A Wheel Thing welcomes Volvo to the family, with a trio of cars to be parked in the garage. Volvo’s debut with A Wheel Thing is its mid size SUV contender, the XC60 D4, a nomenclature that says, simply, it’s a four cylinder diesel. Having never driven a Volvo before and having only one driving experience, that with Robert Dahlgren and the S60 Polestar as part of the 2014 Top Gear Festival Sydney, it’s with an open mind that the XC60 is approached.
The XC60 tested has a frugal, 2.0L, four cylinder diesel, with peak power being 133kW, at a high (for a diesel) 4250 rpm. There’s significant twisting force on offer, with 400 torques between 1750 to 2500 revs. Although it is a narrow torque band, it’s working with a gearbox that has eight ratios, spreading the load and the love. It’s no rocketship, with a zero to one hundred time of 8.5 seconds however those numbers are tempered by its bulk; at 1748kg dry, it’s no featherweight. It’s rare to hear the characteristic chatter of the diesel, intruding only rarely and tending to be at startup and hard acceleration, otherwise it’s barely noticeable. The XC60 has stop/start tech for the engine as well, to conserve fuel and reduce emissions (127g per kilometre) by switching the engine off when the vehicle has come to a stop. It’s somewhat disconcerting for passengers that aren’t aware of how it works.
Designers quickly worked out that, when it came to SUV styling, that the traditional three box look was not a winner and Volvo has been quick to work curved magic on the XC60 sheetmetal. From the smooth and aero looking nose cone through to the tapered rear, there’s nary a straight line, The front has some trapezoidal design elements in the bumper, the headlights have a seemingly teardrop look sitting above two strips of LED driving lights whilst the lower air intake has a whiff of Aston Martin. There’s a strongly defined creaseline from the front guards through to the rear, fading into the fold that terminates in the rear lights. It’s a bold look and draws the eye to the sloping tailgate, framed by the stylish tail light clusters. The rear bumper has chrome inserts and hides the exhausts whilst the tailgate itself is power operated, via keyfob, dash button and insert in the gate itself. There’s roof rails and folding wing mirrors to complete the package.
On The Inside.
There’s an immediate standout to the Volvo uninitiated: the sublime design of the centre console stack which is a brushed aluminuim, floating look. It’s classy to look at (Volvo call it Copper Dawn), ergonomic by being tilted towards the driver and has a mostly user friendly button layout. I say mostly because intrumentation should be intuitive; dual zone climate control should be easy to work, for example, but there doesn’t appear to be a simple one button press to link both sides for temperature. Volvo has an onboard user manual (great green thinking but who wants to sit in a car reading an electronic book?) and the central locking system, once the car had stopped and turned off, required a double press of the interior door handle to unlock that OR press the actual central locking button twice for all doors. Apparently there’s a bypass procedure, I couldn’t find it.
The layout of the stack has an ideogram of a human for aircon flow direction but is unusual in having a phone keypad as well. It does take up some room and may be better served by incorporating, like so many others, a touch screen at the top of the centre console, which, in this case, is simply an info screen. Being a European car, obviously, the indicator stalk is on the left side of the adjustable steering column, with a button and jog dial that accesses info but also allows the centre and (fully digital, looks great) dash screen to change through a choice of three display settings, modifying the info and layout shown. Satnav via the Sensus Connect system, however, is a near $3K option…but there is an app to allow web access by using your smartphone. In the rear cargo area, with 495L (seats up), there’s some under cover storage as well, by lifting the nicely carpeted locker cover. The eight speaker audio system is also very good, being nicely balanced and with some good punch, aiding the experience. Naturally there’s auxiliary inputs plus Bluetooth streaming for music, that gorgeous 7 inch LCD screen, plenty of safety with airbags everywhere and hazard light activation for emergency braking and emergency situations.
There’s full leather seating (heating at the front), memory for the driver, a pollen filter for the aircon plus vents in the pillars for the rear seat passengers, split fold rear seats which sit a bit higher than the front row and a cargo blind, face level B pillar mounted vents, plus a soft move and velour lined centre console bin, all contributing to a premium feel.
On The Road.
It’s an SUV but not as you know it: it’s not intended to be anything other than a midlargish two wheel drive diesel SUV. There’s no transfer case, no traction modes for anything other than tarmac and the tyres (235/65/17 Michelin Latitude Sport) are asymmetric in tread and not intended for anything else, really, than a road. So, within those guidelines (as an AWD version of the D4 is on its way), it works pretty well. There’s a touch of push on understeer with the relatively high sidewalls flexing and it’s noticeable in the driver’s seat, some noticeable body roll at times but the suspension does a good job of dismissing the smaller bumps before firming up and being a touch niggly. Undulations are despatched with ease and the XC60 rarely became truly unsettled, even into some sloping off camber turns. Under way the eight ratio gearbox moves quickly and quietly as the diesel settles down into its ryhthm, only really noticeable on startup with the chatter. Sports Mode on the transmission does makes things a touch quicker, however neither mode can do much about the turbo lag below 1700revs or so plus, there were times when the gearbox was seemingly caught unaware, with a clunk and thud at certain throttle input levels. The steering is light, a touch numb on centre and doesn’t really feel as if you’re connected to the road 100%. The stop/start system (it can be turned off) is sometimes intrusive, with a cutoff point of close to five km/h the engine goes off the grid and sometimes it’s a bare breath before you can move forward, restarting the engine. It is, however, impressively quick to do so; also impressive is the hush inside, even on Sydney’s goat track coarse bitumen, with plenty of work being put in to isolate the cockpit from the noise outside.
Volvo has well and truly shrugged off its boxy headache in recent times; exterior designs are sexy, slinky, curvy, interiors are comfortable, welcoming and ambitious. The XC60’s ride is good enough for most drivers however the technology may overwhelm. I’m reasonably tech savvy yet found myself bemused and befuddled by Volvo’s system; for the life of me, I couldn’t find the override for the central locking, for example. It took a while to absorb how the menu system works as once an item is selected then the various dials and buttons work only for that selection. It’s a cool look to the interior and being able to tailor the digital dash is handy, maybe a touch gimmicky but the information available, once you figure out how to use the system, is considerable. Ride quality is quite acceptable as is handling and as long as a driver doesn’t expect rocket launch acceleration then there’s enough available. Fuel economy, given the predominantly suburban driving, ended up around 7.0L per 100 kilometres.
Overall, however, the XC60 failed to tick, for me, an important box, the one marked “Excitement” and that’s proved hard to identify why. It’s nice to drive, looks ok, has a plush enough interior….It’s just under $60K and, as tested, was a tick over $62K (metallic paint is a whopping $1750 option!) and is, naturally, well equipped. For information on the XC60 (and other Volvo products) head to www.volvo.com.au and for A Wheel Thing TV: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GtIht5dgKiI&feature=em-upload_owner