If you quite like the utility of an SUV but don't go a bundle on the image, Volvo's latest XC60 might well be the vehicle to choose. Andy Enright reports
Ten Second Review
The revised Volvo XC60 offers a refreshed look but otherwise it's more of the same. That's no bad thing as it was hard to point out material flaws with this most mature of compact SUVs. A clever torque vectoring system as standard and better quality interior materials are welcome updates.
Praise be for the Ford EUCD platform. From this apparently humble piece of chassis design has sprung some great cars. The Land Rover Freelander, Ford's Galaxy, Mondeo and S-MAX, the Volvo V70 and the car we look at here, the latest Volvo XC60, all were all built from the same underpinnings. If that's shown us anything, it's that brand counts for a lot. After all, few paying customers would see any lineage between a Volvo S80 and a Range Rover Evoque, but it's there in the DNA of their fundamental metalwork. Volvo, a company that was cast adrift from Ford's Premier Auto Group, understands the power of its brand extremely well, which is why its XC60 has done so well against a welter of compact SUV rivals.
It's easy to figure out why. The original compact SUVs were fluffy, lightweight things. The early Toyota RAV4s and Suzuki Vitaras appealed to twentysomethings looking for lifestyle accessories. As the market matured, the products needed to change to reflect that. The XC60 is a resolutely responsible and cultured vehicle that appeals to a more seasoned clientele. It's carved a niche for itself which the latest version will look to preserve.
The Volvo XC60 is available as either a front or a four-wheel drive chassis. This lightly facelifted model features Corner Traction Control as standard. This torque vectoring system helps the driver avoid understeer by applying just the right amount of brake force to the inner wheels while powering the outer wheels when accelerating out of a corner. Think of it as creating a pivot point on the inside of the corner to keep the line true. Get the XC60 on tougher terrain and you'll be grateful for its 230mm of ground clearance, its excellent chassis rigidity, the generous sightlines, and - as long as you remembered to buy an all-wheel drive model - the InstantTraction system that can shift power from the front to the rear wheels if the system detects slippage. The XC60 also gets electronic stability control, Trailer Stability Assist, Roll Stability Control and Hill Descent Control.
Buyers mainly choose diesel engines for this model. The range opens with the front-wheel drive 2.0-litre D4, good for 163PS. Then there's the all-wheel drive D4 which also generates 163PS but is, rather confusingly, a completely different 2.4-litre unit. D5 engines use the 2.4-litre unit but in a higher state of tune, generating some 215PS. At the top of the range is the sole petrol engine, the 3.0-litre T6, which pumps out 304PS and which can scuttle to 62mph in 6.5 seconds. The 2.3-litre diesels are undoubtedly the pick of the bunch, offering plenty of torque and decent acceleration, but they aren't the smoothest diesel engines ever built. Ride quality is very good for the respectable handling prowess you're buying. All engines bar the auto-only T6 are mated to a six-speed gearbox with the option of a Geartronic auto.
Design and Build
The success of the XC60's design is best expressed by the fact that it was on the market five years before Volvo got round to facelifting it. Indeed, sales wouldn't have been too badly affected had Volvo left it alone. The latest changes comprise a redesigned front featuring a re-sculpted bonnet. The Swedish company has made a concerted effort to remove any black trim pieces from the exterior to create a more upmarket, cohesive look. The headlamps have been redesigned and the horizontal lines on the grille with its chrome bars emphasise the car's width. The XC60 also benefits from an interior upgrade. There are now better quality wood inlays, a plusher headlining, textile B-pillars and there are also some very well finished silk metal frames around the air vents and light controls. When you're trying to sell against an Audi Q5, this sort of thing assumes showroom importance.
The rear seats remain a little higher than the front pair to give better visibility for children and the two outer seats in the back can be specified with two-stage booster cushions. The interior feels very airy courtesy of some serious glazing overhead, the laminated glass panorama roof being one of the biggest in the sector. The load opening at the back is also the widest amongst the XC60's direct competition, opening to reveal a 480-litre capacity. As in the XC70, the rear seat is a three-piece affair that folds 40-20-40, with each section capable of folding down completely flat.
Market and Model
Perhaps the most revolutionary piece of equipment in the XC60's arsenal is its amazing City Safety function. This is Volvo's technology for avoiding low-speed collisions in city traffic and tailbacks. If the car is about to drive into the vehicle in front and the driver does not react, the car brakes itself. Volvo claims that it's the first manufacturer in the world to offer this type of feature as standard.
Other technological highlights of the XC60 include the Sensus Connected Touch accessory that enables connectivity and Internet in the car and turns the 7-inch display into a state-of-the-art infrared, beam-scanned touch screen that can be used even when wearing gloves - a world first in cars and handy in winter. Connection is made either via a car-mounted 3G/4G dongle or the driver's mobile phone. Plus there's one of the best optional stereo installations available on a car at this level. The Premium Sound system features 12 Dynaudio speakers and a Dolby Pro Logic II Surround amplifier delivering 5x130 watts. An optional digital subwoofer under the floor bolsters that with an additional 260 watts.
Cost of Ownership
The most popular model in the XC60 diesel range, the D4, is available in either front or four-wheel drive guises. The front wheel drive 2.0-litre engine makes 53.3mpg on the combined cycle and the 2.4-litre four-wheel drive version makes, er, 53.3mpg as well. If you can figure that one out, you're doing better than me. Step up to the 215PS D5 diesel and your fuel economy is 53.3mpg, at which point you may well abandon hope of finding logic in the XC60's fuel economy figures and just drive the petrol T6, expecting 53.3mpg. Unfortunately you get rewarded with 26.4mpg - identical to 420PS worth of Porsche Cayenne GTS. Confused yet?
A more straightforward story comes with overall cost to run figures, which also encompass residual values. The XC60 has always done extremely well here, with the entry-level car scoring a creditable 72.4 pence per mile over three years and 36,000 miles. By contrast, the entry level version of the BMW X3 will run you 75.0 ppm. Emissions are kept in check with the front-wheel drive D4 good for 139g/km, the all-wheel drive car netting 139g/km and the powerful D5 registering 139g/km. You saw that one coming, didn't you?
The Volvo XC60 has earned its spurs but don't think that this facelift is a signal for a steady decline into its dotage. The compact SUV market isn't like that. Consider this. The top five best-selling citycar models account for 81 per cent of all citycar sales. For executive cars, the figure is 91 per cent and for luxury cars, it's 83.4 per cent. For SUVs, it stands at just 34 per cent, which means that there's so much choice, sales are spread more evenly amongst the key contenders. That's how the XC60 has continued to prove profitable, doing very well for itself amongst mature family buyers who want something stylish but not too in your face.
The latest model will continue to fill this niche. Rivals will come and go, but there's something unique about Volvo's image that will ensure that a quality product will be rewarded with sales. This latest XC60 isn't going to have its rivals reaching for their drawing boards. It's as you were. Brand values count, you see.