Getting the mid-sized premium SUV mix just right

Getting the mid-sized premium SUV mix just right

Volvo XC60

Volvo XC60

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South Africa and the rest of the world have gone SUV crazy. 

But even as more and more SUVs make their way onto the global platform, adding to a fast-growing but increasingly competitive SUV market, it is not that difficult to grasp why the Volvo XC60 took the World Car of the Year title in 2018. 

It is one of the safest cars ever made, scoring a near-perfect 98% for safety of adult occupants in the EuroNCAP testing, the highest of all new vehicles tested. 

And it is loaded with tech and luxury.Safety has always been the hallmark of the Volvo brand. So has practicality. 

Nowadays, design, tech, luxury and prestige have been added to those attributes, all of which is helping the Swedish brand rack up points with consumers and in so doing give the German brands a run for their money. 

Getting the mix right is paying off.

The XC60 completes Volvo’s line-up of premium SUVs, nestling comfortably between its larger XC90 and smaller XC40 SUV siblings.

Four models make up the range: two petrol variants and two diesels. All come with 2-litre turbocharged engines and all-wheel-drive.  Three trim levels, the base level Momentum, sporty styled R-Design and range-topping Inscription, are on offer. 

finweek took to the roads in the XC60 T6 petrol version with sporty R-Design trim.

Exterior elegance

There’s a sense of restrained elegance in the Volvo XC60’s styling. This premium mid-sized SUV’s design is bold enough to get your attention, yet sufficiently elegant to hold that interest. It’s longer, lower and wider than its predecessor and more dynamic-looking. 

The front is typically Volvo with the brand’s signature Thor Hammer LED headlights, chrome and black grille, lower outer grilles and LED fog lights adorning a purposeful face.

The seamless, dynamic styling is completed by a sculpted rear that also features full LED tail lights and dual integrated tailpipes, while 19-inch alloy wheels and black roof rails add a touch of sporty flair.

Calming, crisp cabin

Nothing jars in the XC60’s cockpit. There’s a fluid, pure design feel, a sense of luxury and intuitive switchgear that creates a calming and embracing mood.

Neatly mounted within the centre stack, the integrated display adds to the clean, flowing design of this elegant cockpit.

It is this integrated and easy-to-operate tablet-like 12-inch touchscreen that forms the command post for infotainment and connectivity. 

Infotainment and connectivity features include a high-performance sound system, Bluetooth, USB and navigation. iPhone pairing is easy, with Apple CarPlay affording access to your phone using the car’s display. 

Standard features in this executive SUV also include hill start assist and hill descent control – both of which remove the angst that negotiating steep inclines or descents often bring – as well as retractable side mirrors, rain sensor, power-operated tailgate and rear park assist.

The R-Design version is equipped with sporty contoured seats for a more dynamic driving experience, 3-spoke perforated leather sport steering wheel, sporty aluminium pedals and tread plates with the R-Design logo.

The soft Nappa ventilated leather seats are supremely comfortable and figure-hugging. 

And the power front seats come with the added bonus of cushion extension and 4-way power adjustable lumber support; a real treat and pivotal to keeping driving stiffness and tension at bay, especially during long trips.

This premium cabin has two-zone climate control with its ‘clean air’ quality system and pollen filter protecting occupants from harmful pollutants.

How grateful I was for the XC60’s sophisticated climate control during the recent heat wave. 

I was as appreciative of the light breeze from the panoramic sunroof in the crisper, cooler evenings.

This polished Swede comes with excellent safety features. 

Apart from an array of safety airbags including front, side and curtains airbags, the standard ‘City Safety’ package includes detection of pedestrians, cyclists and large animals and front collision warning with full auto brake. 

Additional safety options like lane keeping assist, blind spot detection and adaptive cruise control with pilot assist come at added cost.

There’s loads of leg space in this SUV, both in front and in the rear. The boot with its power-operated tailgate provides bags of room too. Pun intended.

Driving confidence

I take pleasure in driving; some vehicles more than others. This premium SUV is one of those vehicles.Foremost among the reasons for this, is the right mix of just about everything that forms an emotional connection between you and the machine and that which makes it pleasurable to drive. 

It’s about how at ease you are behind the wheel and with the car’s controls, and how confident you are in its performance and handling. 

Add to this comfort, luxury and all the tech necessary to keep you connected on the move and driving pleasure is guaranteed.

It is set in motion with the latest Drive-E power train that balances power, response and efficiency. 

In the Volvo XC60, that’s a 2-litre turbocharged petrol engine mated to a silky changing eight-speed automatic gearbox and Volvo’s permanent all-wheel-drive system. 

With the R-Design comes a sport chassis that provides a rather more dynamic ride, one that is certainly a cut above that of its predecessor.

I liked the previous generation XC60, but it did not blow me away. To some degree this had to do with handling in the curves where it felt just a tad wallowy. But it was also about the overall design style.

Volvo’s latest generation XC60 is a more handsome beast, and its handling has been taken up a notch, helped in good part by the R-Design’s lowered sport chassis that provides dynamic and sharper handling.

Sharper handling doesn’t come with comfort compromise. Even while a more dynamic and spirited drive is on offer, the ride is an exceptionally refined and comfortable one. 

If ride comfort as well as easy entry and exit and effortless boot loading is high on your agenda, then the optional air suspension, which was fitted on the test model, is a must. 

The air suspension controls ride height, comfort and dynamism and active dampers constantly adapt to road conditions, effectively reducing the effects of road blemishes. 

Ride height might be higher, but the suspension is lowered for ease of entry and exit or loading. It’s a boon, all the more so if you are small of stature.

As is the norm for SUVs, the Volvo XC60 comes with a raised seating position. Though high, the seating position still feels embracing.

Despite sounding a touch high-pitched at higher revs, the 2-litre engine is spirited and efficient. And whatever the driving mode, be it eco, normal or dynamic, acceleration is fluid.

As is often the case with today’s SUVs, this premium SUV is more road-biased than off-road focused. That said, the XC60 also comes with an off-road driving mode where its capability on gravel is more than competent.

It’s a delight to drive, equally content in heavy, urban traffic as it is when it is purring happily on the open road. It feels planted. Steering is accurate. The ride is comfy. The engine is responsive. 

This efficient engine is more than ample to tow this luxury spacious SUV at decent speeds, even with four or five passengers and all their paraphernalia in tow.

The turning circle on the new XC60 is tighter too, seriously handy when manoeuvring this not-so-small SUV in urban surroundings.

It seems that Volvo is getting a lot right of late if sales and consumer sentiment are anything to go by. Aside from its win on the global platform, the XC60 represents around 30% of Volvo’s total sales. In SA, the XC60 is equally popular and one of Volvo’s best-selling vehicles. 

It also claimed the ‘Executive SUV’ category trophy in this year’s Cars.co.za Consumer Awards, and made the list of semi-finalists in the 2019 Autotrader Car of the Year competition. 

This article originally appeared in the 7 February edition of finweek. Buy and download the magazine here or subscribe to our newsletter here.

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