In our Volvo XC60 review, we find out how the ‘baby’ XC90 does against the likes of the Land Rover discovery Sport, Jaguar F-Pace, Audi Q5, Mercedes GLC and other mid-sized SUV competition.
“Why are people staring?”, I thought to myself. I just assumed I had unwillingly been using my face to save a large portion of food for later or had forgotten to get dressed, but neither was the case.
Nor, it seems, had I appeared on Crimewatch as part of the “have you seen this man?” segment. In this week’s episode, anyway.
No, about three days into the loan of the new XC60 D4 AWD R-Design it was becoming clear that, as unfathomable as it seemed, Volvo had become desirable. Almost Land Rover desirable, except without telling the world your other half kicks a ball around for a living.
Even people who were young enough to like Justin Bieber would point and stare at the XC60 and its Thor hammer-shaped headlights, as if it had just sprouted wings and was about to take off. Maybe it was because of the more youthful Crystal White metallic paintjob?
Whatever dark arts were at work, the XC60 went down a storm – and that is despite being the XC90’s poorer, smaller but virtually as wide sibling. Nobody seemed to care it is more of a competitor to the Land Rover Discovery Sport and Jaguar F-Pace in financial terms. It may as well have been a Bentley.
The old Volvo XC60 lasted from 2008 to 2016 before its second-generation replacement rolled along, complete with the new XC90’s SPA underpinnings and the same interior except for revised air vents and a few other barely noticeable adjustments.
As SUVs go, the Volvo looks beefy and purposeful (especially with the sporty tweaks you get with the R-Design) yet the front-end seems to shrink everything down. It’s considerably less imposing than an Audi Q5 or Land Rover and that makes people more likely to let you out at a junction.
Being more svelte – as svelte as an SUV can be – also means there is no seven-seater option, nor is the boot quite as big. But the XC60 can only be had with all-wheel drive, ensuring it has the traction to go where it wants to, and is cheaper to buy.
Is it any good, though, or are those looks just a clever decoy? Volvo was kind enough to lend us a car for a week to find out, over which we took it shopping, on motorways and just about everywhere else a family car would be expected to go.
Volvo XC60 review: How does it handle?
Like a smaller version of the XC90, which is a compliment because the XC90 is one of the smoothest and most comfortable SUVs money can buy. Even on the standard suspension (double wishbone up front, multi-link at the rear), the ride is typically so forgiving you just assume you are on carpet.
Where it falls down is to do with speed bumps and bigger undulations, which cause the XC60 to rock back and forth until it settles down after the second or third bounce.
Sideways movement is, however, virtually non-existent, which means you can chuck the XC60 around and live to tell the tale. The steering, though relatively detached as is the case with most SUVs, helps make over-zealous entry speeds easy to correct.
Despite being bigger than the outgoing XC60, thanks to the SPA platform, it feels smaller and more nimble. Unsurpisingly, it is a satisfying machine to drive at any speed but it is also surprisingly keen to make you drive that little bit faster.
The brakes are another highlight as they let you scrub off speed so effortlessly it may as well do the job for you, which in fairness it can if you let Pilot Assist take over. Providing, of course, you avoid going over the 80mph maximum.
The D4 diesel likes to make an unpleasant chorus at full revs and in first gear it generates more noise forward motion, but it is still quick off the line and the eight-speed auto soon brings silence to the cabin with imperceptible changes.
There are, however, times when you forget the engine is even running such is the level of refinement and anti-vibration measures, especially if you crank up the brilliant 10-speaker stereo system and make use of DAB digital radio or stream music in conjunction with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. It’s almost Tesla-esque when it comes to gliding along.
Volvo XC60 review: What about practicality?
Boot space has suffered somewhat in an effort to ensure everyone is comfortable in the XC60. At 505 litres, there is noticeably less Ikea flat-pack potential than in, say, the F-Pace and its 650-litre cave, sorry, boot.
There is also the issue of a transmission tunnel to deal with for anyone in the middle seat, making it less versatile than the up-to-seven-seater XC90, but only the most freakishly tall adults will find the XC60 problematic for head and leg room. Even with the panoramic roof in place.
The addition of an automatic tailgate is a posh and sometimes useful extra, although you will have to pay more if you want it to open and close without you touching it, which can be useful when carrying oodles of shopping.
Cabin storage is another strong suit, although some of its rivals offer more of it. Still, a thin storage area in the middle, large glove box and decent-sized door bins provide enough space to lose your personal belongings.
