Volvo XC60 in snow

Hands-on review: Volvo XC60 D5 PowerPulse AWD Inscription SUV

One of the latest additions to the Volvo range of SUVs is the XC60. Is it fun, fast and furious? E&T took it on a road trip to Scotland before Winter had yielded to Spring to see how it measured up.

Would you trust an estate agent to tell you what was the perfect house for you? Of course not. You would want to see the house for yourself, maybe talk to the owners, suss out the neighbourhood and other such due diligence.

Equally, I am not so sure that a motoring journalist is really the ideal person to review a car. They talk of understeer and oversteer, body roll when cornering at speed, purposeful design etc. A snippet from one review your correspondent recently read said, “the body rolled too fast (especially at the rear), the steering didn’t deliver enough confidence off-centre and on a bumpy road it could get a bit out of sorts.” What does that actually mean? Assuming a car is made with materials with structural integrity, does the rear really roll more than the front? And maybe if it does get out of sorts then a cup of tea and a rest would do it good.

Volvo XC60

On the other hand, I drive a car so that it doesn’t roll. I gain no interest in understeer or oversteer – I just steer. I appreciate a bit of acceleration, but I’m not going to go wild over a top speed that is double the speed limit, on the grounds that it is double the speed limit and I want to keep hold of my driving licence.

However, I do enjoy driving. A nice car is not wasted on me and perhaps an opinion on a car from a driver like me is more relevant to some people than the review from a petrolhead who test drives a car like he (usually a he) is competing in the RAC rally (before the pedants point it out, I know the RAC Rally doesn’t exist under that name anymore).

Accordingly, when I took delivery of the Volvo XC60 D5, I immediately selected the Comfort setting. It subsequently turned out that the Eco setting only took a minor shine off the performance, but also didn’t make it substantially more economical either. More on the other two mode’s later.

The task set out before this car was to take a family of four from the south of England up to the highlands of Scotland and do a bit of a road trip whilst in the land of heather and rain. The heather isn’t relevant. The rain is, as indeed was the snow, as it added a further dimension to the driving experience. 

The first thing to note is that the instruction manual is held digitally behind the ample (nine inch) control screen and it will not open whilst the car is being driven to prevent driver distraction. As a consequence, useful information was not at hand when I needed it and I kept forgetting to look it up afterwards, although by contrast this did serve to prove what an instinctive driving machine this Volvo is. Apart from turning it on without using the key, which I was shown how to do by the delivery driver, I was given no helpful hints as to functions, but it all fell into place pretty naturally.

First job on our lengthy road trip was to load up the luggage of four fully fledged adults - and that didn’t prove as straightforward as anticipated for such a large car. With the one concession of taking a snow shovel ‘just in case’, the luggage allowance per person was generous rather than extreme and it was a bit of a surprise that it was not swallowed up in the boot. It wasn’t as capacious as anticipated, but if you know what 505 litres looks like then that is what you get and you won’t be disappointed. In reality, it is plenty for most needs, including a road trip to Scotland with a snow shovel, but it is about half the capacity of a Range Rover Discovery, which would be a typical alternative.

As stated before, comfort is all important. As a fifty-something man with a dodgy back, a couple of thousand miles in a car can be tortuous, but there was no need to fret on this score. Having played around with sorting out the ups, downs and angles of the seat position - and using the electric lumbar support to further weld me into the perfect driving position - all I needed was some popcorn and a Coke and I would have happily sat there all night just listening to the radio. Similar compliments came from around the cabin, especially when it was realised that pushing the front passenger seat back wasn’t going to have a crushing impact on the knees of those in the back seat. There was plenty of space for all.

For a while a fifth body joined the travelling party and the middle seat at the back was clearly less comfortable than any of the others. It wouldn’t be ideal if it was going to be for a long journey or where a family of five is the everyday payload.

The infotainment system, which also controlled the cabin environment, was very easy to get used to. Having been impressed by the quality of the sound system and the clarity of bass and treble at volume, we decided to experiment, pretend to be young people and ‘turn it up to 11’. Even at top whack it maintained its integrity – great quality and easy to move the focus of the sound round the cabin depending on who wanted to listen to it. Impeccable as my music tastes are, there appeared to be times when the 20-year-olds in the back seat would rather listen to their own music through headphones without it competing with ‘Top Gear Driving Classics Volume 12’. Surprisingly, even at top volume, the stereo didn’t come as close to ear-bleeding level as we expected. If you are the sort of person who insists on listening to up-to-the-minute R&B jams and ‘sick beats’ at sufficient volume to drown out all other noises in a busy high street, perhaps this may not be the car for you. Realistically, a £46K Volvo probably wouldn’t be your car of choice anyway.

