New engine transforms Volvo's XC60

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IOL mot pic mar28 Volvo XC60 1

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Latest version of Volvo XC60 features some cosmetic changes but the biggest improvement is its new two-litre engine. Picture: Denis Droppa

ROAD TEST: Volvo XC60 T5 Essential

Johannesburg - Whichever employee in Volvo’s product planning department first drafted the idea of a medium-sized crossover SUV must have received a sturdy pat on the back from senior management, because almost immediately after its launch in 2008 the XC60 became the brand’s best seller. And it still is today.

The XC60, built on the same chassis as Volvo’s medium S60 sedan and V60 wagon (and also loosely based on other cars such as the Range Rover Evoque) seems to offer that magic combination of size, spec, and style, and just a few weeks ago it got some extra fandango when the brand’s entire 60 range underwent a major mechanical revision. This, after a stylistic update late last year. Yes, Volvo seems to facelift its cars in a two-step process these days. Bizarre.

Now, together with repositioned windscreen-washer squirter nozzles, a fresher chrome grille frame, and a rather sweet looking digital instrument cluster that, instead of mechanical needles and gauges, comprises interchangeable graphic themes with swirling colour readouts and whirling animated graphics, the XC60 also gets a simplified engine range and a new eight-speed automatic gearbox.

The additions are welcome, too.

Having driven the XC60 in T5 spec before and after the powertrain upgrade, I can say the latest version is indeed an improvement. Where the old 177kW/320Nm two-litre suffered serious turbolag issues, exacerbated by less than ideal gear ratios in a six-speed dual-clutch Powershift transmission, the new one delivers its power in more genteel fashion. Acceleration from a stop is noticeably more immediate than before, which is a good thing considering all the new four-way stops that were once properly functioning robots in SA.

IOL mot pic mar28 Volvo XC60 2

Our test car came with 19-inch rims but 15,16, 17 and even 20-inch hoops are also available. Picture: Denis Droppa

This completely new two-litre turbo falls under Volvo’s just-launched Drive-E strategy, wherein a range of eight different engines (all should be rolled out by the end of next year), in both petrol and diesel, will get the same bottom-end (block) architecture. The T5 model now gets 180kW and 350Nm, and besides the extra power it’s just plain more refined. It’s quieter too, with a wider torque spread and much less lag – exactly what it needed.

MORE GEARS

The divorce from Getrag’s Powershift transmission, and the new marriage with ZF’s popular torque-converter unit (this gearbox can be found across many brands and platforms) makes for happier times. More gears means it’s possible for the engine to operate more accurately within its efficiency band, which in turn means power is more readily available when you need it. Of course this also makes for a busy gearbox with more frequent up and down changes, but thankfully it’s a smooth operator and not at all intrusive on the driving experience.

The XC60 is a high-riding SUV, but in this trim it’s only driven by its front wheels, so a hardcore off-roader it is not. You do get tons of space, and a commanding view of the road, but stray too far out of civilisation and this Volvo will struggle. Our test car was specced with 19” alloys and its 55-profile tyres were chunky enough to dismiss all but the most ferocious potholes, but smaller and even more road hazard-friendly 16, 17, and 18-inchers are also available. Fashionistas can also get 20” hoops if form is of more concern than function.

PILLOWY PERFECTION

We love Volvo seats. Somehow the Swedes have perfected the art of automotive seating and the XC60’s buckets are shaped with exactly the right amount of bolster and cushioned with pillowy perfection. This car can never claim an athleticism to rival German counterparts such as X3 or Q5, but it would be my choice for long hours behind the wheel. Superbly comfortable.

IOL mot pic mar28 Volvo XC60 3

Cabin cannot quite match those of its German rivals for finish, but the seats are wonderfully comfortable. Picture: Denis Droppa

Volvo’s always had a unique style to the way it builds cabins, and even if these modern examples are slightly more plastic than solidly-made 240s and 850s of days gone by, the Swedes have disguised it cleverly. Most surfaces are covered in padded soft-touch materials, but if you poke around in less obvious places like door pockets and under dash cowls you’ll find some cheap stuff. For the most part though, the XC60 is legitimate opposition for the usual German class leaders.

It’s a fair fight on the tech front too.

Many features, such as speed-limit sign recognition, adaptive cruise control with collision warning, and navigation are optional extras, but we’re pleased that Volvo’s at least made all these goodies available. At one time this brand had lagged quite far behind in electronics, but it’s caught up nicely in recent times.

Safety, as usual with this brand, is a highlight. In addition to the existing laser-based City Safety function that slows (but not always stops) the vehicle if another car (or obstacle) gets in the way and the driver doesn’t react to it, the new XC60 also gets Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection that will do the same if one of the fellow road users strays into your path.

My Motoring colleagues were reluctant to guinea pig the feature much as I tried to convince them of its importance for this road test, but there was an occasion when a stray, umbrella-toting granny wandered a bit too far into the road and a series of flashing red lights on the windscreen and some loud beeps warned me in ample time.

The new engine has worked wonders on performance and, having tested old and new back-to-back, I can say this one’s much quicker. Still no bolt of lightning at eight seconds flat from 0-100km/h, but a healthy second faster now with more oomph and more gears. Unfortunately, despite Volvo’s claims, it’s also thirstier now as we averaged 11.4 litres per 100km to the old T5’s 10.5.

VERDICT

Like so many Volvos throughout history, the XC60 is a safe and comfortable cruiser. And now, after a host of recent revisions it’s full of useful tech and a decent performer too. In its most basic Essential spec, priced at R494 100, it’s also lots cheaper than Audi and BMW offerings, but remember those come standard with all-wheel drive. To get an XC60 model with AWD you’ll pay much more. - Star Motoring.

FACTS

Volvo XC60 T5 Essential

Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbopetrol

Gearbox: 8-speed automatic

Power: 180kW @ 5500rpm

Torque: 235Nm @ 1500-4800rpm

0-100km/h (measured): 8.0 seconds

Top speed (claimed): 210km/h

Consumption (measured): 11.4 litres per 100km

Price: R494 100

Warranty: Five-year/100 000km

Maintenance plan: Five-year/100 000km

ALTERNATIVES

Volvo XC60 D5 AWD Excel (158kW/440Nm) - R557 100

Audi Q5 2.0T SE quattro (165kW/350Nm) - R582 500

BMW X3 xDrive 28i auto (180kW/350Nm) - R595 143


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