I’ve never been a big fan of SUVs so they were never on my shopping list but my wife’s constant lobbying to replace her Golf GTI with something bigger and more family-friendly forced me to take a closer look.
I (and my wife) prefer our cars to have a bit of go, so any slow and wheezy naturally aspirated petrol or turbo-diesel four cylinder SUV just wasn’t going to cut it.
Aiming to spend about $40K on the used car market, we considered a BMW X5 30d, Merc ML350CDI and an Audi Q5.
I was quite underwhelmed by the interior quality of the X5. The interior felt old and plain, the leather was fake and the centre armrest and console creaked and groaned if you leant on it. I didn’t like the idea of run flat tyres either.
The Merc was a strong contender but even though we liked the exterior styling, we found the interior was also dated, especially the infotainment screen and HVAC controls. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find a Q5 in the right colour with the right options at the right price.
We’ve really liked the styling of Volvos over the last five to six years, especially the R-Design models so the XC60 was always going to have a good chance. We probably would have been happy with the D5 or the T6 but we drove the T6 first and it was the colour we wanted, had the optional sunroof and we negotiated a good price for it.
I think as far as SUV styling goes, the XC60 R-Design is hard to beat. They’re not too big or small and have a classy look about them. I love sitting inside this car. Everything you touch – steering wheel, armrests, dash, stalks and buttons just oozes quality. The seats are a real highlight, soft comfortable leather and nicely bolstered to hold you in place. Probably the best car seats I’ve ever had.
The sat-nav is easy enough to use (other than trying to cancel route guidance) with nice clear graphics and turn guidance also displayed in the instrument binnacle. The premium surround sound system has plenty of punch and clarity using either radio, CD, USB or Bluetooth streaming. All controls are fairly intuitive and logically placed.
One annoyance is the lack of keyless entry and start. The two step start process (insert key then push a button) is reminiscent of the FPV F6 I owned a few years ago and is just a bit daft.
The additional cabin height (compared to a passenger car) allows for a higher seating position for rear passengers and this translates into a little more legroom. There is plenty of storage space for phones, wallets and drink bottles for adults up front and enough space for the kids' crap in the back.
The cargo area is nice and wide though it does lacks a little in length. There is a small amount of storage space under the cargo floor that can be useful to stash some items. The electric tailgate is quite handy too.
I needed to recalibrate my expectations driving the XC60, particularly as my other car was an Audi S4. If you push the XC60 with any sort of enthusiasm, it’s not really happy.
Cornering body roll is predictably evident despite the stiffer suspension setup of the R-Design. Low speed ride quality on bumpy suburban roads is poor and exacerbated by the four year old original Pirelli tyres on large (but nice looking) 20-inch wheels. This has improved recently by fitting new Continental tyres but the ride/handling balance remains a weak point.
The steering feel is quite artificial and lacks the real feel of connection to the front wheels. The Haldex based AWD system is predominantly front drive and can be slow to transfer power to the rear when needed. Accelerating hard out of corners results in the front tyres scrabbling for traction until the rear end kicks in.
The six speed torque converter gearbox is probably the worst aspect of the XC60. Left in D it hunts around more than it should and kicks down when you wouldn’t expect it to. It seems to forget that it has ample torque (480Nm) to hold higher gears on most occasions. Initial take-off is quite abrupt due to an over sensitive throttle pedal and when it changes into second gear the revs will flare to about 2500rpm and it does a perfect CVT impersonation. From third onwards it generally sorts itself out. There are steering wheel paddles to use for manual shifting but the gearbox response is slow particularly when downshifting. I hope Volvo’s new eight speed gearbox is better than this.
This car’s strength is its cruising ability on the highway. The ride improves markedly at speed even on substandard roads and road noise is well contained. The active directional Xenon headlights work very well for night driving and by having a separate (halogen) lens for high beam, they are better than the typical bi-xenon headlights found in many cars.
The engine is strong and refined and has plenty of power for both initial getaways and highway overtaking but the exhaust sounds a bit plain and underwhelming. An R-Design with Polestar tuning should have a nice sporty exhaust burble to match.
We’ve owned the XC60 just over a year now and fuel consumption (98 Octane) is averaging around 11.3 which is about what we expected.
The XC60 is not perfect and few cars are but despite a few annoyances (mostly gearbox related) I really like this car. It looks good, has most of the features I want in a car, ample performance and a real quality feel about it. Most importantly though, my wife loves it and the lobbying has ceased.