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Car reviews - Volvo - XC60 - T5 Inscription

Our Opinion

We like
Safety features, DAB-equipped sound system, clever climate control, willing engine, instrumentation
Room for improvement
Steering feel, weight, hyperactive high-beam, climate controls off screen please

Gallery

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Volvo logo12 Feb 2018

By STUART MARTIN

Overview

WADING back into battle in the premium mid-size SUV segment with anything other than your best game-face on is hugely risky.

Volvo’s new XC60 has to contend with the aspirational Germans, resurgent Brits and even the Italian-Americans, as well as the upstart Japanese representatives from the price bracket below it.

Following on from the much-improved XC90, with which it now shares a platform, the XC60 squares off against the Audi Q5, BMW X3 et al with an arsenal of safety gear, a stylish and comfortable cabin and a face that those other than the parents can love.

Price and equipment

The variant on test is the T5 Inscription that’s priced from $69,990 plus on-road costs and sits mid-range between the entry-level Momentum and top-spec R-Design, putting it within spitting distance of its key opposition.

All offer similar levels of grunt to the heavier Volvo, starting with Audi’s slightly-swifter Q5 TFSI Sport, priced from $73,211 and offering 185kW and 370Nm, a seven-speed auto and a claim of 7.3 litres per 100km.

BMW’s X3 xDrive30i petrol asks a little more, wearing a pricetag that starts from $76,900 and brings with it an eight-speed auto teamed with a slightly-thirstier 185kW/350Nm 2.0-litre turbo, putting it on par with the Audi and quicker than the Volvo and the Jaguar F-Pace.

Jaguar’s F-Pace, even in base 2.0 Prestige petrol AWD form, asks more than the Europeans, starting from an exorbitant $82,315 despite offering similar numbers (apart from a bigger boot and a little more torque) across the board.

A big-seller in the segment is the Land Rover Discovery Sport, boasting more off-road capability and the option of a third row of seats with 213kW and 400Nm starting from a $70,858 asking price for the Si4 SE.

Land Rover also has the new $78,750 184kW/365Nm two-litre petrol Range Rover Velar dwelling a little further up the price range (when looking at the petrol side of the ledger) but Mercedes-Benz leads the segment for sales with the GLC.

The German brand offers the GLC in coupe and wagon guises and the GLC250 petrol asks $70,611 for its 155kW/350Nm 2.0-litre turbo four, which is hooked up to a nine-speed auto and runs a rear-biased 4WD system.

Volvo’s feature list kicks off with 20-inch alloy wheels (with a space saver spare), a digital-radio equipped 10-speaker sound system, controlled by a 9.0-inch vertically oriented touchscreen, equipped with Bluetooth, USB, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto input options, a head-up display, in-car apps, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, sat nav with voice control and road sign recognition.

There’s also keyless entry for doors and handsfree tailgate operation, a model-specific front grille treatment, roof rails, puddle lights, the useful one-touch child door and window lock controls, although sadly Volvo has taken one child-friendly feature from the XC60’s repertoire.

The integrated booster seat cushions have been omitted from the features list, but with stated intentions of having them return at some point, according to staffers at the launch.

The test vehicle had a number of options including heated front seats for $500 (which should really be standard fare on something in this bracket), a panoramic sunroof for $2950, $650 worth of rear privacy glass (another feature that should now be standard), the power cushion extension ($350 but it too should be a standard part of the power-adjustable seats) and an exorbitant $1900 for metallic paint.

An optional Bowers and Wilkins sound system is $4500 well-spent. It produces the sort of beefy noise required to relax after the school run – a 10-channel amp, 1400 watts of output through 15 speakers, from a centre tweeter through to a subwoofer.

Also on the options list are the ventilated seats covered in Nappa leather that are a $2950 option but worthwhile in a hot climate, taking the as-tested price to $83,790.

Interior

Sculpted and subtle, the Volvo cabin of the 21st century is akin to a Swedish health retreat on wheels.

The quad-zone climate control takes its cue from the key fob, evacuating the cabin air when the unlock button is pushed to offer up a more comfortable cabin with cooler air less laden with any chemicals from hot interior plastics, but putting the controls on the dash rather than in the 9.0-inch centre touchscreen might work better.

The leather-clad seating looks less encompassing and comfortable than it is.

Once in there’s no shortage of luxurious support with the ability to wind the bolsters up a little.

