Daily Maverick

Volvo XC60 D5 R-Design: Sweet Swede chariot

The new Volvo XC60

The Germans have had it pretty much their own way in the South African premium SUV segment up to now. So, can the all-new Volvo XC60 take on its BMW X3, Audi Q5 and Mercedes-Benz GLC rivals? The Swedish SUV may just have the right stuff …

It all happened in the blink of an eye. Lulled into complacency by the syrupy progress of peak-hour traffic, I only saw the brake lights of the vehicle ahead of me flare when it was almost too late.

But the Volvo XC60 I was driving was already braking hard, accompanied by a loud buzzer and flashing hazards. The SUV came to a very abrupt halt, but with space to spare – and no damage.

The new Volvo XC60

It was an impressive, real-life demonstration of Volvo’s City Safety autonomous braking system, proving quite persuasively that the Swedish brand’s commitment to active safety has very real, practical applications. Without its assistance, there may well have been tears.

It certainly went some way towards vindicating Volvo’s claim that this latest XC60 is the safest vehicle ever made. Now in its second generation, the newest member of the marque’s SUV family bristles with the latest active safety and semi-autonomous driving systems.

The City Safety braking that saved me from embarrassment can also activate the steering to avoid a collision, for instance. In other words, if braking on its own won’t help, the Volvo will swerve as well.

The new Volvo XC60

Steering support is also offered for the Oncoming Lane Mitigation system (which seeks to prevent head-on collisions) and the Blind Spot Information System (which addresses lane change-related accidents).

Then there’s the optional Pilot Assist, which allows a measure of autonomous driving at speeds of up to 130km/h. The system will steer, brake and accelerate autonomously, but requires well-marked roads, and regular driver confirmation.

All this should come as no surprise, however: Volvo has positioned itself as a leader in vehicle safety for decades now, and the XC60 expresses that hard-earned expertise more convincingly than ever.

But until you’ve experienced its benefits first hand, safety isn’t the sexiest of selling points. Instead, the XC60 needs to shine in other areas too.

The new Volvo XC60

The first-generation XC60 was already Volvo’s top seller in SA, but it was lagging behind more recent arrivals such as the regal XC90 and the chunky, contemporary XC40 as far as styling and interior execution were concerned.

That’s been addressed in the new XC60, however. In design terms, it fits in neatly between the bigger XC90 and the compact XC40, while retaining some of the key aesthetics: upright grille, short overhangs, geometrically sculpted flanks and a tall, planted stance.

The shape is unmistakably Volvo, underpinned by trademark features such as the T-shaped daytime running lights, and the elongated taillight clusters that frame the rear screen and extend across the tailgate. Scuff plates and roof rails are de rigeur SUV extras.

The new Volvo XC60

The overall styling is clean and dynamic: there’s definitely a stronger emphasis on sport than on utility here. That’s particularly true of the R-Design version: big wheels, larger air intakes, full colour coding and large-diameter exhausts ensure an extra measure of extrovert appeal.

The bias swings in favour luxury once you step inside the Volvo. As in the XC90 and XC40, the dashboard is dominated by a tablet-like, portrait-oriented touchscreen display that replaces much of the infotainment system’s traditional switchgear.

The screen provides access to the climate control, audio, satnav and hands-free telephony systems, as well as to a host of vehicle-related settings and parameters. Navigating the screen is similar to swiping a smartphone or tablet: easy and intuitive.

But in motoring terms, ergonomic form doesn’t always translate into function: relying purely on the touchscreen isn’t particularly intuitive if you happen to be driving.

That’s fine if you have a passenger that can set and adjust the parameters on the move, but if you’re on your own it’s a fiddly affair. And that glossy screen soon becomes a mess of smudges. A tactile controller to work in tandem with the touchscreen would make more sense.

Aesthetically however, the instrument panel is sleek and uncluttered in a typically Scandinavian, minimalist kind of way that sets the tone for the cabin as a whole.

The new Volvo XC60

Accommodation is roomy and packaging precise, while the smart materials, including real metallic surfaces and genuine leather, add to a sense of tangible quality.

