Removing the 'Sport' from SUV, the new Volvo XC60 is a refreshingly honest family car that's big on style, comfort and safety. Here we test drive it in D5 AWD guise.
In the metal
Off the back of its full-size XC90 SUV Volvo has carved a niche for no-nonsense, neatly styled vehicles and the new XC60 very much builds on that. It's a fine looking compact SUV with crisp lines that help push the XC60 into the premium sphere, against rivals such as the BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLC, Jaguar F-Pace, Porsche Macan and the best-selling Audi Q5. Comfortably a match for them in the head-turning stakes, the XC60's long bonnet, slim headlights and neat detail lines on the flanks lengthen it, giving the Volvo an almost high-riding estate car look rather than conventional SUV - and it's all the better for it. The tailgate, the XC60's least appealing view, is a bit messy, though opening it reveals a decent-sized boot and a cabin that's refreshingly different.
That is assuming you've not sat in the XC60's bigger relation. If so, then the upright nine-inch touchscreen in the centre of the dash will be familiar, as will Volvo's surface treatments and style elsewhere around the cabin. That's largely a good thing, as Volvo has its own design signature, one that's clearly focused on visual simplicity. It achieves that, though the many layered menus of that touchscreen control do require a bit of patience to master, so the cabin's control tidiness at times denies it operational ease. Elsewhere it's pleasingly different, where, for example, Volvo retains a traditional automatic shifter that moves to its different positions. The seats are supremely comfortable and the airy cabin seems built from tight-fitting materials that exude quality, underlining the firm's upmarket pretensions. There are no paddle-shifters here for the transmission, either, which is something of a give-away to how the XC60 will drive.
Volvo's chassis people say that the XC60, based on the same platform as the bigger XC90, has been tuned for a little bit more driver appeal. That's in the traditional sense, though a few kilometres behind the wheel reveals the XC60 is different from the class norm. There's no real pretence towards delivering a 'sporting' drive, so the XC60 majors on comfort, and it's no worse for it. There's loads of mechanical grip and plenty of traction from the standard all-wheel-drive system, plus the ride is nicely supple. The XC60 is almost entirely devoid of feel, but that is no real issue here.
What's impressive is how damn relaxing an environment it is, starting with the smart surroundings of the cabin with its feel- and look-good materials, the comfortable seats and the minimalist controls (once you've mastered getting it all set up like you want it). That helps make this about as chilled a car as we've ever driven, which is a very good thing, though Volvo does ruin the vibe a little if you opt for the autonomous driving aids. Rather than pile on more ease, they actually distract and disappoint. Yes, the Drive Pilot will help you keep in lane at a set speed, but it does so by bouncing around between the white lines like a pinball, while the accelerator and braking inputs are a bit clumsy, too. Best then to leave them off - or make sure you don't pay for them in the first place - and drive it yourself, as it's not in any way taxing.
Volvo's City Safety system, which helps avoid - or at least significantly lessen the impact of - those distracted town knocks, is standard. There's an evasive steering aid now, too, which adds torque to the steering to help you steer more effectively if you're surprised by a pedestrian or suchlike in your path. Other cool tech in this range-topping D5 diesel includes Volvo's PowerPulse, which uses pressurised air to pre-charge the turbos to prevent lag. It works, as well, so the D5's response is quick; it's a quiet, powerful unit too, adding to that overall serenity. In top spec as tested here it comes with electronically controlled air suspension, which is overkill, as is the ability to adjust the powertrain and chassis settings. It's inconceivable that you'll ever want to drive the XC60 in anything other than the Comfort setting.
What you get for your money
Volvo's pushing hard in a competitive class, so alongside its cool design it's offering customers a great value offering when it comes to equipment. The Momentum entry trim has leather upholstery, two-zone climate control, that large touch screen and more besides. You don't need anything else, really, though the R-Design model looks sportier.
Thanks to good looks, plenty of equipment and epic comfort and refinement, there's a lot to like, even love about the new Volvo XC60. The Swedish company is in resurgent form, which the XC60 demonstrates, and underlines it's not afraid to carve out its own niche within the busy premium SUV marketplace.