Volvo XC60 is life in the smooth lane

Volvo, famous for its formerly boxy designs, has found its styling mojo and the XC60 radiates smooth aggression. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
Volvo, famous for its formerly boxy designs, has found its styling mojo and the XC60 radiates smooth aggression. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

When you’re evaluating a vehicle that’s been voted the 2018 world car of the year, inevitably the bar is set a little higher in your expectations.

So far the Volvo XC60 that’s occupied Business Day’s test garage for the past few months has largely lived up to the hype. Volvo is one of the most improved brands of recent years and the renaissance started by the large XC90 SUV has continued in the Swedish firm’s subsequent vehicles, including the XC60 and the XC40.

Of particular merit is how Volvo’s improved its cabin quality, and like its stablemates the XC60’s interior is a place of plushness and upmarket ambience. The customary Scandinavian minimalism is presented with distinctly more elegance than previous Volvos, which felt a tad plasticky. The stylish metallic, leather and wood accents inside this Swede are a match for anything the Germans have conjured.

A word of advice though: don’t pick light-coloured seats when speccing your vehicle and rather stick to darker cowhide. After just a few months our test car’s cream leather seats have developed a patina and need a good clean.

The seats are comfy and stylishly designed, but light-coloured leather gets dirty quickly. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
The seats are comfy and stylishly designed, but light-coloured leather gets dirty quickly. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

For the rest, the interior’s holding up well in daily use including lugging the occasional bicycle in its cavernous load bay. If you’re looking for passenger and boot space the family-sized XC60 doesn’t disappoint.

The car embraces the digital age with its “virtual” instrument panel and large tablet-like touchscreen infotainment and climate control system. For the most part the touchscreen interface is user-friendly, though some of the menus are more hidden than I’d like and I have experienced more intuitive systems.

I am also enjoying the Bowers & Wilkins high-performance sound system (a R40,750 option), which includes a subwoofer and is one of the better factory-installed concert halls I’ve experienced.

The XC60 isn’t without its foibles, one of them being that the twin turbo diesel engine displays some lag at Joburg’s high altitude, and if you’re in a hurry this delay on pulloff can be vexing. It would probably feel worse without the lag-reducing PowerPulse system which feeds compressed air into the exhaust manifold the moment you press the throttle.

Anyway, once the revs rise the performance of this large car becomes considerably livelier, particularly its ability to swiftly overtake trucks on the open road.

Volvo claims performance figures of 220km/h and 0-100km/h in 6.8 seconds for this D5 model which serves up 173kW and 480Nm through permanent all-wheel drive and 8-speed automatic transmission. The driving experience is smooth and silky in terms of refinement, though you can hear it’s a four-cylinder and not a creamy six under the bonnet.

The 2l turbo diesel engine’s loosened up with mileage, which has seen fuel consumption dropping from over 9l per 100km to 8.6 - a decent figure for a large car with this level of power.

The test car’s fitted with optional air suspension which wafts comfortably over most road surfaces, but can be stiffened and lowered by selecting the Dynamic high performance mode. Dynamic also sets sportier gearshift, engine, braking and steering responses than the Comfort, Eco and Offroad modes. The parameters can all be set separately - for instance soft suspension with sportier gearshifts.

This range-topping Inscription model (the XC60’s also offered in Momentum and R-Design varieties) comes fairly well stocked for its R795,436 price including features like dual zone climate control, navigation, parking sensors, a power-operated tailgate, and electrically adjusted front seats. A full complement of airbags along with stability control ensures this XC60 lives life in the safe lane.

Our test vehicle has a whole bunch of extra options from Volvo’s extensive catalogue including a panoramic sunroof, head-up display, 360° parking camera, massaging front seats, and Pilot Assist to name just a few.

As a stepping stone to a future of self-driving cars, Pilot Assist is a pretty good feature that incorporates a lane-keeping aid with adaptive cruise control that automatically keeps the car at a safe following distance. It allows you to drive the car virtually hands-free at times, which makes the driver’s life more stress-free particularly in heavy traffic.

The car is able to self-steer even through relatively tight corners and I find Volvo’s semi-autonomous tech to be slightly ahead of the opposition. We’re still a way off being able to leave a car to its own devices while we fiddle with our smartphones, but this is a good start.

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