Volvo XC60

The high-concept, low-impact XC60 sees Volvo establish its own niche in the fiercely contested medium-SUV division. If you can’t beat ’em, play a different game…

WORDS ANDY ENRIGHT

AS SLIPS of the tongue go, it was telling. “We hope you enjoy...” then a slight furrowing of the brow as Magdalena Morin, Volvo’s senior program director for the 60 series cars mentally translated the right descriptor of the XC60, “this perfect car.” Perfect.

That’s quite some billing. Everybody else, lay down your tools, it’s not going to get any better than this.

Perhaps you can forgive Morin a certain pride in a job well done. The old XC60 set a heck of a benchmark, having been on sale for nine years, with 2016 – its final full year on sale – netting its highest sales figures.

That’s not supposed to happen. The usual template is for cars to shift big numbers in the first three years whereupon buyer interest tails off. Which is why at first glance, it looks as if Volvo has played the design of the latest XC60 extremely safe.

It’s anything but a cop-out, though. In fact, this might be the biggest roll of the dice in the whole sector. The hugely customisable chassis architecture that underpins the XC60 – SPA, Scalable Product Architecture – won’t accept any engine bigger than a doughty four-pot up front. Forget the big V6s or five-pot warblers of the

past. Gothenburg is betting the house that you won’t miss ’em. Lutz Steigler, Volvo’s director of powertrains, accepts that this may cost a few customers. “Yes, of course there will be some who want a bigger engine and we may not retain those customers,” he says.

“But we are confident that we will attract more new customers as a result of improved efficiency.”

We’ve seen the SPA chassis on the 90-series Volvos of late and the XC60 is, in effect, a shortened version of the XC90’s floorpan. For Australia the powertrain choice will comprise five units to begin with, the petrol T5 and T6, the diesel D4 and D5 and the petrol/electric hybrid T8. Available on the Barcelona launch were the 235kW T6 and the 173kW D5, all auto and AWD, with the test cars rather annoyingly fitted with the air suspension and active damper setup that will be an option when they arrive in Australia in Q4 of this year. Those who don’t want to shell out for the clever air system will instead get a passive multi-link front and leaf-spring rear set-up. We’ll have to wait for the Australian launch to see how it acquits itself locally.

The presentation of the XC60 can’t fail to impress.

The styling is clean and sleek, the superstructure a little more cab-back than before, with a lower roofline and some slick detailing like the ‘Thor’s hammer’ LED daytime running lights. Drop inside and the Inscription trim cars are beautifully finished with ash blonde dash infills and perforated leather. There’s a portrait-orientated Windows CE-powered 9.3-inch touch screen on the centre console, something which Volvo is very proud of, bristling when I described it as ‘Teslastyle’.

“We thought of that first,” says Morgan Vos, the director of the infotainment platform, who’s overseeing a wholesale migration in the next couple of years to a powerful Android-based architecture. With Audi also on board with this tie-in with Google, Vos is confident that this system will gain enough momentum to become an industry standard. There’s not a whole lot wrong with the XC60’s current set-up though, dubbed Sensus.

Pairing phones, figuring out the nav and switching between audio functions is easy to get to grips with, the tile-based screen not acting as a major distraction.

You get both Android and Apple integration, too.

Passenger space is respectable both front and rear.

Even with a full-length glass sunroof scalping a few centimetres of headroom, there’s no issue with head or legroom in the rear, although the beltline cants up quite sharply in the back, denying smaller kids a view out. Somewhat oddly for a car that’s so much bigger in most key dimensions than its predecessor, the boot measures a mere 505 litres, most of its rivals adding another 50 litres or so. Certain compromises have had to be made for the luxury of being able to package a hybrid drive system underneath.

The T6’s supercharged and turbocharged engine makes all the numbers if given a merciless prodding but sounds charmless in its hollow acoustic signature and is unenthusiastic in its personality. Switch it into Dynamic mode and there’s a sound symposer system that accentuates the second-order firing sequence of the four-cylinder engine, with an almost imperceptible extra degree of gravel and bass. “We didn’t want to mimic the sound of a V6,” says Stiegler. “That would be odd. It’s a four-cylinder,” he shrugs. The Aisin eightspeed auto will drop a couple of gears adroitly and otherwise does well slurring through the ratios.

Three at last ?

Volvo hasn’t shut the door on threecylinder petrol engines making their way into the XC60. Although destined initially for the 40 series cars, with Ghentbuilt XC40s due to arrive here in Q2 2018, the three-pot could well have a place as an entrylevel engine for urban XC60 buyers.

Don’t hold your breath for a threecylinder diesel, though. Volvo looked at that tech but couldn’t make the numbers work when trying to balance cost, efficiency and demand.

The styling is clean and sleek, the superstructure a little more cab-back than before...

Swede or Sino?

