2018 Volvo XC60 Review – Preview Drive
Paul Horrell’s preview drive 2018 Volvo XC60 Review with specs, performance, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
In a nutshell: Keenly awaited Volvo is right at the the heart of the premium family-car market. It doesn’t make a big deal of sportiness, though it’s not bad to drive. It’s about calm luxury, useful connectivity, and comprehensive safety.
2018 Volvo XC60 T6 and D5
PRICE Not Supplied for Australian market WARRANTY 3 years/unlimited km ENGINE 2.0L petrol or 2.0L diesel POWER 235kW at 5700rpm (T6), 173kW at 4000rpm (D5) TORQUE 400Nm at 2200-5400rpm (T6) 480Nm at 1750–2250rpm (D5) TRANSMISSION 8-speed auto DRIVE all-wheel drive DIMENSIONS 4688mm (L), 1902mm (W EXC MIRRORS), 2117mm (W INC MIRRORS), 1685mm (H) GROUND CLEARANCE 216mm TURNING CIRCLE 11.4m TOWING WEIGHT 2400kg KERB WEIGHT from 1926kg SEATS 5 SPARE Optional THIRST 7.7 (T6), 5.5 (D5) L/100km combined cycle FUEL petrol (T6), diesel (D5)
THE OLD XC60 was Volvo’s best-selling car around the world. The new one is similar in spirit but actually carries over almost no parts from the old one bar a couple of engines. Instead, it’s very closely related to the current XC90, S90 and V90 Cross Country. It’s scaled-down compared to the 90 line, making it a more urban-friendly size. It loses the XC90’s third-row seats but in return looks less boxy.
We went to the global launch and drove the D5 diesel and T6 petrol. There will also soon be less powerful versions of the same engines, called D4 and T5, plus a powerful plug-in-hybrid called T8. All are four-wheel-drive and autobox. Volvo hasn’t revealed the exact range for Oz yet.
No Volvo these days uses more than a four-cylinder engine, because Volvo wanted to standardise parts. Also, they say, why build a car with the bulky engine bay and heavy crash structure to accommodate a multi-cylinder engine, when it would be wasted on the majority of buyers who choose fours anyway? If you want performance, then Volvo squeezed what it claims is six-cylinder poke out of the T6 petrol four-pot by bolting on both a supercharger and a turbo to end up at 235kW.
What’s the interior like?
Swedish interior design – in houses, hotels and restaurants – is a very distinct philosophy. It’s about a modesty of form and embellishment, letting natural materials tell their own stories. Volvo cultivates this. The test car’s dash was a bleached wood that looked like it’s been lying on a Baltic beach for a dozen summers. The leather was soft saddlery. The colours were light, an antidote to the dark long winters there. And it’s all very nicely put together.
Volvo does brilliant seats. They don’t look over-upholstered but they carry your body all day with fuss-free equanimity. Room in front is up to class standards, and the driving position is commanding without being a high-altitude climb up.
Same is true for space in the back, where there are vents and lights and good outward visibility so no-one will feel too bad about being sent there. A separate set of climate controls for the rear zone is an optional fitment, as is a mains-voltage power outlet. When there’s no-one in the back, a press of centre-screen icon instantly pops the rear head-restraints forward, improving vision in the mirror.
Striking minimalism in the cabin decor is possible because of a near-absence of minor switchgear. A vast tablet-style touchscreen is home to almost all controls and settings. The big screen, then. It’s initially a wow, because of the quick response and delightful graphics. The maps have connected high-def traffic. Orderly menus control dozens of car functions, including sensitivities for all many of the myriad accident-avoidance systems. Volvo has partnered with lots of app providers, so integration of things like Spotify looks pretty much native.
But in the end it’s a bit overloaded. Fine if you have a set-and-forget attitude to climate, but if you want to re-set the temp or distribution while under way, it’s trickier to jab at the screen than it would have been to use a proper set of hardware climate controls. Besides, some functions are buried too deep in the menus. It’s four levels down just to set the audio treble.
Talking of audio, the standard 10-speaker system is fine, the optional Bowers and Wilkins setup pretty sensational.
What’s it like on the road?
The XC60 proceeds without much fuss. The cars we tested had air suspension, which isn’t only self-levelling under load but comes with adaptive damping in driver-selectable comfort or dynamic modes.
In the comfort mode it provides a better ride than most cars of this type. But in that mode it can get a bit soggy in tight bends. So you select dynamic mode and find that actually you haven’t much harmed the ride.
I’ve driven S90 and XC90 Volvos that haven’t been specced with that adaptive air suspension option, and on rough roads they can get a bit shuddery. So let’s wait for a local Australian test of the standard-chassis XC60 before we give it an unequivocal thumbs up.
