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Volvo XC60: A brave new face

Volvo XC60: A brave new face

Volvo’s 60 range comes in three flavours: S60 sedan, V60 estate and XC60 SUV. Given the South African predilection for all-terrainers, its not hard to guess which member of the Scandinavian trio is the most popular on local soil. DEON SCHOEMAN braves a blustery Cape Town to get behind the wheel of the just-released, updated version.

Volvo means different things to different people. For some, the brand epitomises uncompromising safety. Others are drawn to its products by their somewhat quirky individuality. And then there’s the marque’s mix of premium appeal and exclusivity.

Pivotal to Volvo’s identity, however, is its expression of Scandinavian design – even if the Volvos of the 1970s and 1980s were often more breadbin than Thomas Bernstrand. Three decades later, it’s a combination of design and attention to detail that is at the core of the revised S60, V60 and XC60 models. Volvo doesn’t like to describe these changes as a facelift but it has to be said that the model update amounts to just that. For now, the mechanicals underneath the distinctive sheet metal of the trio remain both familiar and unchanged.

But the aesthetic value of these Volvos has certainly increased, and that’s as true of the exterior styling as it is of the cabin. On paper, the changes seem simple, and subtle. But in reality, the effect is rather more substantial than the expected.

A dawn patrol flight has ensured an early arrival in Cape Town, in the vain hope of dodging the storms that have lashed the peninsula. But as the Boeing drops through the cloud cover, I’m greeted by grey skies and rain-slicked roads. There’s a promising glimmer of the palest blue towards the south east, however, and I’m soon on my way towards Hermanus, bullying my way through the Strand’s sleepy traffic before, finally, ascending the majestic Sir Lowry’s Pass until a soaked and sorry Cape Town disappears in the rear view mirror.

Not that the weather in the Overberg is that much better. The roads are dry, but howling winds are tugging at the Volvo XC60’s extremities, while above, threatening clouds race across the sky with angry intent.

I’ve chosen the XC60 because it’s the most popular member of Volvo’s 60’s line-up locally. And besides, if it does come bucketing down, and I find myself on some remote and muddy track, the Scandinavian’s all-road credentials might just come in handy. This particular model is the D5 AWD, which means it’s powered by a 2.4-litre, five-cylinder turbodiesel producing a zesty 158kW of muscle, combined with a massive 440Nm of torque. It’s the latter statistic that endows this Volvo with loads of low-down shove, so that getting off the mark always feels a lot more athletic than anticipated.

Considering the XC60 D5 weighs in at a hefty 1,796kg, the fact that it reacts to a bootful of throttle with real alacrity is rather impressive. It also means the big Volvo simply sledgehammers it way past, through and around dawdling traffic.

The all-wheel drive system is by Haldex, allowing rapid transfer of power from the front to the rear axle when the going gets slippery, but also assisting in on-road stability when cornering with intent. No wonder, then, that the Volvo displays both poise and control through the sweeps and bends of the scenic Houw Hoek Pass.

Most of these characteristics come as no surprise, however. The XC60’s dynamic capabilities haven’t changed since the last time I piloted one of these Swedes. What has been altered, if subtly so, is the styling. Parked on a dirt track high above Hermanus, even the wind (and the lack of any whale sightings) can’t detract from the Volvo’s tidied-up exterior. And while the individual changes are indeed subtle, the overall effect is fresher and more sophisticated.

Most of the updates are to the front end where a reprofiled bonnet, revised headlights, different fenders and a reshaped bumper all conspire to create a cleaner, more contemporary visage. The trademark grille places the emphasis on the horizontal strakes and does away with the previous chrome surround, while much of the bodywork is colour-coded. Also new are the daytime running lights, slanted almost vertically below the headlights, and featuring variable brightness.

Admittedly, the changes sound underwhelming, but the combined effect is slick, substantial and head turning. However, the aluminium scuff plates front and rear, and the XC60’s raised stance remain reminders of the vehicle’s all-terrain pretentions.

Also retained is the poised, almost aggressive presence of the XC60. Part of the reason is the sharply wedged waistline that emphasises the muscular curve of the car’s haunches, while the tailgate is framed by large, curved tail light clusters. Even the chrome-framed exhausts suggest a certain aggression.

As much as the view across Walker Bay is spectacular, the wind finally chases me back inside the Volvo. It’s time to find a more sheltered area and the road up into the Hemel And Aarde Valley, home to many of the region’s top wineries, immediately beckons.

Behind the wheel, the cabin’s focus on inviting comfort and tactile elegance becomes apparent. Again, the overall design hasn’t changed that much, but every detail has been revisited, creating an upmarket ambience, laced with meaningful technology.

