Road Test: Volvo XC60 D5 R-Design Lux
Volvo XC60 D5 R-Design Lux Geartronic
Sector: SUV Price: £41,120 Fuel: 44.1mpg CO2: 169g/km
Led by demand from China and North America, Volvo’s XC60 accounts for almost one in every four cars the manufacturer sells globally. So while the V40 may be the growth-generator in Europe, this D-segment SUV is a backbone of its model range.
Very competitive new petrol and diesel engines are already launching into the range, and a new scalable platform arrives with the XC90 later this year. But, in the meantime, the S60, V60 and XC60 all had substantial mid-life facelifts last year. Arguably it's cost the XC60 a little of its uniqueness, but bringing R-Design models in line with the S60's tough front-end has given it real on-road presence.
Actually, it's quite a departure from the smart but understated XC60's norm. R-Design versions fill the arches with 20-inch wheels, while the spacious interior is equipped with all-new sports seats featuring an embroidered R on the backrest. Updates also include an internet-connected Sensus infotainment system, which can stream audio and download content on the move. It’s very easy to use and ideal for getting the attention of tech-savvy younger buyers, but it also shows up gaps in the UK's mobile phone coverage.
In Europe, the XC60 range is entirely made up of diesel engines with a single T6 turbocharged petrol holding up the niche end, but the 213bhp D5 diesel is all the performance most drivers will ever need. Recent improvements have made this a genuinely fuel-efficient engine, and even the warrantied software upgrade from Volvo’s WTCC partner Polestar manages to bump power up to a potent 228bhp and 347lb.ft without affecting CO2 emissions or fuel economy.
However, the automatic gearbox is the car’s Achilles Heel. While rivals have at least brought these in line with the economy and performance of a manual, there’s a void between the two gearboxes in the XC60. The manual returns 53.3mpg, emitting a very reasonable 139g/km. The auto box takes this down to 44.1mpg while CO2 emissions rocket to 169g/km.
In the compact executive segment occupied by the S60 and V60, there’s a case to be made with head and heart for the manual gearbox. But, with equivalent SUVs from Audi, BMW, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz offering a better performance for the same or better economy, Volvo's new eight-speed automatic gearbox can't go range-wide soon enough.
It’s a thorn in the side of an otherwise respectable performance SUV. With the Polestar upgrade, as tested here, acceleration to motorway speeds is brisk and effortless and, despite its faults, the Geartronic transmission shifts smoothly. Acceleration figures for the Polestar cars aren’t publicised, but the XC60 should reach 62mph in around eight seconds in sport mode.
Off the motorway, the R-Design’s suspension is stiff enough to show up pretty much any flaw in the road surface underneath, but body roll is minimal. Volvo has also made its Corner Traction Control system, which brakes the inside wheels while cornering to reduce understeer, standard fit across the range, giving reassuring grip on winding roads.
Behind closed doors, there’s a lot of work going on at Volvo to bring the model range up to date. New platforms, new engines and a fresh family style will all pay dividends as the company recovers, but in some cases the new drivetrains can’t come soon enough.
Respectable straight-line performance and impressive agility make the XC60 a good drive. But, at this price, it’s aiming for a group of very convincing fast diesel and hybrid SUVs from established luxury brands, which offer better performance for similar or lower environmental impact, and really needs a competitive gearbox to keep up.