Unsurprisingly, there’s lots of tech, too – and not just the arsenal of safety systems already alluded to. The instruments are digital and configurable, the seats and mirrors are electric, and outboard cameras make parking a cinch.

Even the tailgate is motorised, and offers wide-opening access to a 505 litre luggage compartment, which should suffice for most holiday trips or weekends away.

There is a long list of added-cost options to choose from, many of which are desirable, but be careful what you wish for: they can be pricey. Playing around with the Configurator on the Volvo website will show how quickly the bottom-line price can rise when adding just a few niceties.

The XC60 can be had with a choice of two turbo petrol (T5 and T6) and two turbodiesel (D4 and D5) engines. They all offer the same four-cylinder configuration and 1,969cc displacement, but with varying power and torque outputs and characteristics.

The new Volvo XC60

As much as turbodiesels have fallen out of favour in Europe, they’re still an attractive and economical option, especially in the SUV context – and the D5 on test here arguably occupies the sweet spot in the range.

With 173kW and 480Nm on tap, there’s never any shortage of urge, and the diesel’s talent for low-down lugging power makes for effortless progress, in town and on the open road. Performance is certainly brisk, with the Volvo sprinting from rest to 100km/h in just more than 7sec.

There’s plenty in reserve for easy overtaking, and highway cruising is a cinch. Volvo’s claimed 5.5-litre fuel consumption figure is optimistic, however: expect around 6 litres/100km on the open road, and between 7 and 8 litres/100km in mixed, town-biased driving.

The eight-speed auto gearbox is a smooth shifter, and can also be operated in manual mode via shift paddles behind the steering wheel. Intelligent all-wheel drive is standard, and splits power between the front and rear axles depending on driving mode and conditions.

A knurled drive mode controller in the centre console allows selection between five driving modes, each with different throttle response, steering and gearshift parameters. If air suspension is fitted, damping and ride height settings also come into play.

Comfort is the default mode, but you can also opt for Eco, Dynamic, Individual and Off-Road. The Dynamic mode certainly made for sprightlier reactions and better steering feel, while Individual allows the various parameters to be set separately to match personal preference.

The new Volvo XC60 – Teaser image

Off-Road is for low-speed use only and is focussed on retaining traction in slippery conditions, but given the 21-inch wheels and low-profile rubber of the test unit, I can’t see too many XC60 owners venturing very far off the beaten track.

In fact, the all-wheel drive system is more about keeping the Volvo surefooted, regardless of conditions, than endowing it with any real off-road prowess. It adds to the overall confidence of the XC60: the Swede feels rock-solid and predictable, even when driven with gusto on undulating tar or over compromised surfaces.

In reality, you sit too high in the Volvo, and the cabin cocoons you too effectively, to make for truly involving driving. But then, the XC60 is more about safe, effortless and supremely comfortable travel than hell-for-leather motoring.

The new Volvo XC60

You could opt for the extra muscle and performance of the turbo petrol T6, which manages the 0-100km/h test in under 6sec, but the D5 will always be the more balanced, more everyday-friendly choice.

It’s easy to see why this latest XC60 is the reigning World Car Of The Year. Smart looks and an even smarter cabin, ample accommodation, intelligent tech, and safety systems that really work equate to exceptional all-round capability.

Who said safety can’t be sexy? DM

PROS

Scandinavian style and automotive serenity in a desirable soft-roader package.

CONS

Costly options list. Still considered too alternative by some premium car buyers.

VITAL STATS

Volvo XC60 D5 R-Line AWD

Engine

In-line four-cylinder, 1,969cc, twin-turbodiesel

Power

173kW @ 4,000rpm

Torque

480Nm @ 1,750 – 2,250rpm

Power-to-weight ratio

79.6 kW/ton

Gearbox

Eight-speed auto, AWD

Wheels/tyres

21-inch alloy, 255/40 R21 tyres

0-100 km/h

7.2sec

Top speed

220km/h

Fuel tank capacity

71 litres

Fuel consumption (claimed/tested)

5.5 / 8.1 litres/100km

Operating range (claimed/tested)

1,290 / 875km

CO2 emissions

144 g/km

Retail price/as tested

R779,000 / R912,950

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