By Jonathan Crouch
Think of a used premium-badged mid-sized SUV and you'll probably think of something German - or maybe a Range Rover Evoque. We'd also suggest though, that you should be looking at the car we're going to focus on here, the improved first generation version of Volvo's XC60. If you're shopping on the used market and looking at this car, it's worth stretching to one of these post-204 facelifted models as they were usefully improved and got the option of a much more sophisticated 'Drive-E' D4 diesel engine.
The Volvo XC60 was first launched back in 2008 as the Swedish brand's alternative to premium SUVs like Audi's Q5 and BMW's X3. To begin with, most models used old-tech Ford-derived 2.4-litre diesel engines but in 2014, to coincide with mid-range facelift, the car was granted Volvo's own 2.0-litre 'Drive-E' D4 unit - though you could only have it mated to 2WD. This derivative instantly became the one to have in the range between this point and the end of first generation XC60 production in 2017.
What You Get
This improved MK1 model XC60's exterior styling disguised its bulk more effectively. Imagine a larger first generation XC90 model that's been on a hot wash cycle for a couple of hours and that's what the facelifted 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.
Changes to the front end of this improved design included a re-sculpted bonnet, sleeker headlamps and horizontal lines on the grille which, along with a bigger Volvo badge, featured chrome bars to emphasise the car's width. The Swedish brand's aim with the improvement package was apparently to create a more upmarket, cohesive look. A lot of that came down to detail tweaks. Like the emphasis away from black trim and on to colour co-ordination; the relocation of the washer nozzles out of sight under the bonnet; the flush headlamp washer jets; and, at the rear, a more smartly integrated set of tailpipes to set off a neatly finished piece of design that still wears it age well.
Under the skin, the whole thing was based on an originally Ford-derived chassis. The so-called 'EUCD' platform for this Volvo's design dates back to the period when this Swedish brand was under Blue Oval ownership. From the same apparently humble underpinnings have sprung some great cars, this XC60 taking its place alongside products as diverse as the Land Rover Freelander, Ford's Galaxy, Mondeo and S-MAX and Volvo's own V70.
At the wheel, the changes made to this revised XC60 model were subtle but the overall ambience was certainly a stage or two up-market from what was provided in the original version of this car. This came courtesy of better quality wood inlays, a plusher headlining, smart textile-covered B-pillars and some very well finished silk metal frames around the air vents and light controls. As a driver, through the chunky four-spoke wheel you view clear, smartly finished instruments and there's the usual infotainment screen in the centre of the dash, though it is a little small unless you have a car whose original owner upgraded to the optional satellite navigation set-up.
The rear seats are situated a little higher than the front pair to give better visibility for children and the two outer seats in the back could be specified with two-stage booster cushions. There's certainly a very airy feeling in this part of the car, particularly if you've got an XC60 fitted with the optional laminated glass panorama roof. Unlike other similar roofs on other cars, it doesn't rob you of too much headroom and a couple of six footers would be comfortable in the back over a long trip. You'd struggle to fit three of them in though, but a trio of kids will be quite happy.
Out back, the tailgate opening is arguably the widest amongst the XC60's direct competition, with a 495-litre capacity that's only slightly less than a BMW X3 or an Audi Q5 from this era. 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. As with big Volvo estates, the rear seat is a three-piece affair that folds 40-20-40, with each section capable of folding down completely flat. Push everything forward and there's 1,455-litres of total fresh air on offer.
What to Look For
Most of the XC60 owners we surveyed were very happy with their cars - but inevitably there were a few issues. Some owners have reported problems with the cooling fan. Apparently, a software malfunction on the engine fan control module in some cars means air-conditioning performance gets reduced, increasing coolant temperature and in some extreme cases, causing the engine to fail. We also came across reports of fuel pump problems. With regard to these, the pump's electronic module might not operate as intended, which could cause the engine to stall. There were a few power steering issues too, caused by the joint between the power steering high-pressure line and the steering gear being not assembled correctly. In some instances, this has resulted in fluid leaking and a sudden loss of powered assistance.
What else? Well gearboxes on some XC60s have apparently been problematic. A section of the shift mechanism can work loose and cause the mechanism to become jammed. We came across reports of a few fuel leak issues too caused by the fuel rail beneath the vehicle being not properly attached, thereby exposing the fuel lines to damage. More seriously, there was a report of a seizure problem in a few cars caused by an insecure spring clamp on the radiator hose where it connects to the water inlet pipe. If this issue isn't rectified, the engine could lose coolant, overheat and seize. We've also come across reports of issues with curtain airbags and seatbelts. Check all these things out on your test drive.
