If you're thinking of buying a premium badged mid-sized SUV, you might not be thinking of buying a Volvo XC60. Perhaps you should be. Jonathan Crouch reports
Ten Second Review
Think of a premium-badged mid-sized compact SUV and you probably think of something German - an Audi Q5 perhaps, or maybe a Mercedes GLC or BMW X3. We'd also suggest though, that you should be looking at the car we're going to test here, Volvo's second generation XC60. It's a rejuvenated proposition with the option not only of Plug-in hybrid tech but also mild hybrid diesel engines.
The original XC60 was the car that established Volvo in the minds of buyers in the mid-sized SUV segment. In nine years of production, it became the best selling car in its class in Europe, will nearly a million units sold annually, and accounted for 30% of Volvo's total global sales. Hence the crucial importance of this second generation which, along with the smaller XC40 model, is a key part of the Swedish marque's future SUV strategy.
This MK2 model XC60 shares its platform with its larger XC90 stablemate but isn't quite such a revolution in terms of its design as that model was at launch. Nevertheless, there's ground-breaking safety tech and smart looks that'll eat into the sales of key rivals like Audi's Q5 and the Mercedes GLC.
Volvo is offers a choice of three diesel units, two petrol engines and a Plug-in petrol/electric full-hybrid, all the engines mated to automatic transmission. So there's plenty of choice. Most will want the diesels, possibly the conventional 190hp D4, which only comes in front-driven form. This unit has been joined by two mild hybrid diesel powerplants, the 197hp B4 and the 235hp B5, both of which only come with AWD. These powertrains use the brand's advanced kinetic energy-recovery braking system.
Petrol people choose between the 190hp T4 (which only comes in front-driven form) and the 250hp T5 (which gives you a choice of front wheel drive or AWD). At the top of the range is the T8 petrol/electric plug-in hybrid, which offers 303hp plus an 87hp electric motor boost.
We'd favour the mid-range B5 diesel variant that many will choose. Here, an ingenious system called 'PowerPulse' is used to overcome turbo lag - that momentary delay in response you sometimes experience with powerful turbocharged diesel engines. It uses compressed air which is stored in a small tank in the engine bay and automatically replenished to spool up the turbocharger so that the car responds as soon as you press the accelerator.
Even cleverer is the T8 TwinEngine model. In fact this variant actually has three engines if you're going to be pedantic about it and count the 25bhp starter motor/generator that pitches in from time to time to smooth any gaps in torque delivery between the two main power sources. One of these is the 320bhp turbocharged/supercharged petrol unit borrowed from the conventional T6 petrol model that Volvo won't import here.
Design and Build
This second generation XC60 features a more upmarket, cohesive look. It shares the same Scalable Product Architecture platform as we've seen in most of Volvo's recent models, including its larger XC90 sibling. This mid-sized premium SUV is 62mm longer, 12mm wider and 14mm lower than its predecessor and the 91mm-longer wheelbase means there's more legroom in the rear.
At the wheel, you sit lower in the XC60 than you would in an XC90 and the muscular-looking door creases, extended 'Thor's Hammer' headlights and new grille give this model a sportier look. There's a longer bonnet than a rival Audi Q5 - and a longer roofline too. As you'd expect, there are plenty of family resemblances to the XC90, especially inside. The dashboard, seats and upholstery will all be familiar to recent Volvo buyers; the same 9.0-inch touchscreen and 12.3-inch digital dial displays feature.
It's not just under the bonnet that the new XC60 delivers healthy performance. The new CleanZone four-zone climate control system removes harmful pollutants and particles from outside the cabin to deliver Scandinavian-fresh air on the inside. As in the 90 series cars, smartphone integration with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is also available.
Market and Model
Prices start at just under £38,000 and range up to just under £65,000. AWD and auto transmission features on all models and there are eight main levels of trim - base 'Edition', then 'Momentum', 'Momentum Pro', 'R-Design', R-Design Pro', Inscription' and 'Inscription Pro', plus there's a unique 'Polestar Engineered' version of the T8 Plug-in hybrid. Every version of the XC60 is very well equipped. As standard, even entry-level variants come with leather-faced upholstery, LED headlights with active high beam, two-zone climate control with a 'CleanZone' air-filtration system, heated front seats, a powered tailgate and 18" alloy wheels.
Volvo's Sensus infotainment system is also standard. This brings a 9" portrait-style touch screen, satellite navigation and an intuitive voice-activation system. It also provides access to the internet and a range of cloud-based apps such as Spotify, TuneIn, Stitcher and Yelp. Volvo's City Safety system is fitted to every XC60. This includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian, cyclist and large animal detection, and the world-first application of Steer Assist. This feature helps to avoid or limit the severity of collisions at low speeds by assisting with the steering in an emergency, such as when swerving to miss an obstacle.
Pilot Assist, Volvo's innovative semi-autonomous drive feature, is an optional extra on every XC60. It assists with the steering (up to 80mph) and takes care of the acceleration and braking required to keep the car within lane markings and at the desired cruising speed or distance from any vehicle in front.
Cost of Ownership
If you haven't checked out this MK2 model XC60 SUV recently, you might not be familiar with Volvo's latest mild hybrid diesel B4 and B5 engines. These mild hybrids for the first time offer customers Volvo's advanced kinetic energy-recovery braking system, which is coupled with its existing internal combustion engines to create a new integrated electrified powertrain. This powertrain, electrified via brake-by-wire energy recovery, offers drivers up to 15% fuel savings and emission reductions in real-world driving. The unit's brake-by-wire system interacts with the energy-recovery system and reduces fuel consumption and emissions by recovering kinetic energy under braking.
As for the figures, well both the B4 and B5 AWD models are capable of achieving up to 46.3mpg on the WLTP combined cycle and up to 142g/km of CO2. The front-driven diesel D4 with front-wheel drive manages up to 42.2mpg and up to 129g/km. For a front-driven petrol T4, the figures are up to 34.0mpg and 167g/km. The T8 petrol/electric plug-in hybrid of course is way ahead, rated at up to 122.8mpg and up to 47g/km in its standard form. It also offers an all-electric driving range of around 35 miles.
Maintenance should be relatively affordable for a car of this kind, with intervals every year or 18,000 miles. Three or five year pre-paid servicing packages are available to help you budget ahead. If you pay extra for the useful 'On Call with App' remote connectivity system, this Volvo can be programmed to autonomously realise when a service is due, then automatically book it for you at a dealership of your choice. Finally, we'll tell you that the warranty is the usual three year, 60,000 mile package.
So, what do we think overall? It's certainly true that other rivals will offer a sharper driving experience than is on offer from this Volvo. And of course this XC60 won't suit if you're going to be regularly venturing off the beaten track. But neither of these issues will bother many potential buyers, people more likely to value the cruising comfort, solid build quality and standard-setting safety that this car offers.
Our advice would be to get yourself a potent mild hybrid B5 diesel model with the clever engine and smile smugly every time you see a Q5, an X3 or a GLC drive past. In this form, this XC60 is probably the best kept secret in this segment. Probably best to keep it to yourself.