The in-betweener of the XC range it may be, but this Swede is no underachiever...

You may have heard of the Goldilocks principle. This means analysing everything from infant behaviour and retail pricing, to the global economy and astronomy in an allegorical nod to the famous children’s story The Three Bears, where Goldilocks tastes three bowls of porridge belonging to a trio of unsuspecting bruins. She, of course, favours the one in the middle that’s neither too hot, nor too cold, but just right.

How does this apply to the latest addition to Volvo’s impressive XC stable, you may ask? Well, in as much as this principle denotes the life-supporting planetary middle ground between a scorched ball of rock and an icy wasteland zooming through space, or an economy that’s nestled comfortably between the volatilities of Bull and Bear, the XC60’s middle posting has lent it the potential to meld everything good about its already-impressive stablemates into a supremely desirable package. It’s certainly found favour with the global motoring press, landing this year’s World Car of the Year title, so is it the perfect XC?

Although it is spun off the same modular, unibody chassis that underpins Volvo’s 90-series models, there’s a fair difference between the overall external dimensions of the XC60 and its bigger brother. With an elongated profile contrasting the slight boxiness of the XC90 and XC40, not to mention such elements as the brakelamp clusters adopting a more horizontal plane, the XC60 appears to have inherited some styling DNA from the more distantly positioned but mechanically related V90 Cross Country.

Consequently, the result is another great-looking XC that has just enough individuality in its appearance to ensure the range doesn’t fall foul of the all too prevalent cookie-cutter styling trend that’s increasingly gripping manufacturers. There’s a pleasing subtlety to the manner in which Volvo has appliedits sporty R-Design extras to the XC60; the likes of a gloss-black grille, mildly massaged bumpers and broader exhaust-tip housings aren’t overly brash. Our test unit rolled on an optional set of 21-inch wheels, suspended on a spring setup that’s been stiffened as part of the R-Design upgrade.

Much as the styling manages to neatly tread the fashion/function divide, the XC60’s packaging is a similarly balanced affair. The cabin’s layout incorporates a generous boot and more rear legroom than the XC90 (710 mm versus 703 mm) on a related platform that’s 19 mm shorter in the wheelbase (the bigger car has to make space for a third row of seats). There’s a slight height-biased bent to its dimensions, too, that’s up there with the best in its bracket and renders it a viable family vehicle.

Volvo’s proprietary Sensus touchscreen infotainment system still forms the function-rich centre of a cabin that’s both minimalistic and nicely finished, with this model’s R-Design specification applying such features as mildly bolstered sports seats, a leather-clad sports steering wheel and crosshatched metallic inlay panels bordered by stitched leather, on a solidly built, slush-moulded canvas.

It’s a serene space that’s suitably hushed at motorway speeds and, with the optional suite of semi-autonomous driver aidskeeping an eye and well-measured digital hand on proceedings, the XC60 is a relaxed long-distance companion.

It’s this almost laconic ease that flows through the XC60’s driving manners; those 21-inch rims and stiffened springs don’t add any dynamic sparkle to proceedings. For that you’ll have to look to the Bavarians. The steering is slowly geared but light enough to acquit itself well in most driving scenarios, while the ride, although supple and tractable on the majority of road surfaces, occasionally let slip a spot of unwelcome judder over ridged surfaces.

If our experience with the contrasting ride served up by the R-Design and Momentum-specced XC40s we recently tested is anything to go by, it’s likely that opting for the Momentum specification, with its plumper tyres and softer suspension setup, will iron out those kinks in the XC60.

While the T6 may be a consummate cruiser, its engine packs a punch few of its rivals can match. In fact, the engine outputs of other SUVs in that price bracket top out at 185 kW. The T6’s turbo- and supercharged petrol unit serves up 235 kW, skirting close to the X3 M40i’s 265 kW output (for which you’d have to shell out in excess of R200 000 extra).

It’s not, however, the most charismatic unit we’ve encountered. Although decently refined, it becomes more ragged than its German rivals when the rev needle climbs towards the red. Volvo claims the adoption of a two-stage forced-induction setup, where a small supercharger provides low-end boost before the larger turbo spools up to feed the top end, allows it to squeeze six-cylinder performance out of a four-cylinder engine. Such claims are usually taken with a generous pinch of condiment, so we were initially taken aback by the performance times that the T6 posted.

The gearbox’s smooth, well-mapped shifts and the assured roadholding afforded by the AWD system masked an impressive turn of pace, with the XC60 posting a 0-100 km/h time of 6,5 seconds that, fittingly enough, is between four- and six-cylinder territories. This unit’s fuel economy is a similar story, with its 8,8 L/100 km on our mixed-use fuel run being neither immensely frugal, nor unbearably heavy.

As is the case with its stablemates, the XC60 is generously equipped but, given its competitive pricing, potential buyers could well opt for one of the three kit packages on offer: R-Design Plus; R-Design Premium Plus; and Driver Support Pack. Considering the similarity between the R-Design Plus and Premium Plus packages is essentially the inclusion of aBowers & Wilkins audio system (the Premium Plus package saves around R10 000 compared to speccing this R40 050 audio system to the Plus pack), it would make good sense to instead opt for the Plus Pack and Driver Support Pack at a price of R68 750. This gives you most of the niceties (adaptive LED headlamps, heated seats, 360-degree camera, keyless entry and smartphone integration for the infotainment system among the number), along with Volvo’s suite of semi-autonomous driver systems and a head-up display.



TEST SUMMARY

Being imbued with the DNA of siblings that already carry a considerable weight of aesthetic appeal and capability was always going to be something of a double-edged sword for the XC60.

 

But, given the manner in which it acquits itself as both a comfortable cruiser with a pinch of pace, as well as being packaged in such a way that the lifestyle and family bases are covered, makes it an impressively balanced product. Factor in competitive pricing and it looks as though the XC60 sits smack-bang in the middle of XC range in pretty much every respect. Volvo has indeed got this one just right.

 

*From the August 2018 issue of CAR magazine

 


See Full Volvo XC60 Specs here