Volvo XC60 review: The best-in-class mid-size SUV?

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The outgoing Volvo XC60 continued to be the best seller in its class right up until the end of production. Whereas other “new” Volvos — the XC90, S90, V90 — replaced cars that were so old people had forgotten they existed, the previous XC60’s success presents a challenge for the replacement model: people liked the old car, so how can Volvo keep them happy, but change, move forward and improve?

The main weapon in Volvo’s arsenal is its new SPA platform — which also sits under the XC90 and V90. The XC60 will be one of the smallest cars (it’s 4.68m long) to sit on SPA, but the advantage of using the kit of bits that the bigger cars get is a range of diesel, petrol and plug-in hybrid powertrains, smooth 8-speed gearboxes, great crash performance and good proportions.

All of which means that when you get behind the wheel of the new XC60, you’ll find the drive far more enjoyable than in the old car.

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If you want to drive reasonably quickly, the old car always gave the impression of you asking it things it didn’t want to do. In the new model, the message fed back through pedals, wheel and seat is “right then, let’s crack on”. It’s not specifically fun to hoon around like a Jaguar F-Pace, but the XC60 is more than capable of hustling.

The other great quality is that the Volvo is ultra-refined and smooth. Well, when driving normally. It’s really easy to get along with, and relaxing to sit behind the wheel. It’s neither too light or too heavy to steer. On 19-inch wheels it rides firmly enough, but rarely crashes about, and the body doesn’t roll (too) alarmingly in corners.

On the motorway a bit of wind whistles past the door mirrors, but with the standard 8-speed auto box, the engine noise is reduced to a whisper – and generally you can while away hour after hour in peaceful serenity. This car brilliantly shuts out the stresses of the outside world.

The engine occasionally throws a fly into the soup, as it’s like pretty much like every other four-cylinder diesel in the world right now, which means when you press the accelerator hard it gets noisy in a guttural sort of way. It’s not fast either — we drove the D4 engine, with 190hp — but it does make perfect sense for everyday use. It delivered just over 40mpg during our time with it, which included a lot of motorway driving.

This engine/gearbox setup’s worst quality is the leisurely response of the gearbox when getting off the line — there’s a bit of a delay between you stepping on the gas and the car actually moving. Which can make getting into a tight gap out of a junction pretty tricky.

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Still, if you’re not a speed freak we’d recommend sticking with the D4 Auto — partly because of the cheaper tax bracket it puts the car into, partly because the saving over a D5 might allow you to upgrade a trim level, or spend extra money on some of the lovely options on offer. Or maybe just take a well earned holiday.

You can go for the more powerful D5 diesel with 235hp, too, but given the current climate you might be more interested in a petrol — which is on offer in T5 guise with 254hp.

Or there’s the very interesting sounding T8 plug-in hybrid — it has a 320hp petrol engine, plus an 87hp rated electric motor, but is officially rated at 49g/km CO2, meaning you only pay nine per cent benefit in kind (9% BIK) as a company car driver. Which goes some way to offsetting the fact that the plug-in model is around £13k more expensive than an equivalent specification diesel.

In all of the newly redesigned Volvos, the aspect that has impressed us most is undoubtedly the interior. New Volvo interiors are calming and tranquil places to sit, thanks to fine Scandinavian material surrounds. They look premium, they make you feel good about yourself and the world. The details are reduced to a spare handful of switches, finished in a crystal-cut pattern and which work to support a portrait-format, 9-inch central touchscreen.

The new XC60 does little different to an XC90 or V90 in that it’s another, beautiful Volvo interior. Special points of notice go to the little Swedish flag that’s integrated into the dashboard chrome edging, the thin-looking yet very comfortable and figure-hugging R-Design seats (that’s the trime level of this review car), and the steering wheel which is trimmed with premium perforated leather that’s of a standard you’ll not find in any BMW, Mercedes or Lexus without spending big in a special options list.

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Rear seat passengers aren’t short-changed either, with enough space for a 6-footer to sit behind him or herself, and their own climate control panel.

The boot is a decent size, at 495 litres, but rival the Audi Q5 has a 540 litre boot. What happened to Volvos being the most practical option in the class? Still, we don’t think you’ll feel short-changed on space or appointments if you choose the Volvo over a BMW X3, Audi Q5 or Merc GLC.

In many ways the XC60 is the consummate, modern middle class family car. Volvo has clearly been having a think about day-to-day usefulness too, because you can flip the load cover up with the tap of a hand to retract it fully, there’s a windscreen-mounted holder for a parking ticket, a quick opening/closing powered boot and big compartments in the cabin, complete with twin USB charging points.

Every new XC60 comes pretty well equipped. There are three levels of specification — Momentum, Inscription and R-Design — and you get beautiful soft leather even on the base-spec Momentum trim level. All models also come with the Sensus 9-inch centre touchscreen with navigation system, rear park assist, DAB radio, a powered boot and an automatic gearbox.

The R-Design trim we tested here starts at £39,705 — but our car had benefitted from a series of options, some of which are worthy of consideration.

We could live without the £2,000/$3,000 Xenium Pack — parking cameras, park assist and panoramic roof — although be aware the all-round parking sensors aren’t standard fit on every XC60, so some may want this.

