For a manufacturer whose identity is built around practicality and safety, it took Volvo a long time to finally bring an SUV to the market. That car, the original XC90, ended up being a massive success for the Swedish company and managed to stay on sale, mostly unchanged, for an impressive 13 years.
A lot changed in that time, but the XC90 was such an impressive product that it just about remained competitive for buyers looking for a practical family SUV with a premium badge. In 2008 the XC90 was joined by a smaller sibling, again a little late to the market, but the XC60 was a fine effort which went on to become the brand’s top-seller.
Eight years later and it seems that history may be once again repeating itself, with the XC60 being one of the oldest cars in its segment, but still remaining reasonably popular thanks to its badge and family-minded interior. I take a closer look at the Volvo XC60 to see if it’s still worth considering.
Unlike a lot of mid-sized crossovers on sale today, the XC60 doesn’t take much inspiration from its larger sibling. That’s because the original XC90 was designed a good 6-7 years before its little brother, and although there is a new XC60 on the horizon, the current generation only shares certain cues with today’s XC90.
To be honest though, that makes this Volvo one of the better resolved designs on the market — it’s not trying to emphasise its relationship with a pricier model by stealing design cues, and instead just comes across as well packaged and classy.
A 2013 facelift saw the introduction of a tweaked front end and rear LED lights, and personally I think the updated one-piece headlights are much improved. Nobody would call the XC60 eye-catching, but it oozes premium appeal, especially when sporty R-Design trim is specified — those 5-spoke wheels are lush!
If there’s a criticism to be had, it’s that the XC60 comes across as a little too feminine and soft for my liking. Admittedly that’s a concern that could be levelled with most competitors, but the XC60 in particular doesn’t have the semi-sporting appeal that some of its rivals have, even with those lovely wheels.
The XC60’s interior is a bit of a mixed bag, but is appealing enough to most target drivers. Typically Swedish design means that the Volvo has a minimalistic cabin — buttons are confined to a small area on the console, with 4 large knobs and a pictogram being the most useful control mechanisms.
Combined with the small screen, these slightly fiddly controls can make the XC60 seem a little more dated than the likes of the BMW X3, but thankfully the 2013 facelift saw the introduction of a new infotainment system. SENSUS is actually a pretty good system, and although handicapped by the small centre screen, there is a fully LCD instrument panel in front of the driver.
There’s also a heap of practicality, with there being good room for 5 people to travel, even if the centre rear passenger may find it a little tight. Family buyers will want to specify the family pack, which comes with window-blinds and 2 integral booster seats in the rear. Seats for all passengers are supremely comfortable too actually, thanks to Volvo’s extensive seat research…seriously.
The boot may lack the 7-seat functionality of its bigger brother (and Land Rover Discovery Sport platform-mate), but at 495-litres there’s enough space for most buyers, even if rivals like the Audi Q5 have a little bit more room. The flat load-space and spare tyre also add appeal.
It’s difficult to write a driving review of a car you’ve never driven, and even more so when the vehicle in question is an SUV — a lot of car reviews focus on ‘fun’ handling and the car’s abilities on windy B-roads, but SUVs traditionally don’t excel in those areas…and to be honest they shouldn’t have to.
The XC60 has taken this message to heart, and rather than trying to recreate a hot-hatchback, Volvo has simply made their SUV a comfortable choice that excels on motorway jaunts, and copes decently around town too — visibility is good and there’s a standard blind-sport warning system.
That comfortable ride is enhanced by those amazing seats, but you can’t specify anything fancy like air-suspension or adaptive dampeners. Not that I would personally, but it might stop some reviewers from moaning.
Off-road wise, the XC60 is pretty meek as you might expect, and indeed a good proportion of available XC60s are 2WD instead of AWD. For me personally that means that the benefits are dubious, but 2WD cars end up getting a different engine/gearbox set-up, which I’ll elaborate on now…
The XC60’s engine line-ups are actually pretty frustrating if you take a detailed look at them. On the face of it, in the UK there are only 2 named diesel choices — a 190hp D4, or a 220hp D5. Neither engines set the world alight in terms of power, but both are more than adequate at moving the Volvo.
However the discrepancy comes from the fact that 2WD vehicles have a different engine and gearbox from the AWD ones. Actually the 6-speed manual gearbox is the same across the line-up, but most buyers will probably choose an automatic XC60.
Volvo have used their new 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine in the 2WD models, and automatic versions come complete with a nice 8-speed transmission, the same one found in the larger XC90 and some Lexus cars. As I’ll detail later, these make for some impressive economy figures, but on the whole the new engine/gearbox is a lot more refined and slick.
However AWD models come with the traditionally-Volvo 2.4-litre 5-cylinder diesel engine, regardless as whether they are known as D4 or D5. These engines are more characterful, but a little more unrefined and thirsty than their newer cousins. The available automatic is an older 6-speed unit, not bad by any means but still not as braggable against rivals.
Performance figures aren’t that impressive for any XC60 — 2WD models take 7.8 seconds to reach 0-60mph regardless of transmission, and the same applies to the D5 powered cars (which are all AWD). The AWD D4 models are notably slower, with 0-60mph taking 9.4 seconds regardless of transmission.
Volvo have made buying an XC60 easier in recent years, and have simplified their range to just 4 trim levels. The small variety of engines also means that the choice is nowhere near as overwhelming as in certain rivals.
Trim levels are SE, SE Lux, R-Design and R-Design Lux. Standard SE cars get a decent level of equipment, including Bluetooth, electric lift gate, climate control, rear parking sensors and city-safety system. Lux trim adds larger wheels, xenon lights, leather and the LCD drivers display system.
R-Design is a sportier trim, and adds nicer wheels, sporty trim and the LCD display to the SE, and Lux brings the rest of those goodies. Prices begin at £31,660 for the SE and £32,935 for the R-Design. Lux adds around £2,700 to each car.
In terms of engines, adding either AWD or an automatic costs about £1,500 (with it being £3,000 to add both) to the basic price of an XC60. Jumping to a D5 AWD car costs about £4,300 over a D4 2WD(or £2,800 over a comparable D4 AWD), again the automatic is a £1,500 premium.
Options on the XC60 admittedly aren’t as varied or expensive as on rivals, but a topping out price of £41,490 for a D5 AWD R-Design Lux is still pretty expensive, and it wouldn’t be hard to push that past the £50k mark! Thankfully there are plenty of discounts on Volvos, and you can expect to knock off around £5,000 on most cars.
Running costs are very reasonable though, and manual 2WD D4 models officially return 63mpg and cost just £30 a year to tax, with automatic versions doing just 2mpg worse, albeit they cost £80 more to tax.
The older engines of D5 models do damage running costs a bit — the manual versions of both D4 and D5 models return 54mpg and cost £130 a year to tax. Automatics get 49mpg and cost £145. All of those figures are good, but the current XC90 can get the same sort of figures in D5 guise (with a newer engine), and that’s a lot larger.
The Volvo XC60 is a surprisingly competent car for one that was launched the best part of a decade ago. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised at this, as Volvo seem to build future-proofing into their cars to a certain extent, but the XC60 remains competitive in what is a very bitterly fought segment.
For me though, the appeal lies in the classy, grown-up looks of the Volvo, so much so that it is on the list of cars to replace my X5 (if it ever happens). There’s a new XC60 due within the next 18 months, and that’s likely to feature a lot of inspiration from its larger XC90 brother. With the new S90 saloon looking very promising, things are looking up for a new XC60.