Unfortunately the rear seats can only do the 60:40 split-folding dance, unlike the 40:20:40 layout in the Discovery Sport, but that is a niche problem. Less niche though is the fact there is no rear-seat sliding function to choose between added boot space or more leg room.
On the flip side, there is nothing in the boot that gets in the way, such as the wheel arches, and the rear seats fold completely flat.
Volvo XC60 review: What about its rivals?
The closest competitor that springs to mind is the Discovery Sport, which can be had with up to seven seats and is around the same price. It, too, offers a premium feel and commands a level of road respect that you would never get with, say, the Audi Q5.
But the Discovery Sport’s interior, though good, struggles to feel as impressive as the Volvo’s Scandinavian flavour, nor is the infotainment sytem as easy to use.
Another rival is the Jaguar F-Pace but the XC60’s interior is considerably nicer and more lavish, especially with the sportier Contour Seats and nine-inch infotainment touchscreen, and Volvo’s comfort approach means a distinctly softer driving style.
The Volvo really is a cut above the rest on the inside, not just in terms of quality and craftsmanship but also overall ergonomics and comfort. As SUVs go, the XC60 is rarely anything but an absolute pleasure to drive.
No wonder, then, Volvo drew with Kia in the 2017 JD Power Survey. It seems owners find as little to fault with its cars as we have done in recent years.
Volvo XC60 review: Specs, running costs and UK price?
You can buy the Volvo XC60 in three trim levels: Momentum (entry-level), R-Design (sporty) and Inscription (loadsa money). Pro versions add even greater luxury such as air suspension, heated steering wheel and a headlight cleaning system.
As for engines, the 2.0-litre, 188bhp D4 all-wheel drive is the entry-level diesel and offers 133g/km of CO2 and 55.4mpg (we averaged around 44mpg without making any effort). Then there is a D5 PowerPulse AWD, which is faster but less efficient. It does, however, have a larger 71-litre fuel tank.
Above that is the first of two petrol engines, the 251bhp T5 AWD, which offers CO2 and fuel economy of 164g/km and 39.2mpg, respectively. That means it costs £500 to tax in the first year, £300 more than the two diesels and £500 more than the hybrid.
Lastly, but not least if you like trees, is the T8 TwinEngine hybrid, which manages 49g/km of CO2 and claimed fuel economy figure of 134.5mpg. It takes 5.3 seconds to go from 0-62mph, beating the D4 AWD’s time of 8.4 seconds by some margin, but it does have the smallest fuel tank (51 litres).
Prices start from £37,205 for a D4 AWD Momentum. Our car was the R-Design, which starts from £39,705, fitted with around £9,000 worth of extras such as the head-up display (£1,000), winter package (£525), metallic white paint (£950) and Intellisafe Pro with Pilot Assist (£1,500).
To be honest, the Momentum car has enough luxury, including an automatic tailgate, leather-faced upholstery, 18-inch alloys and Sensus Navigation, to make it recommendable but then the air suspension, 360-degree parking camera and Park Pilot Assist could be worth a look.
Volvo XC60 review: Is it a safe car?
Bloody safe, although sometimes the autonomous emergency braking system proved too sensitive. On two occasions, it thought we were veering into oncoming traffic as opposed to driving down a busy street with parked cars either side, which caused it to temporarily put on the brakes.
In one way that is a good thing because you know the XC60 is working as it should but also but bad because having something take over when you are concentrating is really disconcerting.
Then there is the touchscreen, which is comprised relatively few menu screens and most of the time you never have to touch it. But adjusting the temperature of the air conditioning, for instance, requires a little too much concentration than it should. Not all buttons are bad.
Besides those issues, the XC60 is as safe as they get. Pilot Assist can practically drive the car for you (although it stops working properly after around 80mph and it never informs you of this fact) and the engineering should be top-notch. There is, after all, a reason why Tesla routinely compares its cars with Volvo.
Volvo XC60 review: Should I buy one, then?
If you have an average-sized family and like an SUV to make you feel good about yourself, the XC60 makes a great deal of sense. Not only does it look great and drive well, it is a modest enough size not to upset everyone else on the road and is suitably frugal
Compared with the S90 saloon, there is something that little bit more playful and upbeat about the XC60 ─ as if slightly less wrinkly engineers at Volvo made some of the handling decisions. It treads a sportier balance between handling and comfort and that makes it easier to like.
We really could see ourselves going against our typical advice, that most people are better off in an estate or hatchback, just to own one. It’s not quite perfect, but it’s definitely good enough to make me consider breaking my own rules – and embrace a new era when Volvo is considered trendy.