Volvo's XC60 shows the compact 4x4's softer side. June Neary reports.
Will It Suit Me?
Some 4x4s are all about the rough and ready image, the tough looks and the chrome. Volvo's recent efforts have come at the market with slightly gentler sensibilities. The XC90 has been a big hit with its comfort, safety credentials and family-friendly interior, while the improved XC60 that we look at here aims to squeeze similar attributes into a more compact package. On the face of it, the plan seems a good one. Can we really class a 1,825kg car measuring 4,628mm in length and 1,891mm in width as a 'compact' 4x4? Volvo's marketing department says we can, so we'll go with them on that one. The suspension of disbelief is made easier by the way the XC60's exterior styling disguises its bulk. This isn't a 4x4 from the super-aggressive chrome-spangled school and that will please buyers wanting to maintain a low profile about town. That's not to say that this isn't a handsome car. There's some attractive detailing around the bodywork and Volvo's latest styling cues are put to good use but the look from some angles is more that of a jacked-up estate than a 4x4.
Like Volvo's XC90, the XC60 places a lot of emphasis on the interior and its practicality. It makes sense really. The rear seats, which offer generous quantities of legroom by the way, are split 40/20/40 and each can be folded down at the release of a catch. Parents will go all gooey over the integrated child booster cushions that are available as an option. These simply fold out of the seat base and can be set at one of two heights. Under the boot floor, there's a secure storage area that can't be opened without the tailgate being lifted, making it a great place to keep valuable items safe when the car's parked. The general quality of the interior is also well up to snuff. The windscreen wipers on our test vehicle made an interminable racket sounding like Donald Duck on helium and the satellite navigation system controls mounted on the reverse of the steering wheel aren't the most intuitive to use. Build and materials quality is tough to fault, however, and the 'Scandinavian Design' on which the manufacturer prides itself sets the XC60 apart from rivals that slavishly ape cold Germanic themes. And so we come to the XC60's secret weapon; safety. Just when rivals thought they'd reigned Volvo back in by matching its airbag and seatbelt pre-tensioner quotas, the Swedes have leaped ahead again with 'City Safety'. This technology uses an array of lasers mounted ahead of the rear view mirror to scan the road 6 meters ahead of the car. If it detects another vehicle and calculates from the closing speed that a collision is imminent, it applies the brakes and can bring the XC60 to a complete stop at lower speeds. In urban traffic, it's incredibly effective and has the potential to illuminate the low speed collisions that account for more than 75% of all accidents. Most impressive of all is that along with DSTC stability control, RSC Roll Stability Control, a hugely advanced braking system and a vast array of airbags, 'City Safety' is standard on all XC60 models.
Behind the Wheel
The XC60 may be a compact 4x4 but 'Compact' isn't a word that immediately springs to mind when driving it. The vehicle feels (and is) on the large side. The 215bhp D5 diesel engine we tested copes very adeptly with its bulk however and the big Volvo also corners with a surprising degree of composure. Volvo also offers its own 181bhp 2.0-litre diesel unit, plus minority interest two and four-wheel drive petrol T6 models. Body roll, the dynamic nemesis of high-riding 4x4 vehicles, is very well controlled and although the suspension does shudder a little over poor road surfaces, the ride is generally smooth. Volvo's past 4x4 efforts haven't been at home in an off-road environment but the XC60 promises to be the best of the lot. Its 230mm ground clearance is superior to the larger XC90, there's a 22 degree approach angle and the wading depth is 350mm. This still isn't a vehicle you'd want to tackle serious obstacles in but with torque automatically distributed between all four wheels by the Intelligent Traction 4x4 system, it should trundle down muddy tracks and take pesky gravel driveways in its stride.
Value For Money
The XC60 is priced at the upper end of the compact 4x4 segment. Volvo's take on that is that it represents a pretty small premium over, say, a Toyota RAV4 or a Honda CR-V for a much stronger product. And they point out that there are useful savings to be made if you're comparing this car with more natural premium competitors like Audi's Q5. Standard equipment includes 17" alloy wheels, powered heated mirrors, electronic climate control, split folding seats and the Performance audio system. Other technological highlights 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
Could I Live With One?
I've driven a lot of 4x4s that have left me distinctly under-whelmed. Lots of models come across as brash and overbearing but can't back that up with the comfort and practicality that family buyers need. The XC60 was a different proposition. It still retained the chunky 4x4 looks and the high driving position, which I must admit to having a soft spot for, but the practical interior and comfort factor were impressive. The fact that the 'City Safety' feature is included as standard is a massive plus point too.