Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Review: Volvo XC60 D5

Volvo’s XC60 is safe, versatile and, with D5 diesel power, it can be respectably economical too. Steve Walker reports

VolvoXC60 D5

Volvo’s XC60 isn’t just another compact 4x4. The Swedish marque has pushed the sector’s boundaries in terms of safety and interior versatility.

The D5 diesel engine isn’t the smoothest or the most economical unit of its kind but it copes with the XC60’s substantial bulk effectively and makes the most of the car’s impressive chassis. The automatic option is preferable from a driver’s perspective but comes with a fuel economy penalty.

In an area of the car market as congested as the compact 4x4 sector, a manufacturer’s mere presence may not be enough. Even attendance with a reasonably adept product in tow is no guarantee of sales success. The key is differentiation, having a car that stands out from the thronging crowd of rival options that vie for the public’s attention. This can be achieved by means of astute marketing, advanced technology or inherent style and with its XC60, Volvo is pedalling its own special blend of all three. Here we check out the D5 diesel models that are destined to be strong sellers.

It’s no exaggeration to say that almost every self-respecting mainstream car manufacturer now has a compact 4x4 product of some description on sale in the UK. Some have two. The sector has been a major growth area over recent years bringing the big names flocking to get in on the act. Volvo has a decent history of 4x4 products with the XC90 and XC70 having been well received, so the only surprise where the XC60 is concerned is that it took the Swedish firm so long to get it to market. The delay looked all the more unusual given that Volvo seemed ideally placed to come at the potentially lucrative compact 4x4 segment from its own unique angle. The traditional Volvo attributes of safety and cool Scandinavian design with a family-friendly bent seem ideally matched to the typical compact 4x4 buyer profile. All this meant that the XC60 always appeared a great idea in theory and with Volvo’s accomplished D5 diesel thrown in, the prospect was more desirable still. The question is, how does the car shape up in the metal?

"This is one of the safest cars you can buy full stop."

The D5 is the more powerful of the two diesels that will account for over 95% of all-wheel-drive XC60 sales - the T6 petrol being a little on the thirsty side for UK tastes. The entry-level 2.4-litre unit has 175PS but the D5, a derivative of the same 2.4-litre 5-cylinder powerplant, chips in with a full fat 205PS. The 0-60mph sprint can be dispatched in 7.9s if you’re using the manual gearbox but the shift lever is positioned a little too far back, perhaps as a result of the steeply raked centre console, and isn’t the most comfortable or rewarding thing to use. The Geartronic automatic suits the engine’s prodigious 420Nm maximum torque and produces a more relaxing driving experience, although the 0-60mph time is slowed to 8.4s. Engine noise in the XC60 is very well suppressed, a factor that’s particularly noteworthy as the D5 unit can be slightly raucous in other models. Accelerate hard and the distinctive offbeat roar of the 5-cylinder engine is audible but not unpleasant.

‘Compact’ isn’t a word that immediately springs to mind when driving this compact 4x4. It feels (and is) on the large side. The D5 copes very adeptly with its bulk however and the big Volvo also corners with a surprising degree of composure. Body roll, the dynamic nemesis of high-riding 4x4 vehicles, is very well controlled and although the suspension does shudder a little over poor road surfaces, the ride is generally smooth. Volvo’s past 4x4 efforts haven’t been at home in an off-road environment but the XC60 promises to be the best of the lot. Its 230mm ground clearance is superior to the larger XC90, there’s a 22 degree approach angle and the wading depth is 350mm. This still isn’t a vehicle you’d want to tackle serious obstacles in but with torque automatically distributed between all four wheels by the Intelligent Traction 4x4 system, it should trundle down muddy tracks and take pesky gravel driveways in its stride.

Can we really class a 1,825kg car measuring 4,628mm in length and 1,891mm in width as a ‘compact’ 4x4? Volvo’s marketing department says we can, so we’ll go with them on that one. The suspension of disbelief is made easier by the way the XC60’s exterior styling disguises its bulk. This isn’t a 4x4 from the super-aggressive chrome-spangled school and that will please buyers wanting to maintain a low profile about town. That’s not to say that the XC60 isn’t a handsome car. There’s some attractive detailing around the bodywork and Volvo’s latest styling cues are put to good use but the look from some angles is more that of a jacked-up estate than a 4x4.

Volvo’s XC90 built its success on its superbly versatile interior and the XC60 has pinched a few of that car’s ideas. The rear seats, which offer generous quantities of legroom by the way, are split 40/20/40 and each can be folded down at the release of a catch. Parents will go all gooey over the integrated child booster cushions that are available as an option. These simply fold out of the seat base and can be set at one of two heights. 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.

The general quality of the interior is also well up to snuff. The windscreen wipers on our test vehicle made an interminable racket sounding like Donald Duck on helium and the satellite navigation system controls mounted on the reverse of the steering wheel aren’t the most intuitive to use. Build and materials quality is tough to fault, however, and the ‘Scandinavian Design’ on which the manufacturer prides itself sets the XC60 apart from rivals that slavishly ape cold Germanic themes.

And so we come to the XC60’s secret weapon; safety. Just when rivals thought they’d reigned Volvo back in by matching its airbag and seatbelt pre-tensioner quotas, the Swedes have leaped ahead again with ‘City Safety’. This technology uses an array of lasers mounted ahead of the rear view mirror to scan the road 6 meters ahead of the car. If it detects another vehicle and calculates from the closing speed that a collision is imminent, it applies the brakes and can bring the XC60 to a complete stop from speeds below 18mph. In urban traffic, it’s incredibly effective and has the potential to illuminate the low speed collisions that account for more than 75% of all accidents. Most impressive of all is that along with DSTC stability control, RSC Roll Stability Control, a hugely advanced braking system and a vast array of airbags, ‘City Safety’ is standard on all XC60 models.

The XC60 trim levels run from S to SE Lux with the SE models making up the numbers in-between. Standard equipment includes 17" alloy wheels, powered heated mirrors, electronic climate control, split folding seats and the Performance audio system. There’s also an impressive range of hi-tec options including adaptive headlights, park assist, adaptive cruise control, a lane departure warning system, the Blind Spot Information System and hill descent control.

Insurers have been so impressed by Volvo’s City Safety system that they’re offering discounts of up to 10% on premiums for XC60 drivers and residual values for the car are predicted to out-strip rivals at the premium end of the compact 4x4 sector. The XC60 D5 should also prove reasonably cost-effective to run despite its size and weight. The D5 engine delivers 40.9mpg on the combined cycle but that drops to 37.7mpg with the automatic gearbox installed. Emissions are 183g/km and 199g/km for the manual and auto respectively.

Volvo’s XC60 arrived late to the compact 4x4 party to find its rivals already living it up on the dance floor. It needed to do something special to wrestle buyers’ attention away from the usual suspects and against the odds, it looks to have delivered. This is one of the safest cars you can buy full stop. The interior displays a high level of in-built versatility and with the D5 diesel engine installed, it’s also a polished proposition on the road.

While other manufacturers have battled over whose compact 4x4 was the trendiest, the sportiest to drive or the most striking to look at, Volvo has stuck with what it knows. The XC60’s combination of understated style, family-orientated design and safety credentials that are a match for any car on the market ensure it’s different. Different and, for family buyers at least, better.

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