Car reviews - Volvo - XC60 - D5 R-Design
Lush cabin, impressive equipment, fantastic infotainment, punchy diesel, slick steering, good standard suspension (and even better air suspension)
Room for improvement
Heated seats optional, cedes outright dynamic nous to BMW X3, fuel usage in the real world
4 Jan 2019
IT WAS a memorable moment at the Paris motor show of late 2014. An interview with a Volvo executive was running too long, but he was insisting that the Swedish brand should not follow the course of German rivals. It was aggressive sportiness out and plushness in, starting with the new Scalable Platform Architecture (SPA) that first debuted in the XC90, then S90, and now this XC60.
Volvos must be joyful to drive and spirited, he claimed, but also be warm and welcoming, never overtly driver focused. It was refreshing at a time when SUV models were starting to become the Nurburgring norm, but also a contrast when, back home, the local focus was on V8 Supercars and Polestar-bred sporting nous from a former managing director who believed Volvo should be BMW.
With all this in mind comes the most important car for Volvo to debut here, the second-generation XC60 into a booming medium SUV class a decade after the nameplate launched, and tested here in the centre of the range with the D5 R-Design – two model grades left below it, and a duo above it.
So which philosophy has won out? Is this just a cookie-cutter SUV to rub shoulders with ever-sportier Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Mercedes-Benz GLC rivals, or is it absolutely its own thing?
Price and equipment
Volvo has made the XC60 range simple. Base is the D4 Momentum at $61,990 plus on-road costs, while the D5 R-Design tested here is $75,990 with a second turbocharger for the 2.0-litre diesel engine. They then overlap with the petrol $64,990 T5 Momentum and $78,990 T6 R-Design.
As the name suggests the D5 gets an R-Design bodykit as standard equipment, which brings with it 21-inch alloy wheels. Unlike with a $3150-cheaper Audi Q5 2.0 TDI quattro – which leaves the following items on the options list – LED headlights with automatic-adaptive high-beam are standard, as well as a colour head-up display, surround-view camera and automatic-park assistance.
That is all in addition to adaptive cruise control, all-speed autonomous emergency braking (AEB), blind-spot monitor, lane-keep assistance, keyless auto-entry with push-button start, electric tailgate, part-Nappa leather trim with electrically adjustable front seats and four-zone climate control.
As-tested, the XC60 D5 R-Design also came with heated seats as the only ($500) option.
Just as Audi’s Q5 has dropped the ball on interior quality, with hard and scratchy lower dashboard plastics, Volvo’s XC60 steps up to become the new class benchmark. Sure, the textured soft-touch surfacing and aluminium inserts are nice, but the lush carpet and squidgy trim everywhere below the beltline prove that the D5 R-Design offers more than just a premium veneer of cabin finish.
Meanwhile the 9.0-inch portrait touchscreen surpasses both the aforementioned rival, and the iDrive system in a similarly new BMW X3, with both crisp graphics and breezy intuition.
With navigation, digital radio/media, phone and Apple CarPlay stacked in vertical blocks above each other, and active safety or other options a swipe away horizontally to the left or right, this is children’s-book simplicity for standard functions that others such as BMW bury beneath sub-menus. In an X3, changing the active safety menu is a four-step process. In the XC60, it is swipe once and click.
While the front seats are also among the most lush and supportive to be found in any new vehicle, it is the rear bench that impresses to an even greater degree, with enough depth and breadth to accommodate the largest adult. There is also amazingly generous rear legroom and toe space, and unique and inspired B-pillar air vents further complemented by centre vents (and climate controls).
The only downsides include the lack of integrated rear booster seats that are a Volvo hallmark, which the company has added after launch, and the lack of underfloor storage for the generous 505-litre boot.
