Volvo XC60 (2017) review: Still simply superb
The Volvo XC60 sits smack bang in the middle of Volvo’s revamped SUV range and, like the Volvo XC90 and the smaller, newer Volvo XC40, it’s a significant upgrade on what went before. And, just like its siblings, the Volvo XC40 is a technological tour de force – a car that’s jam-packed with brilliant safety, driver assistance and infotainment technology.
While it may not be quite as sharply tailored and modern as the newer XC40, the XC60 perfectly embodies Volvo’s new approach to car design. It follows faithfully in the footsteps of the cutting edge XC90 offering a slightly smaller, more affordable version.
In fact, other than size, the two cars have a remarkable amount in common. Both are built on the same platform and share many of the same engines and safety technologies. The difference is in the cost. With prices beginning well south of £40,000 for the entry-level D4 diesel – a full £10,000 cheaper than the XC90 – the XC60 is set to be the most popular model of the new breed.
Volvo XC60 (2017) review: In-car tech and audio
One of the things we liked the most about the Volvo XC90 was how calm a place it felt to be. Its plush, luxurious cabin is lovely, particularly in the company’s top-end Inscription trim; the high driving position, supple drive and generous equipment levels makes you feel like a king.
Step into the Volvo XC60 and you don’t feel quite as regal, but the comfort levels and all the mod cons are still there. Even the basic Momentum trim delivers a huge range of features, including all the new safety and Pilot Assist features, which I’ll get onto later.
The biggest difference inside the car on a practical level is that the Momentum has a smaller driver information screen, while the R-Design D4 and D5 XC60 models I drove come with the full 12.3in digital instrument display. This adds extra clarity to the speedometer, making it easy to see what your cruise control and speed limit levels are set to, and adds an extra dimension to the satnav.[gallery:3]
What’s impressive here, though, is that despite that, there’s little missing from the overall technology package. All models come with the 9in Sensus infotainment system in place, including European mapping and traffic info, and lifetime map updates. You get the full range of apps, including onboard Spotify and Volvo on Call, SIM card compatibility and support for both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There’s even a CD slot in the centre console box for those who prefer old-school music sources.
As with the V90 Cross Country I reviewed earlier this year, Sensus in the XC60 integrates the phone applications beautifully. First-time connection is straightforward. Simply plug in via the highlighted USB socket in the centre console storage box and, once everything has been set up, an Android Auto or CarPlay icon appears on one of the system’s homescreens. You can then launch it with a quick tap of the finger.[gallery:11]
At the moment, Android Auto and CarPlay have their weaknesses and strengths. Google Maps is superb for traffic avoidance, has excellent route-planning facilities, and its interpretation of voice instructions is usually pretty good (although I had problems with getting it to find Bamford in the Peak District); its weakness is the Spotify app, which works well with voice searches but doesn’t let you browse your playlists or library effectively. CarPlay’s weak spot, meanwhile, is Apple Maps, but its Spotify app is more browsable than on Android Auto.
The Volvo XC60 is also available with the optional B&W sound system, which is an absolute must for music lovers. Although the standard audio system is very good, the 1,100W, 15-speaker Bowers & Wilkins setup adds a huge amount of scale and a greater sense of drama to music. It’s a spectacularly good audio system – the sort you can keep turning up and up and not hear any distortion. The only problem with this is that if you go too far, bass-heavy tracks can set the panels buzzing.[gallery:18]
Volvo XC60 (2017) review: Safety features and driver assistance
Let’s take a break and play a word-association game for a moment: “Volvo”. What’s the first word that pops into your head? It’s probably either “Swedish” or “Safety”, isn’t it? If it isn’t, what’s wrong with you?
True to form, the Volvo XC60 is available with a huge range of technological safety features – the same as the current-gen XC90 and V90 – plus a couple of new ones into the bargain. The first is “City Safety with Steer Assist”, which works with pedestrian, cyclist and large animal detection to help you steer safely around potentially dangerous obstacles and back again.
Then there’s “Oncoming Lane Mitigation”, which senses if the driver begins to veer into a lane of oncoming traffic and gently steers the car back to a safe position. Blindspot with steer assist works in a similar way, just in reverse, pulling you back into your lane if it senses a vehicle approaching you from behind.
These things aren’t something we’re in a position to test with any degree of authority, but what I can say is that Volvo’s Pilot Assist technology – which now works at speeds of up to 80mph – works brilliantly. Pilot Assist is Volvo’s famed semi-autonomous driving mode and with it enabled the car is effectively able to drive itself, steering around curves, keeping a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you and even recognising temporary speed limit signs and adjusting its speed appropriately.[gallery:13]
It’s mainly designed for motorway and dual-carriageway driving, and in this environment it performs brilliantly – so well that you can take your hands off the steering wheel and let it do its own thing (although the car will insist you put them back in place sharpish if you do). Impressively, it can negotiate gentle country roads and city avenues successfully as well, although more complex environments can confuse it.
These features aren’t standard on the Momentum model, though, but as part of the £1,500 Intellisafe Pro upgrade pack; it’s something well worth adding. As is the 360-degree parking camera and automatic parallel and bay parking system, available to Momentum and R-Design models as part of the £2,000 Xenium upgrade pack.
Volvo XC60 (2017) review: Exterior design, engines and handling
As ever with a popular design, the design of the 2017 Volvo XC60 isn’t a dramatic departure from the outgoing model. Manufacturers tend to be conservative with these things, especially if the model is one of the more popular ones. Nonetheless, the XC60 has been given a lift on the outside and the small changes to contribute to a far more aggressive, sporty and appealing appearance. At the front end, Volvo’s “Thor’s Hammer” headlights now extend all the way through to the grille, and that grille is deeper, more rectagular in shape and trimmed with chrome. Combined with slightly larger lower vents at the front, the new XC60 has a much more modern, less polite look.
At the sides, too, convex and concave sculpted areas draw the eye down, lending the car a trimmer waistline, but the rear doesn’t look much different. The rear lights extend across onto the boot lid but aside from that, little has changed. All-in-all, it’s a small refinement, but a welcome one.
The same goes for the engine offering. As with the V90 (2017), the Volvo XC60 will initially be available with three engine types (the diesel D4, D5 PowerPulse and the petrol T5) – all four-wheel drive – with optional air suspension available across the range. The twin-engine T8 plug-in hybrid model will be available later on in the year.
I had the opportunity to drive the entry-level diesel 190hp D4, which will get you from 0-60mph in a spritely 8.4 seconds, and the D5 PowerPulse, which has a bit more get up and go with 235hp and a 0-60mph time of 7.2 seconds.[gallery:2]
Volvo’s PowerPulse tech, which fires compressed air into the path of the first turbocharger, ensures the D5 is the more responsive of the two. However, it’s also the quieter powerplant, sounding a little less throaty at high revs than the D4. At motorway speeds, both engines are quiet and well mannered, while wind and road noise are kept to a comfortable minimum.
Handling can be best described as pliant and comfortable rather than direct and sporty – as Volvo says, its customers don’t want a stiff chassis – but there’s little body roll and it feels more connected to the road than the larger, floatier XC90.
Volvo XC60 (2017) review: Verdict
The Volvo XC60, like its bigger brother, is a cracking motorcar. It’s packed with safety tech, drives beautifully, it’s comfortable and, with the optional Pilot Assist mode providing assistance on motorways and dual-carriageways, it’s a joy to drive long distance.
If you’re looking for a more involving, performance-focused SUV at this price, the Jaguar F-Pace might be more your style. For anyone after a car that gets you from A to B in comfort and that gives you a few more toys to play with, however, the Volvo XC60 looks to be a mighty fine choice.