Although it has not even been a year yet since I bought my X5, as with any car enthusiast my eyes continue to wander over shiny metal whether I be out for a run, on the roads to work or merely sat on my laptop. There are a couple of major things that need to happen in my life before I can seriously think about buying a new car (ie buying somewhere to live first!), but it has done no real harm to give a little thought to the sorts of cars I may be looking at when the time comes. My overall feeling is that I definitely want to get another SUV and for a long while I had only really been considering ‘full-size’ vehicles like the second generation BMW X5, current Mercedes ML and nearly anything big that Land Rover have made within the last 5 years, however in the last few weeks my eye has been caught by a couple of smaller machines and although I am by no means sold on a more compact vehicle there are a lot of benefits which would come with downsizing.
When it came to buying my last car I didn’t really have any decent smaller options; the original BMW X3 was the only real premium model in budget and it suffered from awkward styling and a cheap interior. However the popularity of such cars really began to take off in the late 00’s as luxury manufacturers rushed in to sell more affordable SUV’s (and consequently bump up the prices of their larger models too), and so there is a vast array to choose from including the svelte Audi Q5, sleek Range Rover Evoque and a much improved second generation X3. Beating all of these models to the market though was Volvo with their XC60, a car aimed at building on the reputation of the successful XC90 in a new and exciting marketplace.
Conceived and produced back in the days when Volvo was owned by Ford, the XC60 is based upon the same EUCD platform that is found deep under the skin of cars as varied as the Ford Mondeo right through to the new Land Rover Discovery Sport, so although it was introduced back in 2008 it still has pretty capable underpinnings. Given the popularity of the market segment and the fact that Volvo’s car sales have taken a large slip in the last decade, it is no surprise to learn that the XC60 is by far and away the brand’s most popular model and continues to sell well.
With it’s chiseled nose and sleek rear, the XC60 ushered in a brand new design language for the firm’s models and was a development of the successful designs from Peter Horbury who oversaw Volvo’s styling move from ‘box’ to their characteristically high shouldered and chunky look; the strong shoulder line is similar to that of the XC90 but the smaller size of the 60 means that it carries off a much more stylish and less utilitarian look…personally I think it looks a lot more sporting than it’s German rivals and yet is alot less dramatic (ie controversial) than the likes of the Range Rover Evoque and new Lexus NX. Probably the best comparison in terms of looks is the new Discovery Sport, but with the XC60’s facelift in 2013 it looks even more handsome than ever and manages to come across as a lot more sophisticated than the newcomer, especially in sporty R-Design trim…it can even pull off red paintwork very well!
Cabins are traditionally a weak point of Volvo and unfortunately the XC60 shares the same weaknesses as many of it’s siblings; namely a poor infotainment system and button-heavy layout. When the car first launched these things did not matter massively, as the smallish screen and fiddly remote-controlled sat nav were not significantly behind the dated system in the Land Rover Freelander and BMW X3, but with the launch of the Audi Q5 in 2009 complete with full MMI functionality it meant that buyers in this part of the market were now able to choose rivals with much improved connectivity and usability. The recent facelift has improved things markedly according to some reviews, and Volvo’s new SENSUS system is actually meant to be pretty good, but for those looking to buy pre-2013 cars things look pretty dark and would be enough to put me off buying the car in some respects.
However in other areas the XC60 really shines; seat comfort is among the best of all vehicles regardless of category and despite the small buttons and screen the dashboard is still very stylish and well made. Given that the larger XC90 has seating for 7 Volvo obviously thought it better not to try cramming in 2 extra seats into the boot of the XC60, and as such they settled for creating a comfortable and spacious cabin for 5, plus a 494L boot which is notably larger than my size-up X5! Equipment-wise the XC60 is also pretty impressive, base cars are a little sparse but in the higher up trim levels stuff like heated seats, electronic boot and xenons are standard, plus being a Volvo there are lots of safety features available (although pretty expensive when new!).
Now this is always the part in the review where I completely have to go on what others say; the styling of a car is completely subjective but is also easy to judge from pictures and seeing one in the metal…even the interior can be gauged somewhat though videos and pictures, but the driving experience is difficult to evaluate even when driving the car let alone going from what other’s have said. I think it would be safe to say that the XC60 feels erm safe to drive, being that is is a Volvo and that most cars come with a Haldex AWD system. That’s not to say it is going to tackle anything more than a slippery slope or field particularly well but it at least ensures some surefooted-ness when the weather gets a little iffy. Given that it’s built on a platform co-developed by Ford and Volvo again handling is pretty solid, maybe not altogether as sharp as something like an X3 but it does have the benefit of softer riding suspension even with the larger wheels of the R-Design trim levels.
On top of that you have a comprehensive range of engines under the bonnet which will suit most buyers; of course in the UK and Europe these are mainly diesel and include a ‘D3’ with 164bhp, a ‘D4’ with 181bhp and a ‘D5’ with 215bhp. The first two of these arenow 4-cylinder engines and although the D3 comes across as a little underpowered it is only available in entry level 2WD models. The D4 has ample power and can be had in both 2WD and AWD, and considering that a few years ago the XC90 only had 185bhp it seems the best choice plus it returns up to 62mpg when specified with a manual gearbox. The D5 provides near hot hatch performance and reaches 60 in under 8 seconds, but the 5 cylinder unit is getting on a bit now and can sound a bit raucous under hard acceleration, though it returns similar economy to the D4. All gearboxes are available with a 6 speed manual gearbox, but most buyers will be better off opting for an automatic option although that can be pretty confusing too. AWD models only get a 6 speed Geatronic transmission and that can cause a pretty sizable dent in fuel economy (44mpg average) whereas FWD models get an updated 8 speed version which allows for combined mpg of nearly 65! I suppose eventually that 8 speed will filter down eventually but maybe not until the next generation XC60 appears in a few years time.
Overall the XC60 comes across as a stylish and classy SUV for those who want a different choice than the typical X3/Q5/Evoque that litter the posher suburbs of the UK, but for new buyers they might start to hesitate a bit when the see the price tag which can easily match those rivals who unfortunately for Volvo have a much better image and as a result better residuals. There is plenty of money off to be had I suspect, but that then results in even lower residuals which is a real shame…although if you’re buying used that could be to your advantage. I have to be honest the image of the XC60 though classy is maybe a little too mature for my tastes, but the fact you can pick up a pretty well specced 2014 model for under £25k is really appealing in the face of poverty spec X3’s for more!