Barcelona, Spain – You get the sense the folks at Volvo are getting a little impatient.
The brand’s quality, style and tech metamorphosis which started with the award-winning XC90 two years ago, has been so well received (we voted it our car of the year in 2015), it’s understandable the Swedes are now eager to swing Thor’s hammer at every model in their stable, and even at some new ones which don’t exist yet. Where is the road-ready version of 2013’s stunning Concept Coupe anyway?
Step into any of Volvo’s post-renaissance vehicles, which so far comprise the XC90 SUV, S90 sedan and V90 wagon, and the newfound classiness is plain to see. Yesteryear’s models were slipping into sub-premium categorisation with interiors that were too plasticky, styling that was too bloated and tech that was too far behind, but these new ones are bristling with finely-crafted cabins, colour-popping touchscreens and cutting edge self-driving features.
Thor’s hammer, by the way, is a reference to the T-shaped LED headlight detail which now acts as a differentiator between past and present Volvos. And now it’s been applied to the mid-size XC60 SUV.
Tricky thing is, the existing XC60, as dated as it is, is still Volvo’s best-seller and is extremely popular overseas (it’s the best-selling premium SUV in Europe according to Volvo), and toying with its winning formula could be a risky move.
So, to smooth the transition from the now nine-year old version to the all-new one, Volvo will for now build both. The old XC60 will carry on being built in Belgium until late this year, while the new one is already rolling off lines in Sweden. It’s also already on sale in some markets, but we won’t see it in South Africa until around April next year.
We got a chance to test the new XC60 in Spain last week, and though it’s been improved upon in all areas, it still hits the same sweet spot the previous one nailed in 2008. This isn’t an SUV dedicated to offroad ability, nor does it masquerade as a weekend track-lapper with ride-compromising suspension. It’s a middle of the road offering with comfort and convenience the primary focus, and if other vehicles are better suited to Sani Pass and Kyalami extremes, the XC60 will be hard to beat for daily commuting and small-family getaways.
I say small families because seating is limited to five spaces. Obviously Volvo has to leave some room in its lineup for the bigger, seven seater XC90 – a vehicle with which the XC60 shares its chassis, engines, tech, and pretty much everything else.
It’s really all the same stuff. The XC60 and XC90 use the same seats, infotainment touchscreens, air-filtrating climate control systems, optional air suspension, and semi-autonomous Pilot Assist and City Safety features. Even the panoramic sunroofs are identical. Besides a third seating row and some extra cabin space, there’s literally nothing that comes in the 90 that you can’t get in the 60.
Though the 300kW plug-in hybrid T8 flagship is still under consideration for our market, the rest of the range is confirmed. This means two diesels and two petrols, all with 2-litre displacements and all with eight-speed auto gearboxes and all-wheel drive as standard. The selection will exactly mirror that in the XC90, and includes D4 (140kW/400Nm), D5 (173kW/480Nm), T5 (187kW/350Nm) and T6 (235kW/400Nm) models. All are turbocharged, except the T6 which is turbo and supercharged. All engines will come with a choice of Momentum, Inscription or R Design trim lines.
The test units I drove in Spain were all specced with optional air suspension, so I can’t speak for the standard steel-sprung setups, but my word, this is one exceptionally soft riding SUV. The XC60 is a bit shorter in wheelbase and narrower in track than the larger 90, but big brother has still passed on its wonderfully supple road manners.
The 60 goes about business in a very mature and refined way, soaking up whatever surface imperfections it rolls over.
There’s a noticeable airiness to the cabin (especially so with blond nappa leather and light driftwood dash inlays), and 360 degree visibility from the driver’s seat is very good. A central 23cm portrait-shaped touchscreen is inherited from other current “Thor’s hammer” models, and because it houses most onboard controls the dash layout is quite minimalist in typical Scandinavian fashion.
It’s a dazzling display of vivid colour and crisp graphics, but its operation will take some getting used to if you’re not au fait with these modern day touch-type systems. Simply adjusting bass and treble is a complex procedure, and fine tuning the satnav can be torturous for less tech-savvy people.
Cabin quality is next level. I’d say it’s even a notch above the Germans, with perfect attention to detail in all areas. There’s a teeny-weeny Swedish flag stitched into the passenger seat’s side piping, and the thin stainless steel beading that flows along the width of the dash gets a flea-sized flag embossed into its surface.
Tiny things that make a lot of difference.
Even the (optional) 15-speaker Bowers & Wilkins grilles wouldn’t look out of place in a Rolls Royce. It’s that good.
The new XC60’s south African arrival is too distant to confirm pricing, but expect a bit of a hike over the current XC60 which ranges from R630 000 to R724 000. That should put it right in line with rival GLCs, X3s and Q5s.