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. Especially when it comes to 2WD variants fitted with the company's latest highly efficient 2.0-litre 16v D4 diesel engine. Jonathan Crouch reports
Ten Second Review
The revised Volvo XC60 offers a refreshed look and a class-leading 2.0-litre four cylinder diesel engine on 2WD variants badged 'D4'. These are the cars we'd recommend.
This XC60 is more smartly styled these days - particularly at the front where there's a much sleeker look. But the important stuff lies here beneath the bonnet. The 2WD entry-level D4 diesel model that almost all buyers choose now 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 nothing in the class that can match that. Otherwise, this XC60 continues on much as before, originally based upon 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 XC60 we look at here: 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.
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 new 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. I can see why customers might go for the older engine. After all, it's 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. All of which is true.... but. I can't help thinking that to choose an XC60 without the latest Drive-E 2.0-litre 16v diesel is to miss out on much of what this car has to offer. With the newer engine, this car costs significantly less yet can match the performance of the thirstier D5 powerplant (rest to 62mph in 8.1s en route to 130mph) while delivering running cost returns that are vastly better and offering the option of a much clever auto gearbox. As for 4x4 traction, well a decent set of winter tyres will give you most of what you'll need there.
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
Expect to pay somewhere in the £30,000 to £45,000 bracket for your XC60. That's the theory. In practice, most sales are made in the £30,000 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.
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 I 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 I'm 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. No other compact SUV can get anywhere near that. Your running cost returns aren't even very significantly affected if, as I 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.
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 and will be aided hugely in doing so by the excellence of Volvo's latest 2.0-litre 16v four cylinder D4 diesel engine. There's quite simply nothing comparable that's as powerful and efficient. Add those virtues to core brand values like build quality and safety and you've a product that'll have more widespread appeal than ever before.