By Andy Enright
Following in the tyre tracks of the phenomenally successful XC90 was always going to be a daunting task, but when Volvo decided on a smaller SUV model to complement its seven-seat cash cow, few initially realised quite what a natural fit the XC60 would prove. Perhaps the greatest compliment you can pay the XC60 is that it really makes you ask some hard questions about whether you really need the added space and the added cost of an XC90 when there's such a good vehicle in the line up. Used buyers are asking the same question and many of them see no need to go any bigger than the slick '60.
The Volvo XC60 Concept had its first airing at the Detroit Show in early 2006. "The XC60 Concept features a number of innovations that indicate how our cars will look in a few years time. It is time to once and for all forget about boxy Volvos," said Design Director Steve Mattin, at the time. "Instead, we will make our Scandinavian design heritage more emotional and radiant by adding sculptured, exciting shapes and innovative features." He was true to his word and when the production XC60 was unveiled it was remarkably true to the lines of the show car.
The first UK cars made landfall in autumn 2008 and the range consisted of 2.4-litre diesel of either 163bhp or 185bhp D5 variety. Customers weren't long on petrol engine choice, with just a grunty 282bhp 3.0-litre T6 unit available. In Spring 2009, the 163bhp diesel engine in the range was upgraded to 175bhp with front-wheel drive variants being offered for the first time under the DRIVe eco badge. November 2009 saw the announcement of the sportier R-DESIGN models. Buyers looking for a more economical petrol choice had to wait until 2011 and the launch of the T5 model. It still wasn't what you'd call modest though, its 237bhp power output making it more than a bit lively.
What You Get
Can we really class a 1,825kg car measuring 4,628mm in length and 1,891mm in width as a 'compact' 4x4? Its British designer Steve Mattin says we can. The suspension of disbelief is made easier by the way the XC60's exterior styling disguises its bulk. Imagine an XC90 that's been on a hot wash cycle for a couple of hours and that's what the XC60 resembles; shrunken slightly, a little chamfered in its edging but recognisably a Volvo product and one that the company claim has turned up the visual volume. The grille is a little bolder, the car's 'shoulders' more distinctive, especially when viewed from the rear.
There's only room for five but at least the rear seats are higher than the front pair to give better visibility for children and the two outer seats in the back can be specified with two-stage booster cushions. The rear passenger compartment is roomy and a couple of six footers would be comfortable here over a long trip. The load opening at the back is also the widest amongst the XC60's direct competition, opening to reveal a 655-litre capacity. As in the XC70, the rear seat is a three-piece affair that folds 40-20-40, with each section capable of folding down completely flat to ultimately create a 1455-litre carrying space. Under the boot floor, there's a secure storage area that can't be opened without the tailgate being lifted, making it a great place to keep valuable items safe when the car's parked.
What to Look For
Make sure the car is in very good condition. There's no reason why it shouldn't be, as it will be within warranty, but you may find a few scuffs or scratches on some of the interior plastics. Few XC60 owners will have subjected their car to any tough off-road antics but it's worth a check to see that the underbody hasn't been damaged by clumsy off roading. The diesel engines mop up miles very well although check the clutch on manual cars as the pedal is easy to ride. Otherwise insist on a full service record and contact a few franchised dealers to try to find the best bargain available.
(approx based on a 2009 XC60 D5) Parts prices are affordable and availability tends to be good. A clutch assembly will be around £250 and an air filter should be close to £18. Brake pads are around £90 a front set with a water pump relieving you of nearly £170.
On the Road
Although the advertisements would have you believe otherwise, the XC60 isn't a particularly sporty car to drive, even in the more focused R-DESIGN guise. As with virtually every contender in this sector, there's nothing very sporty about an XC60 to drive, especially when fitted with the slightly noisy five cylinder 2.4D and D5 diesel engines that the overwhelming majority of buyers choose. That doesn't mean it isn't an accomplished thing in day-to-day tarmac use though: this indeed is what marks out the premium end of the compact all-wheel drive market.
This Volvo isn't really intended to go off road, though you wouldn't really know that from the pages devoted to its supposed mud-plugging prowess in the instruction manual of the 4x4 cars. This reminds you that its 230mm ground clearance is superior to that of the larger XC90, that there's a 22 degree gradient approach angle (plus Hill Descent Control to get you down the other side) and that the car's wading depth is 350mm.
Roadgoing ease of use is really what this car is all about. There's roll stability control which you might need if you're one of the very few opting for the flagship 285bhp T6 3.0-litre turbo petrol model and a clever TSA stability system to keep trailers on the straight and narrow. Otherwise, there's a whole raft of acronyms emphasising the fact that this is the safest car Volvo has ever built. These include ABS with brakeforce distribution and brake assist, DSTC traction control, the WHIPS anti-whiplash and SIPS side impact systems and the BLIS blindspot information system, plus the usual front, side and curtain airbags.
The Volvo XC60 needed to be very good to elbow its way into a market populated by cars like the Land Rover Freelander and the BMW X3. It's also had to contend with the likes of the Audi Q5 but it has carved a very solid niche and with good reason. Understated, handsome and reliable, it makes a good used buy. You'll search hard for any massive bargains but you pay for what you get. I'd be looking out for a D5 SE that's been used for school run and shopping duties and take no prisoners when haggling.