Our second taste of the Volvo XC60 (in D5 AWD form) confirms this premium midsize SUV is a strong contender for honours at 2019’s Top 12 Best Buys awards…
As winning streaks go, Volvo’s is an astonishing one. Following years spent languishing in the massive shadow of owners Ford, China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Ltd stepped in with a US$1,8 billion cheque, taking ownership of the Swedish brand and spending more money on developing new hardware. Today, the results are undeniably impressive; in 2017, Volvo sold a record 571 577 vehicles. One of the main contributors to that tally was this new XC60.
It’s little wonder this SUV has been attracting positive attention. In our earlier road test of the T6 R-Design, we awarded it an impressive 81 points out of a possible 100, recording its cruising abilities, superb packaging and competitive pricing as big pluses.
We did, however, have reservations about two aspects: whether the R-Design package is a touch too compromised at low speeds on its firmer damper settings (that T6’s ride was sporadically flummoxed by sharp intrusions sending a slight shudder through the structure straight into the otherwise hushed cabin); and if a diesel model wouldn’t suit something like the XC60’s lifestyle focus better than the powerful but anodyne T6’s 2,0-litre dual-charged petrol.
It was therefore a perfect coincidence Volvo had a D5 in flagship Inscription trim in its Cape Town press fleet. Coated in opinion-splitting Pine Grey Metallic (more pine than grey) and trimmed in “blonde” Nappa leather inside – which feels indulgently supple but soils easily – this D5 uses Volvo’s now-familiar Drive-E 2,0-litre turbodiesel in 173 kW/480 N.m specification, coupled with an eight-speed automatic transmission.
This is one of the best installations of the power unit we’ve encountered. Where in 90-series Volvos its gruff nature seems at odds with the luxury line-up’s otherwise calm mien, here the D5 unit performs admirably and is no more rowdy than German rivals’ equivalent engines.
While the XC60 T6 managed to reach the three-figure mark after just 6,50 seconds, this D5 required 8,37 seconds. That’s on par with the Mercedes-Benz GLC250d, its nearest rival in terms of outputs and mass (1 982 kg). During in-gear testing, however, the D5 was handily quicker than the German and not far off the T6.
Curiously, while Volvo quotes combined fuel consumption figures of 7,70 L/100 km for the T6 and the D5’s at 5,60 L/100 km, on our 100 km set fuel run, the latter used just 1,4 litres less. That said, 7,4 L/100 km is nevertheless an admirable figure for a diesel-driven SUV weighing nearly two tonnes.
Another key difference between the two XC60s we’ve tested so far is their suspension setups, plus the size of the wheels driven by both axles. Where the T6 featured the aforementioned R-Design package sporting a firmer suspension tune, plus optional 21-inch wheels wrapped in 40-profile rubber, this D5 boasts the optional air-suspension system (R26 750) on the rear axle coupled with extra-cost 20-inch wheels enveloped by slightly plumper tyres (19-inchers are standard).
Right from the get-go, it’s obvious this specification irons out the comfort kinks evident in our earlier test. Where that T6 would seek to flatten bumps instead of absorb them, the gently-gently approach of this D5 is more appealing in the context of a family car. Should the driver prefer a stiffer response, the air suspension can be firmed up in sport mode, or switched to an off-road option for maximum ground clearance and distribution of propulsion.
In Inscription spec, the XC60 is lavishly outfitted. Highlights of the tally include the aforementioned Nappa leather trim, an upgraded sound system, City Safety package including various active safety systems such as lane mitigation and blind-spot assist, LED headlamps, electrically adjustable seating, park-distance control and dual-zone climate control. Volvo offers a number of additional options and packages, of which this test car featured the near-R70 000 Premium Pack adding a 15-speaker Bowers & Wilkins audio system, adaptive LED lighting, 360-degree parking cameras and seat heating. Specced separately, the various items would total nearly R110 000.
One tester declared the XC60 D5 one of the most relaxing vehicles he’s driven this year. Another enthused over the handsomely finished cabin and overall refinement. Criticisms? There are a few: the Sensus Connect infotainment system is still not as intuitive as iDrive; Pilot Assist semi-autonomous driving tech clumsily pogoes the car between road markings; and there’s little in its dynamic make-up to excite the enthusiast.
But those are minor quibbles. We look forward to testing more affordable derivatives of the X3 range before making a definitive call (BMW SA has promised us an xDrive20d) but, until then – alongside the Audi Q5 – the XC60 is the premium midsize SUV to get and encapsulates all that’s great about the modern-day Volvo brand.
*From the November 2018 issue of CAR magazine