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Car reviews - Volvo - XC60 - 5-dr wagon range

Our Opinion

We like
Usual Volvo safety, space and practicality attributes, bike-focussed City Safety, lusty turbo I6, gutsy D5 diesel, smooth 17-inch wheel ride
Room for improvement
Roly-poly handling on standard suspension, feel-free steering, T4 needs to be worked hard, hard ride on 20s

Volvo logo31 Oct 2013

QUESTION: What’s Volvo’s bestseller globally? Answer: XC60.

If you couldn’t figure that one out, you haven’t been paying attention in the leafy suburbs across this great nation – and in many others to boot – where the Swedish mid-sized SUV has become a darling of the school-run set.

With good reason too. When launched in 2009, the smartly attired, well equipped and extremely family friendly XC60 gave both BMW and Mercedes a huge fright, wooing the wealthier middle classes away from their hitherto default X3s and ML-Classes.

Developed during the Ford years, and using a variation of the EUCD platform that underpins a bunch of models from the Mondeo and S-Max people mover to Volvo’s own S60/V70/S80 fraternal triplets, the XC60 has proved to be a reliable and dependable proposition.

That the Germans quickly overtook it for dynamic finesse and drivetrain efficiency with fresher rivals such as the Audi Q5 and second-gen X3 hardly mattered. The Volvo is one of those ground-roots right-from-the-beginning tool-for-task vehicles that owners seem to love. It’s a bit like the Labrador of cars.

But all that was almost five years ago, and the need for some botox has become all too obvious in this post Range Rover Evoque day. Infiniti’s here with the FX/QX60 and Audi has pretty much carved out the segment immediately below with the popular Q3. The Series II (or MY14) facelift, then, is more of the same, but with a subtly updated (though some might say blander) nose treatment, and a number of important safety upgrades.

Key to the latter is an improved City Safety low-speed anti-collision braking system that now not only works at a higher 50km/h but also recognises cyclists when something inadvertently strays into its path and the brakes need to be applied instantly. The XC60 pioneered this back in late ’09 and the system is now better than ever.

Likewise the same goes to the improved rear parking radar, upgraded lane-change, and smarter blind-spot alert capabilities.

The instrument binnacle adopts the V40’s adaptive digital display, and there are new colours and trim materials to further freshen up the cabin, but otherwise the roomy Volvo’s lofty driving position, superb seating, solid build quality, and bags of practicality remain defining traits. Why change what ain’t broke?But there are a few wrinkles showing.

First off, the base T4 (using a variation of Ford’s 2.0-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder petrol engine mated to the Powershift six-speed dual-clutch ‘auto’) is a smooth, quiet, and revvy unit – but one that struggles with the nearly two-tonne kerb weight that it needs to haul about.

Around the fine Victorian highland country roads where the launch was held, the poor engine had to be worked hard just to keep up with the more powerful five and six-cylinder turbo versions ahead.

Yet, as an entry-level proposition for the urban run, the T4 is perfectly suited, with a level of refinement and sophistication that owners are likely to appreciate. Maybe Volvo should have let us drive it around the ‘burbs where most of these seem to congregate.

More money buys the 2.0-litre five-cylinder turbo-diesel D4 (Volvo’s engine nomenclature is utterly confusing, we know), which adds that much-needed torque boost. It’s also pretty quiet and subdued, and perhaps a better choice for XC60 buyers on a budget.

Both these units are front-wheel drive only, with an emphasis on ride over handling. This is obvious the moment you push wide through a tight corner, but the Volvo’s chassis grips well despite the propensity for body roll. If you’re an enthusiastic driver who appreciates steering feedback and tight body control, perhaps this isn’t the SUV for you. Otherwise, you have nothing to worry about.

Historically the D5 has been the best-seller, and with the sportier R-Design chassis application (better tied-down suspension, sharper steering, and all-wheel drive), the XC60 becomes a more focussed dynamic performer, with a more confident cornering attitude and even better grip from the fatter rubber on offer.

Plus, there is usefully more poke from the uprated 2.4-litre five-pot turbo-diesel, to better power you through an overtaking manoeuvre. But the R-Design 20-inch wheel and tyre option makes for a hard ride on anything other than smooth surfaces.

For sheer straight-line performance, the 3.0-litre turbo-six petrol stormer really suits the XC60’s premium aspirations, bringing a level of drivetrain refinement as well as outright urge that the other engines simply can’t match.

And, again, while you’d never call it a driver’s SUV, there is enough grip to make this T6 version a bit of a lofty and languid grand tourer. At nearly $80K and with a long list of standard features, it also presents a bit of a value purchase for those wanting a crossover packed with some of life’s little luxuries.

That pretty much sums up the latest XC60 – a safe, swift, and secure upmarket SUV package with just enough change to justify a visit down to your local Volvo dealer.

We wish there was more steering feel, and the ride on larger wheels could be an issue for some, but otherwise the classy Swede’s got what it takes to keep the dynamically superior segment leaders on their toes. Like it’s done so since early 2009.

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