Expert Reviews

First Drive: 2018 Volvo XC60

BARCELONA, Spain – About forty-five kilometres northwest of Barcelona, Montserrat’s jagged peaks pierce the sky like a saw-toothed blade. Hidden deep within those formidable walls is a Benedictine monastery with roots going back circa 800 AD.

Volvo has enjoyed at least a renaissance if not a return to autonomy.

Aside from being the focus of religious pilgrimage, the monastery is of profound significance to the region’s independent Catalan people for its resistance to the Franco dictatorship, and Monserrat remains an important symbol in their fight against oppression.

Therefore it’s a symbolic and not just pretty backdrop for the vehicle we’re driving – the latest Volvo XC60. The Swedish company barely survived a rather dismal rule under Ford, their product line dwindling until they were barely eking out an existence. Salvation came in the form of Chinese automaker Geely, under whom Volvo has enjoyed at least a renaissance if not a return to autonomy.

The XC60 and the XC90 crossovers helped keep Volvo afloat during the lean times. Under Geely’s ownership a new generation of vehicles based on the Scalable Product Architecture was developed, and the first of those, the 2016 XC90, won North America’s Truck of the Year award. Then came the S90 sedan, which was also well-received, and Volvo’s profits tripled. By 2018, they’ll open their first US factory in North Carolina, and hope to sell more than 800,000 vehicles by 2020.

And now, Volvo’s compact XC60 is the fourth vehicle to join the next-generation lineup. The second-generation XC60 is one of Volvo’s top sellers – and the best-selling crossover in Europe – despite having languished as a decade-old design in this red-hot, super-competitive segment. Despite obvious similarities to its larger sibling, including shared powertrains, Volvo insists their new compact crossover isn’t just a pared-down XC90. The theme is “inspired confidence, versus the XC90’s relaxed confidence,” said chassis lead engineer Egbert Bakker.

The two vehicles share modular platforms and powertrains, but the XC60 is part of their strategy to expand their demographic with more aggressive exterior styling, and more engaging driving dynamics. Volvo predicts it will be a high-conquest vehicle, with 60 percent of its potential buyers being new to the brand.

A more raked A-pillar allowed the nose to be lengthened, imparting a racier look to the XC60’s profile. The wider platform not only imparts a sportier stance, but adds length and width to cabin space. Lines are clean and crisp, culminating in a tidy rear end framed by large vertical tail lamps. Overall, it’s a quietly handsome, refined look that should remain fresh without any overt styling flourishes.

Underhood are the same engines found in the XC90: the T5 turbo-charged four-cylinder producing 250 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque; the T6 turbo and super-charged four-cylinder making 316 hp and 295 lb-ft; and the T8, which is basically a T6 mated to a pair of electric motors and a lithium-ion battery to produce 400 hp and 472 lb-ft of torque. Although a front-wheel-drive T5 will follow in other markets, all XC60s offered in Canada will be Borg-Warner (Haldex) all-wheel drive only.

There are three trim levels – Momentum, R-Design and Inscription – and a variety of packages and standalone options on offer.

Of course, safety has long been Volvo’s mantra, their “Vision 2020” statement claiming that by 2020, no one should be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo car”.

Accordingly there’s a comprehensive list of standard technology from the base Momentum model upward, including City Safety low- and high-speed collision mitigation with pedestrian, cyclist and large animal detection, run-off road mitigation, lane-departure warning and roll stability control.

Optional is “Pilot Assist”, a semi-autonomous driving system with adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assist, and a blind-spot information system which uses brake and steering application to avoid collision if driver doesn’t react to an audible warning.

The only test vehicle on offer was the T6 AWD Inscription, the fully-loaded, top-of-the line trim replete with sumptuous cream leather, bleached driftwood trim and optional air suspension at all four corners.

