If you're thinking of buying a premium badged compact SUV, you might not be thinking of buying a Volvo XC60. Thanks to a recently enhanced and impressively efficient range of Drive-E engines, it really ought to figure in your calculations. Jonathan Crouch reports
Ten Second Review
Think of a premium-badged compact SUV and you probably think of something German - or maybe a Range Rover Evoque. We'd also suggest though, that you should be looking at the car we're going to look at here, Volvo's XC60. In its most affordable form, it's got a class-leading diesel engine that looks good on the balance sheet, while smarter looks and clever infotainment technology also add to its appeal. Further up the range, there's now an award-winning four-cylinder T5 petrol engine for those who want it. In short, this is still a strong package.
Think you know this car - Volvo's XC60? Think again. Yes, it's still a premium badge compact SUV that competes with cars like Audi's Q5 and BMW's X3. Yes, it's still super-safe and solidly built. Yes, you can still get it with the old Ford-derived 2.4-litre diesel engines. Beyond this point though, this car can these days offer a much stronger proposition. The important stuff lies here beneath the bonnet. The 2WD entry-level D4 diesel model that almost all buyers choose offers what for the time being is the most sophisticated and efficient engine in its segment. It's a 2.0-litre unit - Volvo's own - powered by what the brand calls 'Drive-E' technology which delivers the unlikely-sounding combination of an 8.1s 0-62mph capability and 62.8mpg combined cycle fuel economy. There's not much in the class that can match that. 'Drive-E' technology has also been applied to petrol power, hence the availability of a 245bhp T5 turbo petrol unit towards the top of the range. Add in a smart cabin with plenty of equipment and the latest Sensus infotainment gadgetry and you've a thoroughly rejuvenated product with all the tools to seriously worry its premium segment competitors. Let's try it.
If you were to place driving dynamics as a priority in your premium-badged compact SUV, then this Volvo probably wouldn't be the first car you'd turn to. But get behind the wheel and provided you don't come to a car of this kind wanting to hurl it from bend to bend, then this one does still have plenty to offer provided you choose carefully between the three chassis set-ups on offer - standard 'Dynamic', stiffer 'R-Design' and the preferable adjustable 'Four-C' system. An automatic gearbox suits this car too, though the kind you get will depend very much on the engine you choose. The under-the-bonnet stuff is the major thing you need to know about this improved XC60. Namely that 2WD versions get Volvo's sophisticated 190bhp Drive-E 2.0-litre four cylinder 16v diesel engine with its class-leading performance and efficiency combination and the option of an equally sophisticated 8-speed automatic transmission. The car is badged 'D4' and you should ask for it by name, though make sure when doing so that you understand you'll only be getting it in this form with two-wheel drive. That's because unfortunately, the Swedes haven't yet got around to mating this powerplant with an AWD chassis, so for the moment, XC60 buyers wanting 4x4 traction must have their cars with the older Ford-derived 2.4-litre five cylinder diesel unit still plumbed-in up-front and optionally mated, as before, to an older-style 6-speed Geartronic automatic gearbox. Here again, this Volvo wears a D4 badge, so the potential for confusion amongst buyers is obvious. We can see why customers might go for the older engine. After all, it's also been uprated to 190bhp to match the output of the 2WD model and its efficiency has been tweaked to keep pace with rivals. It's also understandable to conclude that there's not much point in buying a car of this kind if it isn't going to have the AWD traction to help you when the weather turns icy. And you might be considering that this old 2.4 can also be ordered with 220bhp to create the AWD D5 variant we tried. For the few buyers in this segment still wedded to petrol power, Volvo has also used 'Drive-E' technology to create a 2.0-litre four cylinder 245bhp T5 petrol variant with 350Nm of torque, the engine mated to an 8-speed auto gearbox.
