 nomenclature denotes, the car we have on test uses diesel. It's a 2.0-litre unit with two turbochargers making a healthy 173kW of power at 4000rpm and 480Nm of torque from as low as 1750rpm, matched with an eight-speed automatic transmission with paddles. It'll tow a claimed 2400kg, braked.
The 0–100km/h sprint time capability is a brisk 7.2 seconds, while fuel use on the combined cycle is a claimed 5.6L/100km. We managed a real-world return of 7.7L/100km, which is still pretty commendable. The tank is 71L, giving you a real driving range nudging 1000km.
From outside the car, the engine sounds moderately gruff and clattery, but the firewall insulation and other forms of NVH deadening mean you hardly hear or feel anything from inside. The gearbox gives you a smoother urban response than Audi's dual-clutch unit, while the rolling response from low-down reserves of torque (pulling power) is excellent.
The R-Design spec is also available with a $3000 more expensive T6 engine: a turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-litre petrol making 235kW/400Nm, cutting the 0–100km/h sprint to 5.9sec but blowing fuel use out to a claimed 8.0L/100km (real-world, expect 10s). We'd actually go for the diesel: it's a simpler engine design, it's refined enough, and it's cheaper to buy and run.
The other option is the $92,990 R-Design with the T8 plug-in hybrid drivetrain, which combines the T6 petrol engine with a 10.4kWh lithium-ion battery pack and a 65kW/240Nm electric motor. It has a 40km EV driving range, and cuts the 0–100km/h time to a mere 5.3sec. Costs a mint, though.
All XC60s come with on-demand all-wheel drive (AWD). There are also various driving modes from comfort to sport that fettle the gearbox shift points, throttle calibration and steering resistance. An Off Road mode numbs the throttle response for slippery surfaces and engages hill-descent control (sort of a rough-trail cruise control specific to declines).
The R-Design model also adds a stiffer sports chassis which, alongside the 21-inch wheels on slim rubber, does add a hint of sharpness to the Volvo's ride, evident over low-amplitude rumbles and sharp edges/hits alike. Such is the price one pays for style...
Happily, for $2490 you can have its suspension with electronically controlled damping. Plush, very plush.
Dynamically, the XC60 is based on Volvo's familiar scalable architecture trickled down from bigger and more expensive cars. Aside from the aforementioned ride issue that's down to the wheels, the dynamics are as they should be.
There's light – yet direct – electric steering with three turns to its arc, and pricey double wishbone/integral link suspension that offers plenty of movement but keeps body control sufficiently in check. It's no BMW X3 for dynamic nous, but it's what a Volvo ought to be. Good noise suppression too – it's super quiet and refined at highway speeds.
If the ride worries you, go a lower-spec grade with thicker rubber or option the air suspension.
From an ownership perspective, you get a three-year warranty with no distance ceiling and roadside assistance provided for the term.
You can also buy a SmartCare servicing package, which covers a time frame of scheduled services. The basic pack for three years/45,000km costs $2225, four years/60,000km costs $3500 and five years/75,000km costs $4230. The same intervals under the wider SmartCare Plus pack cost $3050, $5200 and $6400.
By contrast, the five-year/80,000km Service Inclusive packages on a BMW X3 cost either $1440 for the Basic or $4250 for the Plus. There appears to be some discrepancy here.
However, we'd not like to dwell too long on the negatives. Because while the maintenance costs are primed for negotiation, while the R-Design's big wheels take the edge off the ride quality, and while the cargo space is some way below massive, the XC60 nevertheless makes a compelling case.
The design is wonderful, while the interior ambience is deserving of a luxury price tag. The value equation also stacks up reasonably well against fellow European rivals, while the engine performance and thoroughly modern in-car infotainment and safety technologies show the merit of Volvo's huge R&D spend under its supportive Chinese parent company, Geely.
To be honest, we'd be very happy with a lower-grade version of the XC60 such as the $66,990 Inscription D4 (140kW/400Nm is sufficient), but even at the top end where this R-Design sits, it's a genuine Swedish alternative to German hegemony.
In fact, this writer thinks it might be the strongest offering in Volvo's range, full stop.
Click the Photos tab for more images by Jayden Ostwald.