All of the XC60s earmarked for initial Australian delivery are built in the Torslanda plant in Sweden, but there’s also a production facility for XC60 in Chengdu, China. At present, we’re not slated to get the Chinese imports but that could well change and sooner than many expect. Deliveries will be volume constrained and Volvo’s sales projections point to the fact that many markets will end up taking Chinese cars to cater for demand.

Inside line

1 Forward thinking

Sequential gear shifter nudges forward to change up. Stiegler admitted the benefits of the other ‘correct’ way but regulatory issues and customer expectation forced his hand.

2 Spoiler alert

The vast twin-pane glass roof pours light into the slick cabin. The front pane also slides and when it does, a neat mesh spoiler pops up to keep both errant bugs and wind noise out.

3 Get my drift?

Volvo design boss Thomas Ingenlath claimed that the XC60’s driftwood-themed interior suggests forward motion. Not sure about that, but the pale, distressed wood infills look classy.

Handling is safe and confidence inspiring up to a point, but doesn’t egg you on to discover exactly where that point is. Ride quality on the air springs is exemplary, despite the optional 20-inch alloys fitted to these test vehicles. BorgWarner AWD system is another which uses a centrifugal electro-hydraulic activator alter the front-rear torque split from almost 100:0 to 50:50 without recourse to an accumulator or a solenoid valve. In the XC60 such a system works admirably. For a Discovery Sport, it might be deemed a bit fey.

The D5 diesel suits the XC60’s character a whole lot better. It packs a stout 480Nm compared to the T6’s 400Nm, and with it arriving 450rpm earlier at just 1750rpm, the diesel engine makes the most of the auto box’s ability to plug you unerringly into the torque peak. The additional weight in the nose, which might be a deal-breaker in a Macan, makes little to no real-world difference here. The D5 also buys you an extremely cool piece of technology, dubbed Power Pulse. An electric compressor fills a reservoir with compressed air. Put some demand on the turbocharger at low revs – where turbos traditionally struggle to spool up from exhaust gases and therefore give that nasty feeling of lag – and the Power Pulse system releases a puff of compressed air to spin up the turbo’s vanes. The reservoir and compressor sit where the battery radiators on the hybrid cars would normally reside, so it’s a smart, effective and relatively cheap way to overcome a problem that has tested engineers for years.

It doesn’t work with petrol engines though. Due to the different ways diesel and petrol engines burn their fuels, there’s a minimal NOx emissions penalty with the diesels but a sizeable one when the system is used on the petrols. Besides, the supercharger plugs the hole in e tional hicles. The Swedish confection ra lic acti ator to the turbo’s repertoire in the XC60 T6.

Volvo makes great play of the new active safety features on the XC60, including a semi-autonomous PilotAssist system. As with all such systems, customers will doubtless attempt to game the limits of the algorithm. We did. After 15 seconds or so of no steering input, PilotAssist will deactivate and if it does that in the middle of a highway sweeper, you’re likely to find the car ploughing across lanes in a straight line. Even when maintaining a light hand on the wheel, there’s a queasy slow-motion pinballing sensation and it’s not always easy to gauge exactly under which criteria PilotAssist will switch itself off.

Otherwise it’s hard to pick holes with the strides Volvo has taken in its quest for zero fatalities in their vehicles by 2020. There are the usual big-ticket safety systems but it’s the attention to detail that impresses, such as the way the XC60 has rotated its A-pillars around for a better field of view. The windscreen wipers are brilliantly effective too, firing water from a series of tiny nozzles along the length of the arm just millimetres ahead of the sweep of the wiper blade. The XC60 also debuts three collision-avoidance functions which will also find their way into the 90 series cars at the next facelift.

In pinpointing what its target clientele wants and ruthlessly jettisoning any peripheral pretences, the XC60 is a beautifully honed thing. Despite Volvo’s earnest assertions, it’s not perfect, but it is extremely smart and offers enough surprise and delight to make an instant impression in showrooms. How it figures against the other big hitters in its class is hard to gauge. In playing by a different set of rules, the XC60 makes direct comparisons onerous. You’ll probably know if you want one already and unless you’re absolutely wedded to the character of large-capacity engines, we don’t think you’ll be disappointed. turbo inc wit 1 dea high a s

Hey charger

A hefty 300kW seems a serious amount of grunt for a car with no great dynamic aspiration, but that’s the combined system output of the flagship T8 plug-in hybrid. That’s six kilowatts up on the ballistic Porsche Macan Turbo, and while the XC60 T8 probably wouldn’t keep up with the Macan on a twisty road, as a schoolrun sleeper it has a lot to commend it. 0-100km/h in 5.3 seconds and a 45km electric range? Okay, we’re just a bit intrigued.

Model Engine Max Power Max Torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Volvo XC60 D5 1969cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, TTD 173kW @ 4000rpm 480Nm @ 1750-2250rpm 8-speed automatic 2050kg 7.2sec 5.5L/100km $75,000 (estimated) Q4