The driver is left in no doubt as to what’s going on ahead of them, with an excellent 12.3-inch electronic instrument display tailored to the drive mode and driver’s preference, including the ability to display the map between images of traditional dials.

A personal preference for the Volkswagen/Audi set-up is not by as great a margin as it once was, as the Volvo system is easy enough to decipher.

That said, the buttons on the wheel to control the pop-up displays didn’t always seem to be as obedient as they should be, even when at a standstill.

A twist of the start-stop knob is a new take on the ignition process it’s less likely to be accused of change for the sake of it than the key fob is (the side-mounted buttons remains difficult to decipher) but aside from that only the absence of climate control buttons on the centre stack are cause for complaint.

The centre console has good and clever storage, with the rear section sitting at a height that also works as an effective centre armrest and vents, fan controls and a 12-volt outlet for the rear passengers.

Rear occupants have useful amounts of head and legroom and also get a centre armrest with cupholders and vents in the B-pillars, putting the Volvo firmly in the favourite category when it comes to keeping the rear passengers at the right temperature.

Boot space is listed at 505 litres, thanks in part to the presence of a space-saver spare tyre beneath the floor there are also tie-down points and a 12-volt outlet in the cargo area.

Engine and transmission

Like most of its competition, the Volvo is using a highly-strung 2.0-litre turbocharged engine to drive all four wheels, although its predominantly concerned with rotating the front pair.

Running centrally positioned direct injection and using an idle-stop system to improve its fuel economy and emissions, the willing and flexible turbo produces 187kW at 5500rpm, backed by 350Nm of torque between 1500 and 4800 rpm.

The engine is quiet at cruising – 110km/h equates to 2000rpm – and the torque on offer means the in-gear acceleration is more than adequate, without being outstanding. It is after all a two-tonne proposition with a couple of crew on board.

Volvo claims a sprint to 100km/h in 6.8 seconds and a 220km/h top speed, but regular efforts to do those numbers won’t have it returning the claimed ADR fuel use figure of 7.8 litres per 100km.

The trip computer spent most of its time showing double-digit fuel use, drinking PULP from the 60-litre tank at a rate of 10.4 litres per 100km at an average of 48km/h after our time in the vehicle, with numbers in the early teens after more spirited hills driving had been completed.

Access to eight gears would help bring that down to single digits with more sedate throttle applications and open-road trips the automatic does its job without complaint, firing up to a more aggressive state of mind in the Dynamic mode.

A manual shift mode of sorts is on offer on the lever but no paddles are found on the steering wheel – the transmission does a decent job of picking the best gear for most of the situations this Swedish family wagon will encounter.

The XC60 runs the latest-generation of the BorgWarner four-wheel-drive system, running predominantly front-wheel drive but sends up to 50 per cent to the rear as required, including getting away from standstill when all four wheels are involved for maximum traction when taking off.

The Volvo matches its key German competition with a 2400kg braked towing capacity and is 400kg better than the more powerful Disco Sport.

Ride and handling

There’s much to like about the all-new XC60 and it quickly endears itself to the occupants for its comfortable demeanour around town.

It is further toward the comfort end of the spectrum than some of its German and British opposition, sitting on a double-wishbone front suspension (double wishbone) and integral link with transverse composite leaf spring rear suspension, an unconventional but seemingly effective set-up.

In the cut and thrust of metropolitan motoring the XC60 deals with most grades of bitumen well and given the test vehicle hasn’t been upgraded with the optional air suspension, there’s much to like.

Ride quality and cabin refinement are both above average for the segment. What passes for an acceptable suburban road surface in Australia is dealt with well by the Volvo’s suspension, although some thump from the low 45-profile rubber on the 20-inch alloy wheels makes it through, but mainly to the ears and not the rears.

Larger undulations present little concern to the Swedish SUV, which has followed the path of the XC90 (with which it shares its platform) in feeling more composed under trying conditions.

The Swedish brand has been criticised for underdone damping and a lack of suspension travel previously and while the latter still seems to be something of an issue, the former is much improved on the all-new XC60.

Only when pushed hard does the Volvo’s suspension feel as though it is working out of its comfort zone it doesn’t shirk its duties when pushed hard on winding bitumen.

Selecting Dynamic mode on the awkward roller-wheel in the centre console tightens up the steering – which is still over-assisted even when operating in the most aggressive of its modes – but the throttle response, powerplant and transmission all get with the program.

