25 March 2014

Road Test: Volvo XC60

With a strong design presence and a seriously good interior finish, the latest version of the Volvo XC60 I have driven reminds me that the Swedish brand offers a real alternative in the premium segment to the BMWs and the Mercedes-Benzes in the medium SUV crossover theme, writes Brian Byrne.

Sometimes one needs reminding of excellence, and though Volvo is now owned by a Chinese company, nothing has been compromised by the change of ownership.

If there have been alterations to the style, they are minor. Which is a good thing, because the XC60 is distinctive, smart and assertive as a signal of solid taste. It's a big car too in its segment, but not intimidating from outside like some of its competitors try to be.

External details show the XC 'cross country' heritage, with aluminium skid protectors front and rear. And there's a strong hint of the power under this one's hood, by the fairly massive tailpipe ends on either side of the rear skid plate.

The value of the car's size is apparent from inside, where the back seat passengers have every bit as good legroom as the front, maybe even more. And for all occupants, head and elbows space is more than ample. The boot area is quite enormous in the class.

The finish inside the review car was top drawer, creamy leather and fine quality mouldings for the trim. Brushed aluminium details around elements such as the centre stack, and on the door pulls, offer further sense of strength and quality. Controls and buttons are minimised, easy to work out and operate, and the overall sense is of a car that's not going to be any effort to use. Given the recent spate of large touchscreens that we've been seeing across the motoring spectrum, the simple one for the radio and a couple of other informations in this car does seem tiny. And it isn't touch sensitive, so we're using real buttons for the various functions.

The instrumentation is current Volvo with different themes available depending on your mood or preference. From a very simple analogue speedometer through to a 'sport' digital setup with an appropriate red colour, you can pick from three. My preference is for the latter, which also gives me an easily understood set of various driving parameters, including cruise settings and economy.

The powertrain in the review car was the D4 2.0 diesel matched to a 6-speed manual, which box worked very well and cleanly through a nicely weighted shifter. Though somehow I hankered for an autobox, which would seem to be better suited to the overall ambience of the car.

Still, it all worked very well, the 181 horses pulling the rather large car with ease in all driving circumstances. It's a smooth engine, and everything is so well soundproofed that there was no distraction of engine noise. Refinement has become a Volvo thing in recent years, matching anything else in the premium arena and passing some of the competition out in a number of respects. Fuel consumption at my average of 7.4L/100km seemed reasonable for the size of the car.

None of what makes it attractive comes cheap, of course. The XC60 price range starts at €39,995 and the review version brought that to a much more wallet significant €50,345. I did get the sense, though, that I wouldn't be complaining if I had to spend the extra. And that I'd be quite willing to tell anyone shopping in the premium market for this kind of vehicle to at least take an XC60 for a bit of a run before choosing anything else.

Can't really say much more, surely?