The XC60’s steering is set up for precision without nervousness on highways. But in high-load cornering it masks any feel for the tyres’ grip. Does that matter in a family SUV? Likely not.
The T6 engine is powerful. It rocks a combination of supercharging for low-rev response with turbocharging for high-rev power. It’s well integrated, doling out the urge seamlessly. Performance is strong too, getting you to 100km/h from zero in less than six seconds. Less good is the refinement at high revs: it’s a bit tingly up there.
The T5 diesel also has an anti-lag measure. A pressure cannister (replenished by a small electric pump) releases air into the manifold to spool up the turbo when you floor the accelerator. It works, but not brilliantly. The T5 diesel is refined enough among its class, but not the very quietest.
The biggest powertrain issue is the calibration of the eight-speed autobox. Compared with rivals, it’s never silky-smooth. Worse if you floor the pedal for an overtake, you’ll likely be greeted with a delay and then a thumping downshift.
Overall refinement is OK in the XC60. Wind noise is low, road noise not bad, engine noise OK but not great by premium standards. At sub-100km/h Australian speeds it might not matter. But at European speeds, the Audi Q5 is notably more acoustically subdued.
What about safety features?
The XC60 hasn’t yet been through the NCAP mill, but it’s very closely related to the S90 and XC90, and NCAP said those were among the safest cars it had ever tested.
Volvo has long had the option of clever built-in child booster seats. But they’re not yet ready on the V60, because as with all Volvo features, they’re given near-endless testing.
The company has a special team that investigates every single road crash involving a Volvo that happens within an hour’s drive of its base. That’s 43,000 crashes since 1970. The accumulated data provides a vast knowledge base for ways of improving crash protection, as well as suggestions for crash avoidance systems. Volvo builds cars to do well in real life rather than to do well in NCAP, but guess what it does better than any other manufacturer in NCAP.
The stated aim is that no-one is killed or seriously injured in a Volvo after 2020. No-one. Think about that for a minute.
For example, the seats are specially designed to absorb the vertical forces from running off the road into a ditch. No legal test requires such a thing, but the need for it was identified by Volvo’s real-life research. Did you know Volvo’s safety lab actually has a full-size Moose dummy, because hitting one of those can make a fearful mess of a car and the people inside it. It’s also conducted testing in Australia on the roadside behaviour of kangaroos to try and incorporate those learnings into the recognition and reaction behaviour of its active safety systems.
As to the active accident-avoidance features, crikey, where do we start?
Volvo pioneered standard-fit ‘city safety’ with the old XC60. It auto-brakes when the system detects a starnary car in front, or a cyclist or pedestrian. Such things are now mercifully commonplace – they must work because in many countries insurers reduce premiums for cars so fitted. Now the XC60 takes things to a new stage. If a forward accident scenario is detected by the system and the driver begins to swerve to avoid the crash, the car will help by adding extra force to the steering, and using one-sided braking to make sure the swerve doesn’t turn into a spin. It works up to 100km/h.
The XC60 also detects oncoming cars if you’re out of lane, nudging itself back into the correct side of the road. Steering assist is also part of the optional blind-spot system: if you’re about to hit a car in the next lane in your blind-spot, first a warning flashes and then the steering nudges to discourage you.
Other assistance systems are more commonplace. They include speed-limit sign recognition that can, if you wish be linked to the car’s speed limiter, so you won’t break a limit. An excellent all-round panoramic parking camera could save you hitting something hard, or, far worse, someone soft.
The optional Drive Pilot is very similar to systems from Mercedes and BMW and Tesla. It uses sensors, cameras and radar to follow white lines and watches surrounding traffic to hold you in your lane and follow the vehicle ahead at a safe distance, up to the speed you’ve set.
But like all these things it sometimes fails to see where it’s meant to go. It isn’t advertised as autonomous, and Volvo stresses that the driver is the one who’s driving. It’s about reducing stress rather than taking over. You might not think it takes much effort to steer a car along a highway, but on a long trip, having half the work done for you really car leave you less tired.
The unanswered question is, what are the safety implications of allowing the system to take most of the steering and speed-control load while you look out of the side window, or gaze for lengthy periods at the stereo track listing, or open a snack package?
Why would you buy one?
There are lots of German, Japanese and British premium mid-size crossovers. But if you love the Swedish vibe, only this will do. It’s competent dynamically, well-connected and has Scandinavian character of its own. And of course it’s extremely safe. Especially if you’re prepared to accept driver assistance rather than turning those aids and warnings off.