Design and Build
The most recent styling changes include a redesigned front featuring a re-sculpted bonnet, sleeker headlamps and horizontal lines on the grille which, along with a bigger Volvo Badge, features chrome bars to emphasise the car's width. It's all been about creating a more upmarket, cohesive look. Under the skin, the whole thing's based on an originally Ford-derived chassis - the so-called 'EUCD' platform - for this Volvo's design dates back to the period when this Swedish brand was under Blue Oval ownership. From the same apparently humble underpinnings have sprung some great cars, this XC60 taking its place alongside products as diverse as the Land Rover Freelander, Ford's Galaxy, Mondeo and S-MAX and Volvo's own V70. At the wheel, the most recent updates aren't quite as obvious but the overall ambience is certainly a stage or two up-market from what it was before. There are now better quality wood inlays, a plusher headlining, smart textile-covered B-pillars and some very well finished silk metal frames around the air vents and light controls. When you're trying to sell against cars like Audi's Q5, this sort of thing has plenty of showroom importance. Ahead of you through the chunky four-spoke wheel lie clear, smartly finished instruments and there's the usual infortainment screen in the centre of the dash, though it is a little small unless you upgrade to the optional satellite navigation set-up.
Market and Model
Expect to pay somewhere in the £32,000 to £45,000 bracket for your XC60. That's the theory. In practice, most sales are made in the £32,000 to £35,000 bracket and are focused on the D4 models that almost all buyers choose. Bear in mind that of these, it's only the 2WD variants that get Volvo's far more sophisticated 'Drive-E' 2.0-litre 16v four cylinder 190bhp diesel engine. It's by far the best, most efficient and most sophisticated powerplant in the range and comes with the £1,500 option of an equally clever 8-speed automatic transmission. Pretty much the only reason I can think of for not choosing it would be if you had to have AWD. If that's the case, you can still choose an XC60 with a D4 badge but to cope with power going to all four wheels, it'll have to be one propelled by Volvo's older Ford-derived 2.4-litre five cylinder unit, also now upgraded to 190bhp to create parity with the 2WD model. This sells for an £1,800 premium over the 2WD model and here again, there's the £1,500 option of automatic transmission, though in this case, we're talking an older less efficient 6-speed gearbox. If you want more power, then the same 2.4-litre engine has been upgraded to 220bhp to create the D5 model, which comes only with AWD but still can't out-sprint a lower-powered 2WD D4 model equipped with the more modern Drive-E unit. That's the power of new technology for you. If you do want a D5, you're looking at a £2,000 premium over a comparable AWD D4.
Cost of Ownership
If the running costs associated with this class of car tend to put you off buying one, then here's where this XC60 has the potential to really surprise you. What if we were to tell you that the fuel and CO2 costs of running one of these were less than the cheapest 1.25-litre Ford Fiesta supermini? Well that's just what we are going to tell you. Fitted with Volvo's latest generation Drive-E 2.0-litre diesel engine, a 2WD XC60 delivers 62.8mpg on the combined cycle and just 117g/km of CO2. Your running cost returns aren't even very significantly affected if, as we probably would, you specify your 2WD XC60 D4 with Volvo's hi-tech 8-speed automatic gearbox - expect 60.1mpg on the combined cycle and 124g/km. That's because this auto transmission has a clever 'ECO+' feature that, when activated, softens throttle response, tweaks the climate control and the turbo cut-in point, changes the gearshift pattern and adds an 'Eco Coast' function that deactivates engine braking when cruising. If you want AWD traction with your XC60 and therefore have to have the older 2.4-litre diesel under the bonnet, you've inevitably got to accept that it will cost you more - though the returns are better than I expected given the age of this engine. Both D4 and D5 AWD manual models will return 54.3mpg on the combined cycle and 137g/km of CO2, which is actually very good by class standards. Even the T5 petrol model only puts out 157g/km of CO2.
When a car gets heavily revised well into its model life, it's normally a last-ditch attempt to keep it fresh and resist the inevitable sales slide into old age. But this feels different. This improved XC60 is, in almost every respect, a thoroughly revitalised car with its cutting edge infotainment gadgetry and most of all, its sophisticated Drive-E engines. And very much a worthy competitor for rivals of the calibre of Audi's Q5, BMW's X3 and the Range Rover Evoque. It could be even better of course - if Volvo had got around to fitting its new powerplant into an AWD chassis. The fact that for 4x4 traction, you have to have the old 2.4-litre five cylinder diesel engine that's been fitted to this car ever since its launch in 2008 is certainly a drawback. But even this unit is still a reasonable match for its rivals in terms of economy and cleanliness. Overall then, we think you'd like one.