In this age of digital communication it is good to be able to talk and almost every instruction that can be imputed through the touchscreen can also be instructed verbally. The voice recognition was pretty good for most things, but tripped up over the radio stations a few times for some reason. Being able to bark out commands to the car felt like I was re-establishing the proper order of things. I was flummoxed when I first tried to drive the car and it wouldn’t move – it was because I didn’t have my seat belt on. My habit is to put my seat belt on as soon as I drive off – it can save a valuable two seconds! – and I resented being told by the car that this was not acceptable behaviour. Suitably reprimanded, I got used to it.

There are four drive modes: Eco, Comfort, Off-road and Dynamic. As said before, the first of these was fairly indistinguishable from the second, which was our standard for most of our journey.

The plan was to test the off-road capabilities on the forestry tracks that went over the hills from Inveraray to Loch Awe. However, despite some significant potholes, the forestry trucks that charge up and down these roads appear to have worn it down into a less challenging surface than anticipated. The Off-road setting therefore revved purposefully, but didn’t deliver enough speed to make progress and I didn’t have the courage to try proper off-roading. I was conscious that this still wasn’t my car!

That road had some pretty appreciable inclines and was covered in a muddy film, so when the logging lorries appeared round a blind corner at speed – they clearly are not used to anything else using their roads – then the value of having 4WD was apparent. The responsiveness and road holding in these difficult conditions was excellent, as well as both a comfort and a relief. Other times in our journey we encountered snow, ice and excessive surface water that the Volvo’s 4WD ploughed through without slip or deviation.

The fourth driving mode was Dynamic, which it noticeably was. The model I had was the XC60 D5 PowerPulse AWD Inscription, which creates 235hp resulting in acceleration from 0-60 in 7.2 seconds. Again, for those who fail to relate numbers to meaningful reality, this is nippy. I suspect it was measured in the Dynamic mode as this car is nippy enough in my spiritual home of Comfort mode, but it is decidedly sporty in Dynamic. And more fun.

However, fuel economy suffers. The Volvo spec sheets claim fuel consumption in mixed driving conditions as 5.8 litres per 100km, which is about 41mpg in old money. Given that the perceived wisdom is that you take manufacturers’ figures, divide by two and add on the number you first thought of, this was refreshingly honest. In Comfort mode we were getting about 38mpg, which rose to 39-40 in Eco mode. However in Dynamic mode it dropped to 31mpg, so the extra bit of fun comes at a cost. I was too busy looking out for logging lorries whilst driving in Off-Road mode, but I suspect it wasn’t great, nor would it be expected to be.

Verdicts from the passenger seats were all very favourable, but the real winner is the driver. Increasingly more mid to upper-range cars have such options as Heads-Up Display (essential information like speed reflected on the windscreen), adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping control.

One of my first ‘queries’ when getting into the car was the large black unit that sits behind the rear view mirror. It wasn’t that intrusive visually unless you were trying to watch a red kite overhead as you journeyed up the M40, which I am slightly partial to, but I was also confused as to its function.

It is the business end of the IntelliSafe system, the forward-looking sensors that govern the adaptive speed control, lane migration and other safety features. For those wondering what it would be like to ‘drive’ an autonomous car, it is an interesting first step. The lane migration keeps you from wandering from one lane to another or driving off the side of the road, tweaking the steering to keep you on track. The adaptive cruise control keeps a steady distance between you and the car in front. For those not acquainted with such features it may sound a relaxing way to drive. It isn’t. At least not to start with.

Both these features are brilliant, but it is a huge leap of faith to rely on them and indeed it is not the intention that they should replace the driver’s full attention. Even if a particularly attractive and low-flying red kite is overhead. In fact, the lane migration feature works up to a point. After bouncing from one side of the lane to another a few times the car will slowly automatically decelerate as the assumption is that the driver has fallen asleep or some other misfortune has occurred. Also it is limited by the angle that it will readjust for – it is intended for lines that the car is fundamentally meant to be driving parallel to rather than for going round bends.

The adaptive cruise control I used a lot on the motorways: it’s a great device. Mind you, it didn’t pass the ‘chevron test’, those motorways that endeavour to teach us safe driving by telling us to keep two chevrons apart. There is such a stretch on the M6 on the way to Scotland, but at odds with what the Volvo regarded as safe. It tended more towards the one chevron from the car in front at normal motorway speeds, which perhaps is putting too much faith in its braking capabilities when this feature is switched on. Using both of these features, especially for the novice, probably heightens rather than diminishes attention to the road. IntelliSafe covers a host of other features both inside and out of the cabin and there is no doubt that you feel safe cocooned in the XC60.

Beyond being safe, these features make driving more comfortable and pleasurable. Happy as my passengers were, I felt that to really appreciate this car you needed to be the driver. The bottom line is, my current car is not an SUV but my next one will be and there is no doubt that the XC60 will be on - possibly even at the top - of my shortlist. I may have to wait for a year or two until some affordable secondhand units come on the market, but they should be worth waiting for.

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