The enthusiasm of the automatic is a good thing given the absence of paddle shifters (a $400 optional sports steering wheel has them). A manual change of sorts is offered by way of the lever but don’t expect it to hover near the rev limiter and not opt for the next gear up.

Body control is commendable and there’s little in the way of scrabbling from the front wheels under power when departing a corner, however it can show a desire to run its nose wide if pushed hard.

It’s clearly happier at a brisk if genteel pace and seems happy to leave the Germans and Brits to the faster corner-carving exercises, although the options list has remedies if needed, with a sports suspension system or the adaptively-damped air suspension on offer.

The XC60 has an “off-road” mode but its definition of off-road may only extend to a damp grass carpark at a sporting event it’s far from a common past-time for the combatants in this segment.

The XC60 does claim 230mm of ground clearance, a 350mm wading depth and approach, departure and ramp-over angles over 20 degrees, as well as an off-road drive mode to tailor the electronic nursemaids and the apportionment of drive front to rear, but decent dirt roads, snow and perhaps the odd beach drive will be the most this and its opposition are asked to traverse and it should comply without complaint.

Safety and servicing

Volvo has been long associated with safety ever since one of its engineers gave (quite literally) the world the lap-sash seatbelt.

The latest SUV from the Swedish brand has the City Safety automatic emergency braking system that detects pedestrian, cyclists, animals and even other vehicles, with functionality to detect a pending collision at an intersection or with oncoming traffic, offering steering ‘support’.

The adaptive cruise control ‘Pilot Assist’ is basically a semi-autonomous driving system, but it popped up as unavailable on several occasions for no apparent reason.

When functioning, it operates in a smooth and subtle manner, holding set speeds reasonably well behind other traffic (although downhill descents without a car in front it can still roll away enough for a ticket in Victoria), while teaming up with active lane keeping and blind spot warning systems, as well as rear cross traffic alert and rear collision warning.

Hill start assist and hill descent control are also part of the safety features list, with the automatic parking system, front and rear parking sensors and a 360-degree view camera system (which can be tailored) will help drivers who still want to do the job themselves.

It has rain-sensing wipers with integrated washers, dual front, front-side and full-length curtain airbags, as well as one for the driver’s knees, seatbelt reminder and display, Isofix points on the outboard rear seats but sadly no integrated booster cushions for juvenile occupants.

The Hammer Of Thor style headlights as Volvo calls them are active LEDs with automatic high beam and the ability to shroud the full beam from oncoming vehicles as well as those ahead, although the system is a little hyperactive and falls short of the smarter and more decisive Audi system.

There’s also auto-dimming mirrors inside and out and a head-up display that shows plenty of easily-deciphered information that’s easy to see at night but – like many manufacturers – there’s still an issue with polarising lenses.

Volvo offers a choice of service plans including three years and 45,000km (for $2225), four years and 60,000km asks $3500 and it’s $4230 for five years or 75,000km – for scheduled services, or Smartcare Plus ups the pricetag but adds certain extra items such as wiper blades, pollen filters and even a set of brake rotors, ranging in price from $3050, $5200 or $6400.

Verdict

The Chinese-owned Swedish car-maker has suffered something of an inferiority complex when it comes to the prestige brands in some eyes, not quite fitting in with the big brands from Germany, but the XC60 and its larger sibling have made great strides in changing perceptions of the Volvo brand.

Comfortable, versatile, handsome and capable, the XC60 has been priced to compete and has the skillset to put it on top of the prestige SUV shopping list.

Rivals

Audi Q5 TFSI Sport, from $73,211 plus on-road costs
The updated offering from Audi has no shortage of fans, with 185kW and 370Nm, a seven-speed auto, a clever AWD system and a claimed thirst of 7.3 litres per 100km. It offers plenty of dynamic ability but is firmer of ride and a little less commodious for occupants.

BMW X3 xDrive30i petrol, from $76,900 plus on-road costs
Similarly swift to the Audi, the Beemer has a dynamically-adept AWD system and lays claim to eight speeds in the auto, but still manages a 7.5L/100km ADR claim from the twin-scroll turbo 185kW/350Nm 2.0-litre – on par with the Audi and quicker than the Volvo and the Jaguar F-Pace.

Mercedes-Benz GLC250, from $70,611 plus on-road costs
The top-seller in the segment offers 20-inch alloy wheels, leather trim, plenty of active safety features for the driver and that three-pointed star all give it plenty of appeal to the buyers in this segment, not to mention the sharp pricetag, something for which this renowned brand is not always known.

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