All-new Volvo XC60 first drive review

All-new Volvo XC60 first drive review

Say hello to the Volvo XC60 that is set to be launched this October to take on mid-size luxury SUVs like the BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLC, the all-new Audi Q5 that’s due any time now and the reigning World Car of the Year, Jaguar’s F-Pace. Building on Volvo’s excellent run of form that started with the XC90 full-size SUV and carried on with our reigning Luxury Car of the Year, the S90, the XC60 gets the same Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) platform and range of four-cylinder diesel and petrol engines. And now that Volvo Auto India has announced it will finally kick off local assembly, beginning with the XC90 later this year, Volvos won’t be expensive to register in states that slap on a 20 per cent registration tax on CBUs.

1. It’s a baby XC90

The SPA architecture makes the new XC60 a little longer and wider and a bit shorter than the outgoing XC60 – incidentally the best-selling Volvo ever. In fact, the run-out year for the mid-size SUV was its best ever in terms of sales and combined with the excellent response to the XC90 now makes Volvo an SUV company.

On the suspension front, the XC60 gets double wishbones with coil springs at the front in place of the old XC60’s struts while at the rear there’s a compact and light-weight transverse leaf spring. At launch, all India-spec XC60s will get air springs with Four-C variable-damping shocks as standard. With nothing bigger than a transversely-mounted four-cylinder motor, the front overhang has also been reduced and the firewall has moved forward to liberate more space inside the cabin.

2. Swedish serenity on the inside

The cabin builds on everything that was good and great with the XC90 and in fact takes it one step ahead. The Inscription-spec XC60 that we tested, and the spec that it will be launched in India, gets a beautiful and uniquely textured piece of silver-white ‘driftwood’ that runs along the breadth of the dashboard and contrasts well with the aluminium brightwork. In fact, the entire cabin is light and airy bringing to mind a Swedish sense of aesthetic and furniture that you get while browsing an Ikea store, if not a high-end boutique in Sweden. The Sensus infotainment touchscreen, mounted in portrait fashion like an iPad has even more intuitive controls and navigation than I remember in the XC90 along with the now mandatory Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. However I still prefer good old rotary knobs for climate control.

A strict 5-seater, there’s more space inside the cabin of the XC60 though the boot is not the largest in the segment. Also there’s no spare wheel or spare wheel well so expect India-spec cars to get a space saver strapped into the boot eating into space – genuine third world problems thanks to our third-world roads.

3. D5, the best-seller

Without question it will be the D5 diesel that will be the best-seller in India. The 2-litre diesel makes 231bhp and 480Nm of torque and has a compressed-air lag-reduction system called ‘power-pulse’. The latter claims to improve throttle responses though in reality it is no better than comparable diesel units. Performance is fairly brisk with 0-100kmph taking 7.2 seconds and peaking at a top speed of 220kmph. However it can get a bit gruff when revved hard; this engine is more comfortable at a relaxed pace where it is near-silent and there’s enough torque to make quick progress.

As with all its rivals you get five driving modes and in Comfort the 8-speed gearbox is a little too relaxed in delivering downshifts. Allied to the fact that there aren’t any gearshift paddles this can get a bit annoying at times. Dynamic speeds things up but the XC60 is still not the SUV for those who want to hustle.

4. Relaxed
While I might harp about sportiness Volvo makes no pretentions of being sporty and that’s a great thing. The XC60 is calm and relaxed but as befits its size and positioning it is a little sharper on the handling front than the XC90.

Volvo’s ride and handling engineers claim that the front and rear roll centres are the same so the car doesn’t pitch forward in turns. Around winding roads outside Barcelona the XC60 did feel better balanced than before. Dynamic mode stiffens up the dampers and cuts body roll but body roll is still evident when pushed hard and the Michelin Latitude Sport 3 tyres (measuring 255/45 R20) can be made to squeal a fair bit. The XC60 is no slouch in corners but is not as happy as a Jaguar F-Pace at being thrown round corners.

The steering is rather light, even in Dynamic mode, and pretty quick and direct too which somehow doesn’t suit the rest of the SUV’s relaxed demeanour. As for the ride, India-spec cars will get smaller 19-inch rims and should ride rather well going by our experience with the XC90. The 20s tackled Spain’s excellent roads really well, but that’s hardly a benchmark for what we will face in India.

5. T8 plug-in hybrid being evaluated
Volvo will also bring in a petrol engine to India but is still deciding between the T6 or T8. We drove the T6 that, thanks to a combination of super- and turbo-charging, makes 315bhp. The (heavily) boosted four-cylinder does 100kmph in 5.9 seconds and is a rather nice engine to drive; light and revvy that suits the light and easy nature of the XC60.

The T8 plug-in hybrid adds a 10.4 kW-hr battery, to power two electric motors on the rear axle for a total output of 400bhp and 640Nm of torque. The EV-only range is yet to be released though it can’t be too far off the XC90’s 25km.

Volvo is veering towards the T8 considering India’s is one of the stronger markets for the XC90 T8 but ultimately it will depend on pricing.

6. It’s bloody safe & can drive itself
It cannot be a Volvo presentation without a slide (or ten!) on safety. In step with their vision for no serious injuries in an accident involving a Volvo vehicle in 2020, the XC60 gets a slew of radar-based autonomous and preventive systems – all of which will be standard on India-spec cars.

Volvos already brake automatically when it detects a collision is imminent. In addition to that the XC60’s City Safety system will also steer around the object if a collision is deemed imminent, working from speeds of 50 to 100kmph. Oncoming Lane Mitigation steers you back into your lane to prevent accidents with oncoming vehicles if you stray over the white line and works from 60 to 140kmph. The Blind Spot Information system pushes you back into your lane if oncoming traffic from the rear is detected. The seats are designed to reduce the risk of spinal injury in the event of running off road into a ditch.

Volvo is so focussed on safety the windshield washer fluid is sprayed from the wiper arm directly to the blade instead of spraying on the windshield and blurring your view.

Allied to all the safety systems is Pilot Assist that will steer, accelerate and brake the car without requiring a car in front to follow. While Volvo points out this is an assist system and requires you to keep your hand on the steering wheel (it will alert you to take control if your hands are off the ’wheel) it is basically a semi-autonomous system where the car can drive itself at speeds up to 140kmph by gently nudging you back in your lane. On long commutes I’m sure it will reduce the strain and stress of driving, though it still isn’t a replacement to a proper driver.

A word of caution though, the system needs clearly defined lanes to work properly so don’t expect the XC60 to drive itself, like it did in Spain.

7. Finally, the way it looks
This is important and the XC60 nails it. It looks beautiful. Very much like a shrunken XC60 but more lithe, more young and agile. The Thor’s Hammer DRL’s now extend all the way to the grille while the taillamps similarly stretch all the way to the number plate holder to give it more dynamism. It does not look aggressive, it does not look angry, it does not attempt to be sporty; it treads its own path and is all the better for it.

Volvo dealers in India are already taking expressions of interest and deliveries should happen by the end of this year.

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