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Other worth-having options on our car include the Smartphone Integration Kit (at a steep £300/$450), for added USB ports and Android Auto/Apple CarPlay. An head-up display system (£1,000/$1,500) projects not just speed and navigation turns but the traffic sign recognition info and safe distance alert. Keyless entry and start, which bundles in foot operation of the electric tailgate (£500/$750). And the Volvo on-call with app system (£550) which gives you a push-button in-car system for safety and maintenance issues, and allows remote monitoring/unlocking with your phone.

R-Design is the one to have if you like your Volvo sporty — it brings gloss exterior elements, 19-inch wheels, the 12-inch digital gauge cluster, and nappa/nubuck trimmed seats, along with that nicely trimmed steering wheel. But it does limit your choice of interior trims somewhat, and we like the new Volvos in their lighter cabin trims, with a little light Scandinavian wood thrown in. If that’s you, try an Inscription model — that spec starts at nearly £1,500 more than R-Design, but significantly ramps up other standard equipment over the entry level Momentum — which nets you 19-inch wheels, lashings of chrome, ventilated and heated powered seats, and LED headlamps.

Just to confuse things, Volvo now offers a Pro version of its three trim levels, by bundling in extra equipment at each level.

Our car didn’t feature the glorious £3,000 Bowers and Wilkins stereo system, but we did find the standard system impressive for its kind. It’s certainly a level above many, standard premium car brand audio systems.

One set of features our XC60 also come with was the Intellisafe Pro Pack (£1,500). It adds adaptive cruise control, a mirror-based blind spot warning system — which we found a boon on busy motorways — and a cross-traffic/rear-traffic alert system, which is useful in supermarket car parks, but annoying when waiting to back off a suburban drive in the morning rush.

But the big deal within Intellisafe Pro is Pilot Assist. Yep, the XC60 can more or less drive itself.

This uses the adaptive cruise control to maintain a safe distance from the car in front, and a camera which detects white lines, to steer the car within lanes. It works in traffic jams and — because on the XC60 Volvo has upgraded it so it’s able to work at speeds of up to 80mph — on motorways too.

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Rather like Tesla’s Autopilot there’s a kind of magic to this system, in that it really feels like the car is driving itself. As a driver, you’re tacitly agreeing to be in charge and monitoring that the system doesn’t mess up, but it’s an ever-present temptation to see how long the car can go it alone. When it’s active, a big green steering wheel icon appears in the base of the instrument cluster, and if you keep your hands off the wheel too long, it prompts you to place them back.

The real test of this system is those roadwork zones that always seem to take up half the UK motorway network. With their speed-camera controlled 50 limits for mile after mile, they can be sleep inducingly monotonous. We used Pilot Assist it in several places, and were generally impressed with its ability to follow lane markings and reduce our work load.

Still, roadwork zones do express some fallibilities — the camera doesn’t always pick the correct white line marking, especially where ones haven’t been that well-scrubbed out. At junctions, the system became confused on a couple of occasions, disengaged the self-steering aspect of the system and we only realised this when the car started to veer off course.

Systems like this may seem pointless to some, but you can see their place when its dark and raining, you’re tired and surrounded by lorries all sitting on their limiters. It’s an additional backup.

If you’ve read our reviews of the XC90 or V90, then you’re not going to be surprised to hear what we say about the interface, media system or connectivity in the XC60. That’s because it’s essentially the same as those two cars.

All XC60 get a 9-inch portrait format centre touchscreen, with a simply laid out, four-tile home menu screen. The tiles and menus are big and clear at the top level — jumping from navigation, to media, to radio to phone is as easy as pie, and you can do an impressive amount just from the steering wheel using just a couple of buttons.

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However, get into radio or phone menus and the rash of lists and word-centric display can make it very fiddly to find a contact in your phone book, or jump radio stations. You can save many favourites though, so if it was your own car this would become less of a problem. And happily — especially based on our previous criticism of the system looking a little dull and like a wire-frame — Volvo has added some subtle colours into the user interface graphic design, which helps your eyes to zone in on what you want to hit quickly, and brightens the whole screen up.

The navigation features online search, but it’s easier to use the Android Auto/Apple CarPlay functionality which works very well and, unlike many other systems, runs in the screen space alongside (rather than wholesale taking over) the native Volvo system. It remains a steep £300/$450 option, though.

Verdict

Mid-sized SUVs like the new Volvo XC60 have become popular among well-off middle classes for a reason. They look good, they feel classy, they give you a sense of superiority and they swallow all of a family of four’s clobber easily. But they speak of being much less dull than a large estate car.

Volvo has, for a little while now, been a worthy alternative to an equivalent Mercedes, BMW or Audi. That remains true with the XC60. And then some.

With the BMW X3 about to be replaced, the Audi Q5 having had a strangely mundane, blink-and-you’d miss it redesign earlier this year, the XC60 is peering at the top-of-class crown alongside the Mercedes GLC.

So if you want the best looking, best to sit-in mid-sized SUV — and one which offers you the best array of technology and engine options in the class — you need look no further. The Volvo XC60 is a class winner.

(pocket-lint.com, https://goo.gl/C6i72H)

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