Engine and transmission
Audi uses a whole 48-volt electrical system to run a compressor that electrically spins a turbocharger from idle to reduce turbo lag. Volvo? It sweeps certain exhaust gases into a holding pattern then fires it into the turbine wheel to have much the same effect, but more cheaply. Further supported by not one, but two turbochargers, and this 2.0-litre diesel proves to be a brilliant engine.
Despite tipping the scales at 1918kg, the XC60 D5 R-Design leaps eagerly from a standing start and, if the slick eight-speed automatic is caught in a taller gear when quick overtaking is required, it can still deliver 480Nm of torque between 1750rpm and 2250rpm. Add in 173kW of power at 4000rpm, though, and the claimed 7.2-second 0-100km/h is seven-tenths faster than a Q5 diesel.
The diesel is also surprisingly couth and refined, which along with the excellent cabin quality, emphasises a totality of premium engineering.
A single downside, though, concerns fuel consumption. Despite an even mix of freeway, country and light urban driving, the combined-cycle claim of 5.6 litres per 100 kilometres blew out to 9.0L/100km on test. That was still better than the 12.0L/100km of its petrol T6 R-Design sibling tested in similar conditions in the weeks following this test, but it is still not quite good enough.
Ride and handling
It could be apt that this brand new chassis is dubbed SPA, because driving this XC60 evokes a quiet, relaxing sigh of relief after some mediocre on-road performances from Volvos past. To an extent that even includes the XC90, which feels like a heavier, less finessed XC60.
Despite rolling on 21-inch alloy wheels, the ride quality on standard suspension – with a unique east-west-facing leaf spring design – is pleasantly firm and disciplined while never being harsh.
Sure, some bumps prod into the cabin, but there is always a level calm to the D5’s body motions.
Switching to an example with optional ($2490) air suspension following this test revealed a superb added layer of cushiness while barely sacrificing any control, minor head-toss excepted. But either way, both chassis configurations are sorted.
This R-Design is also quiet from road noise, and despite the near-two-tonne kerb weight it feels nimble and agile around town, complemented by superbly resistance-free and quick steering that feels more light hatchback than lumbering SUV.
Sure, for outright dynamics on a twisty road the XC60 starts to fray at the edges, pushing into understeer and heaving side-to-side, but Volvo has very evidently picked urban enjoyment and ride comfort as priorities over razor-sharp dynamics.
Safety and servicing
Seven airbags (including dual-front, front-side, curtain and driver’s knee), ABS, electronic stability control (ESC), front and rear parking sensors with surround-view camera, blind-spot monitor, lane-departure warning and lane-keep assistance, and autonomous emergency braking (AEB) feature on the XC60.
The Volvo XC60 achieved five stars with 37.25 out of 38 points when tested by NCAP in 2017.
With annual or 15,000km servicing intervals, Volvo charges a higher-than-average $2225 over three years, $3500 over four years and $4230 over five years to service the XC60 D5 R-Design.
There is a slick cohesion about the XC60 that meant for three weeks swapping between models, there was not once any annoyance or ergonomic flaw. That in itself is an achievement given the complexity of modern vehicles and frequent attempts to be too many things to too many people.
Instead, it is worth recalling the words of that Volvo executive mentioned at the start. The D5 R-Design feels like a family Labrador, but a well-groomed one that would look right at home sitting out the front of a hipster café. It is warm and well-rounded, accommodating and enjoyable to drive.
Sealing the deal is the fact that it feels premium inside, yet it is so well equipped that it needs not an extra option to shine – although air suspension, heated pews and premium audio would be nice.
Without a racetrack focus in mind, the XC60 D5 R-Design becomes all the better for it, and any family buyer looking for a premium medium SUV should feel right at home.
Audi Q5 2.0 TDI quattro s tronic Sport from $70,700 plus on-road costs
Roomy but dour inside, with less power and a more brittle ride than the Volvo.
BMW X3 xDrive20d from $68,900 plus on-road costs
Excellent handling, but rear-seat lacks plushness and ride misses some finesse.
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Model release date: 1 October 2017
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