First Drive: Volvo XC60

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John Challen gets behind the wheel of the latest Swedish SUV.

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SECTOR Compact SUV   PRICE €42,000-€65,000   FUEL 2.1-7.7l/100km   CO2 49-176g/km

When it was launched in 2008, Volvo clearly had high hopes for the XC60. It was referred to by senior management as ‘the safest Volvo the company had ever built’ – keen to hang on to that USP, even though others were catching up. It went on to become a big success and today ranks as the Swedish manufacturer’s most popular model, having sold nearly one million units since launch.

The new compact SUV is the latest in a range overhaul, following it’s bigger brother – the XC90 – and the S90 and V90 models. Many of the styling cues have been carried across from those models, slightly tweaked and improved for the XC60. Volvo bosses stopped short of describing it as a copy and paste exercise, because this is a more dynamic proposition with greater emphasis on ride and handling.

To accommodate this improvement, the ride height over the outgoing model has been increased by 100mm and the overall length and width has also gone up. Not only does this help the stance of the new SUV, but it also affords passengers more room and allows for luggage space. Interestingly, Volvo admits that it falls short of the overall capacity in litres in the rear of the car, but maintains that the XC60 offers more useable space.

The ride height has been reduced to enable flatter cornering – following in the footsteps of the likes of Audi with the Q5 and BMW’s X3, the Swedes realise that drivers want an SUV that doesn’t necessarily behave like an SUV, so have adopted a dynamic setup that aims to please.

Inside the car, many details will be familiar to those who have experienced the XC90. The appealing and very useable large portrait screen has been integrated as the central feature of the dash and combines all communication, comfort and entertainment elements. There’s a slightly smaller screen in the XC60 than the XC90, but nothing is lost in the more compact version.

The engine range is expansive, cylinder-wise but none of the units will be more than 2-litres in displacement. At launch there will be T5 and T6 petrol units – with 254hp and 320hp respectively – and D4 and D5 diesels (with outputs of 190hp and 235hp). All of these models will be all-wheel-drive, although Volvo is promising D3 and D4 front-wheel-drive versions to follow, with details to be confirmed prior to their launch in 2018.

On the road in the D5, the XC60 is quiet, comfortable and responsive. The tweaks to the suspension are very evident, the car feeling a lot more taught than the outgoing model, without impacting on the ride quality. There is a bit of turbo lag through the automatic ‘box, but tipping the scales at nearly 2,000kg, XC60 is still a sizeable car. The steering is nicely weighted and is pretty direct – another nod to the efforts of the engineering team to make this more of a driver’s car.

Like the XC90, there will be a T8 plug-in hybrid version of the smaller SUV. While it hasn’t had quite the impact some people thought it might have had with the larger car, Volvo believes as a smaller, more economical and useable package the T8 could offer a real alternative to the models typically preference by fleets. Using the same inline four-cylinder engine as the other gasoline models, the T8 offers 407hp, 640Nm of torque and 49g/km of CO2. The electric-only driving mode is an impressive 45km.

Volvo being Volvo, there is plenty of safety technology, much of it new. But first let’s talk about updated and more intuitive Pilot Assist (available up to 130km/h) – a further move to semi-autonomy from Volvo, but actually very accurate and easy to get used to. The brand new features on the car include: oncoming lane mitigation; City Safety with steering support and runoff road mitigation. Impressive technologies that drivers hope they never get to find out about.

What we think

In a nod to Volvo’s heritage, the new XC60 debuts safety technologies, but this is one of the most engaging Volvos ever. Drivers will appreciate the enhanced dynamic offering, but also improvements to interior space and the cabin.

John Challen

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