Natural wood and real hide are the finishes of choice, but the instrument panel is now a user-configurable TFT screen, and the long list of advanced safety features ranges from active cruise control and pedestrian and cyclist detection, to fatigue recognition. Oh yes, there’s also loads of space and a long list of luxury kit.

That TFT display is worthy of special mention. There are three modes to choose from: elegance, eco and sport. Each theme gets a different colour, and changes the way the information is presented. For instance, in sport mode you get an angry red background with a big rev counter, a digital speedometer and a power graphic. Swap to eco and fuel consumption receives special attention, while the speedometer becomes an analogue dial and the display turns a soothing green hue. Elegance is more conventional, and gets a grey/blue treatment.

The interior execution is upper class, with seats upholstered in smooth and grain-textured leather, and finishes that look and feel classy. It’s an ergonomically user-friendly space, too, despite an extensive array of advanced technology, much of it focussed on safety.

The marque’s pedestrian detection technology gets improved vision processing, allowing improvements in range and extended capabilities to also include cyclist detection in some situations. The system automatically brakes the car if a collision with pedestrians or cyclists seems imminent.

Other new or advanced technologies include active high-beam control, which allows continuous high-beam use, but shades out portions of the light beam when necessary to prevent oncoming motorists from being dazzled. Cornering lights offer lateral illumination in the direction the XC60 is turning during low-speed cornering, or when reversing. And during reverse manoeuvres, the cross traffic alert system uses rear sensors to warn of approaching vehicles up to 30m away. City safety uses a laser to monitor traffic in front of the Volvo, and can apply the brakes if it considers the approach speed to be excessive. This latest version operates from speeds of 50 km/h and below, up from 30 km/h.

The updated Volvo also offers enhanced adaptive cruise control, blind spot alert, queue assistance and hill start assistance and introduces driver fatigue warnings by monitoring the consistency of the vehicle’s positioning between road markings, and then audibly and visibly alerting the driver if the XC60 strays too far to the left or right. An improved multi-speaker sound system with A2DP Bluetooth streaming, Dolby Digital surround, active equalisation and iPod/USB compatibility ensures superior audio entertainment.

As it happens, the twists, sweeps and corners of the Hemel en Aarde Valley road provide the perfect proving ground for the XC60’s dynamic capabilities. The road is narrow and quite bumpy at times, but the XC60 never feels compromised, smoothing out the dips and ridges, yet remaining poised and responsive when leaning into the bends. The raised stance and large, raked windscreen ensure a commanding view in all directions, while switching to manual and using the gearshift paddles (another new addition to the latest XC60) makes for a more engaging driving experience.

As I’ve already intimated, the XC60 D5 is no slouch in the performance department. Dashing from standstill to 100km/h takes only 8.3sec, with sustained acceleration allowing a top speed of 205km/h, more than fast enough for most, especially in the SUV context. It does mean that the XC60 covers ground with extraordinary ease, and can do so for sustained periods and distances, thanks to truly exemplary fuel consumption, and a magnanimous 70-litre fuel tank.

Volvo promises 6.4 litres/100km in mixed driving conditions, which translates into a range of more than 1,000km. Those (like me) who suffer from a slightly heavier right foot can still expect around 8l/100km, or approximately 875km between refuels. It just so happens that a useful stretch of suitably rutted and twisty sand road links the Hemel en Aarde Valley road near the De Bos dam to the Karwyderskloof tar road west of Hermanus. It’s not a bad road by any means, but it does show off the Volvo’s all-terrain talents to good effect.

The XC60’s on-road composure remains intact off the beaten track, too, easily coping with ruts and corrugations and showing off the surefootedness of the all-wheel drive system. At 230mm, the ground clearance adds to the SUV’s overall prowess and versatility, and even the big wheels and low-profile rubber seem up to the challenge.

A last blast up the Karwyderskloof Road to the R43, and then on to the N2 near Bot River provides the final, conclusive proof that the XC60 D5 finds a sweet spot between all-terrain versatility, effortless dynamics and cruising comfort. It’s not so much that the XC60 is overtly sporty, but more a case of how competently, even unobtrusively, it covers ground.

With just an hour to check in for my flight back to Johannesburg, that capability is particularly relevant as I head back across Houw Hoek, past the vines and fruit trees of Elgin and Grabouw, and down Sir Lowry’s Pass. I make it to Cape Town International with time to spare.

This latest XC60 (and, one suspects, its S60 sedan and V60 estate stablemates) retains much of what made the original version competent, safe and comfortable. But the long list of detail changes adds a sheen of finesse and sophistication that elevates the Swedish SUV to levels far higher than such subtle improvements would seem to suggest.

Or perhaps I’d just forgotten how darn good the Volvo XC60 really is? DM


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