(approx based on a 2014 XC60 D4) A fuel filter costs in the £21 to £23 bracket and an air filter will cost around £13. Brake pads sit in the £17 to £25 bracket for a set, though you could pay up to around £40 to £60 for a pricier brand. Brake discs are around £113. You'll pay around £12-£15 for a drive belt. Wiper blades cost in the £4 to £9 bracket, though you could pay up to £17 for pricier brands. A stick-on wing mirror glass is priced in the £15 bracket, though you could pay up to around £41 for a pricier brand. A tail lamp will be around £166, while a radiator will be around £166.
On the Road
If you were to place driving dynamics as a priority in your mid-sized premium-badged compact SUV, then this Volvo probably wouldn't be the first car you'd turn to. But get behind the wheel and provided you don't come to a car of this kind wanting to hurl it from bend to bend, then this one does still have plenty to offer. Some care is needed with the specification though. The sporty 'R-Design' variants look good but they get a stiffer lowered sports suspension set-up that's supposed to imbue the handling with a little extra bite, but robs the ride of the suppleness you get on lesser 'SE' versions. We'd try and seek out an 'SE' model fitted with the optional 'Four-C' chassis set-up, the term standing for 'Continuously Controlled Chassis Concept'. With this package fitted, you'll be able to alter the suspension to suit the road you're in and the mood you're in. Pillowy comfort for the school run. And a sharper feel for the back doubles you take to the office after you've dropped the kids off. Everybody wins.
An automatic gearbox suits this car too, though the kind you get will depend very much on the engine you choose. The under-the-bonnet stuff is the major thing you need to know about this improved XC60. Namely that post-2013-era 2WD D4 diesel XC60 models used Volvo's sophisticated 181bhp Drive-E 2.0-litre four cylinder 16v diesel engine with its class-leading performance and efficiency combination. Plus they could be ordered from new with the option of an equally sophisticated 8-speed automatic transmission. Confusingly, D4 AWD models continued on with the older Ford-derived 2.4-litre five cylinder diesel unit still plumbed-in up-front, an engine which from new could optionally be mated to an older-style 6-speed Geartronic automatic gearbox. That old 2.4-litre diesel engine was also available in pokier 215bhp form badged as a 'D5' unit and offered only with AWD.
Unless you really need 4x4 traction though, we'd try at all costs to restrict ourselves to perusing the 2WD XC60 variant with the new-tech 2.0-litre D4 engine. Here, you get performance good enough to match that of the much thirstier D5 powerplant (think rest to 62mph in 8s en route to 130mph). Yet at the same time, this 'Drive-E' unit delivers running cost returns that are vastly better and offers the option of a much clever auto gearbox. As for 4x4 traction, well a decent set of winter tyres will give you most of what you'll need there.
That won't suit if you regularly go off road of course. But then, this car isn't designed to go regularly off road - not that you would know that from the pages devoted to its supposed mud-plugging prowess in the instruction manual. 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. Torque on AWD variants is automatically distributed between all four wheels by an Intelligent Traction 4x4 system, which is certainly useful on those muddy fields and forest tracks the road-going tyres will allow you to cross but has really been developed with traction on wet tarmac in mind.
So yes, 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 304bhp T6 3.0-litre turbo petrol model - and a clever TSA stability system to keep trailers on the straight and narrow. All the diesels on offer are decently quiet too - refined enough in fact at speed to make you notice that levels of wind noise are better than you'll find in some German rivals, especially BMW's X3. Around town, the steering is a little heavier than we would like - and the turning circle a touch restricted - but at speed, the set-up's fine. Overall then, a good showing. You might be surprised by this car.
When a car gets heavily revised six years into its model life, it's normally a last-ditch attempt to keep it fresh and resist the inevitable sales slide into old age. But this improved first generation XC60 feels different. The facelifted post-2014-era version of this Volvo mid-sized SUV proved, in almost every respect, to be a thoroughly revitalised car with its sleeker looks, its cutting edge infotainment gadgetry and most of all, its sophisticated D4 'Drive-E' diesel engine. And very much a worthy competitor for rivals of the calibre of Audi's Q5, BMW's X3 and the Range Rover Evoque.
Yes, it's true that there are sharper contenders in this segment to drive. And that this Volvo won't suit if you're going to be regularly venturing off the beaten track. But neither of these issues will bother many potential used car market 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 2WD D4 diesel model with the clever engine, equip yourself with a set of Winter tyres that'll be all you need in a cold snap and smile smugly every time you see a Q5, an X3 or an Evoque from this era drive past.