While thoroughly impractical for families, pets and Canadian winters, the creamy leather combined with the panoramic sunroof imparted a light and airy, ethereal feel to the cabin. The premium crossover segment is a tough arena with such competitors as Audi Q5, Mercedes-Benz GLC, Jaguar F-Pace et al. and the XC60 Inscription raises the bar for interior quality.

There’s a simplicity to the instrumentation that’s quite compelling, although the vertical iPad-style interface has a bit of a learning curve to master. Between the gauges is a customizable TFT display, and the driver can choose to have navigation, entertainment, fuel, or other information at a glance. Worth noting is the head-up display (HUD), which was clearly visible through polarized sunglasses, relaying navigation instructions, speed limits and even radar camera warnings.

Not only is it lovely, but the cabin is an exceedingly quiet place to be. On the busy motorways, wind, noise and vibration were kept to a minimum, and the engine was so quiet we wondered if there was an active noise cancellation system employed – there isn’t. The chassis makes use of plenty of high-strength steel and noise-absorbing insulation. While base models are equipped with a double-wishbone front and integral-link rear suspension augmented with a horizontal composite leaf spring, ours boasted the optional $2,350 Air Suspension with driver-selectable active dampers.

We enjoyed some fast-paced cornering in the foothills beneath Monserrat, where the XC60’s firm yet supple suspension kept it stable through the twists, yet comfortable over harsh pavement. Steering is accurate with good, on-centre feel, and there’s enough power from the T6 turbo to propel the 2,500 kg vehicle quite nicely – and with both turbo- and super-charger working together there’s next to no discernible lag. Observed fuel consumption was 11.5 L/100 km over about 200 km of mixed driving – predominantly with Sport Mode employed. More parsimonious drivers have the option of using “Eco Mode” to keep the fuel numbers down.

We were duly impressed by the roster of safety systems, particularly the collision-avoiding object-detection function which would slam on the brakes if we failed to see one of the countless lane-splitting bikes and scooters that shot by us on the motorways.

While it certainly feels more playful than its larger sibling, the XC60 doesn’t have the truly engaging performance dynamics of the Porsche Macan GTS. It’s more competent than actually sporty.

The XC60’s $45,900 buy-in makes it one of the best values in its segment, but add on some options and the price soars as quickly as any of its premium German competitors. While Volvo predicts the T6 Inscription should be the volume seller, the Momentum’s low price and high list of standard safety and comfort features make it an equally compelling option.

The 2018 Volvo XC60 should arrive late this year in Canadian showrooms.

Pricing: 2018 Volvo XC60

2018 Volvo XC60 T5 AWD: $45,900

Momentum Plus Package $3,100, Climate Package $1,350, Climate Package w/HUD $2,300, Vision Package $1,800, Convenience Package $2,200, Sport Package $1,400,

Single Options:
Metallic Paint $900, Graphic HUD $1,150, Bowers & Wilkins Premium Sound $3,250, 19” Diamond Alloy Wheels $1,000

2018 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD: $52,200

Climate Package $1,350, Climate Package with HUD $2,300, Vision Package $1,800, Convenience Package $2,200, Sport Package (Momentum only) $1,400

Single Options:
Metallic Paint: $900, 4-corner Air Suspension with 4-corner active chassis $2,350, Graphical HUD$1,150, Bowers & Wilkins Sound System $3,250, Tailored dashboard $1,500, 20” 5-double spoke tech black diamond alloy wheels $1,000, 21-inch triple spoke matte black diamond alloy wheels $1,000.

2018 Volvo XC60 T8 eAWD: $69,550

Climate Package $1,350, Climate Package w HUD $2,300, Vision Package $1,800, Convenience Package $2,200

Single Options:
Metallic paint: $900,Graphical HUD$1,150, Bowers & Wilkins Sound System $3,250. On R-Design only: 4-corner Air Suspension with 4-corner active chassis $2,350, , Tailored dashboard $1,500, 21” 5-double spoke tech black diamond alloy wheels $1,000,

Destination: $1,395