Believe it or not, Volvo’s XC60 has been the best-selling premium mid-sized SUV in Europe for two years in a row now. And it's leading the pack from a distance, with the closest rival (by a tiny stretch) being the Range Rover Evoque with over 2,000 less units sold. What, BMW X3, you ask? That's all the way down in fourth place, with almost 8,000 cars to sell if it wants to catch up with the Volvo.
But don't worry, the Mercedes-Benz GLK did even worse in 2014, selling only a third of Volvo XC60's total. Yeah, but that's a very old SUV
, you'll say. Well, so is the Swedish model, both having been launched in 2008. And yet, the Volvo is beating everybody to a pulp without the luxury of having other similarly strong-selling models in its lineup to bring forward the brand's name.
How can this be? That's actually a very good question, one that we hoped a good old test-drive would find an answer to. I mean, there has to be something about this car, something less obvious than its looks, price and all that, to convince so many Europeans to ditch their classic premium brands for the Swedes.
And the moment you step into a Volvo XC60, you realize what that something might be.
It's the perfect car for old people, for the kind of nice, quiet families you want as your neighbors and for people who practice Reiki and meditation.
It's a bit of a spa for men, if you like, even though women are just as welcome to drive it - as are men relaxing in spas, I would presume.
If it's a serene experience you're after, look no further, as nothing this side of a Mercedes-Benz S-Class can offer anything quite similar. And the source of this relaxing feeling is not something you can pinpoint with ease, being more of a joint effort type of affair.
Have you seen those things that look like a pair of car seats? Yeah, well, they're probably more comfortable than your bed. Sit in them, and you will instantly feel all your worries fly away as if you were just born this second. I am obviously exaggerating, but it's only to make a very valid point: these seats are sublime, and the only things that come close in terms of softness are the S-Class' rear seat head pillows.
But it's more than that. The test car came with huge 20-inch wheels that looked absolutely stunning with their ten thin spokes, but large rims are never the right recipe for comfiness. And yet, the Volvo XC60 somehow manages to pull it off, leaving me to wonder if maybe I would have fallen asleep had it come with 18-inch wheels.
The interior itself is a comforting place to be, with a lot of light colors and plenty of actual light too coming through the large greenhouse helped by the generous retractable panoramic sunroof. It obviously comes in black as well and with no sunroof, but going for that configuration would be a mistake. It's like having to choose between being happy or depressed and opting for the latter.
The outside sound creeping in is also kept to a minimum. Even though we drove a diesel (the top D5 version, to be more exact), engine noise wasn't really a problem - it can be heard, but it's muted enough to be both bearable and easily covered by the very good Harman Kardon premium sound system.
There are also visual elements that help comfort our weary minds. It's the little stuff, like the frameless rearview mirror that looks nothing short of superb, or the floating center console with a small storage space behind it that's both cool and useless.
On the other hand, the whole dashboard design is a bit confusing. For one thing, it uses no less than five different types of materials (there might actually be more, but I think five is enough to make a point). There is tan leather and dark gray leather on the steering wheel, there are beige plastics on the bottom of the dash and dark gray on the top, there are matte metallic inserts and also chromed accents, while the center console features a piano-black style finish.
This makes the XC60's dash a busy place. It looks as though Volvo threw everything they had at it in an attempt to make it look up-market based on "the more, the merrier" approach. But that's not the way to go if you want true premium atmosphere. And it's not like Volvo doesn't know it: just look at the new XC90
Opting for the darker cabin solves this problem, but, as I've said earlier, I still wouldn't advise that. It's a trade-off, but if there's anything Star Wars taught us is that the dark side always loses. The center console is one of the busiest places on the planet. It's in a strong competition with the old Opel dashboards that had more buttons than a space shuttle. Their number is overwhelming to say the least, but you quickly realize you can just ignore 90 percent of them and move on with your wonderful life inside the XC60.
All you need to worry about are just two buttons and a rotary dial. They're the main means of communication with the infotainment system hidden behind that new seven-inch screen brought in by the facelift. The menus are rather complex and complicated, and it can be hard to navigate them while driving, but once you get used to their intricate ways, it becomes less of a hassle.
Now, if the rearview mirror is frameless, the central display is quite the opposite. The are acres of dark, hard plastic surrounding that seven-inch screen that looks as though it might actually be covering more of it than it was supposed to. However, it doesn't, and you do appreciate the fact the entire console is slightly tilted towards the driver.
Right in front of him, however, is the instrument cluster. This is a completely digital affair too, with the "dials" changing color and content depending on which of the three modes you have selected: Performance, Eco or Elegance. The first makes everything red, but it also shows a large speedometer, which is a nice feature to have on speed-camera-filled roads. Eco turns the whole instrument cluster green and has a big rev-counter, implying you should focus on when to change gears (if you have a manual transmission, or are in manual mode in the automatic). Finally, Elegance mode uses neutral white lights for crisp-looking dials that are happy just being elegant and nothing more.
There's some entertainment to be had on the rear seats as well, since our test car had DVD-players integrated into the back of the headrests. These days, this has got to be the worst option you can spend your money on, as it's definitely not cheap, and you can put that money to better use by buying two tablets for your kids. They've got multiple functions, better resolution and display quality, and you don't have to drag a whole car seat after you if you want to take them out.
Room-wise, there's plenty of it all around, with just the seat cushion being a little too short for those with longer legs. No supermodels on the back seat, then, please.
Moving further back, we come across the luggage compartment, which has a total volume of 17.3 cu-ft (490 liters) with all the seats up and 51.2 cu-ft (1,450 liters) with the rear seats folded. It comes with a straightforward square shape that makes it very clear which bulky packages will fit and which won't. Also, there are generous net pouches on either side that will come in handy when it's only small stuff you need to throw in there.
The 40/20/40 foldable backrest drops quickly and reveals a perfectly flat surface, as you would expect from a car coming from the same country as IKEA. There's even a small under-floor compartment, but its use is highly restrictive, especially if you ordered your car with a spare wheel.
Which is always a good idea if you have 20-inch rims, as they are highly exposed to punctures from bad roads and badly dealt-with curbs. But they also compliment the exterior design of the XC60 really nice, as the Volvo looks very much like a station wagon and not so much as an off-road going machine.
Still, the XC60 shares some of its underneaths with the recently defunct Land Rover Freelander, which means it has no problem going off the beaten track every now and then. It might look slightly silly doing it - like a well-dressed man with his evening shoes going up the mountain - but as long as nothing hardcore gets in its way, the XC60 keeps going with little to no problems. With the right dose of pressure applied on the throttle, it keeps on going up dirt and gravel paths. If there's grip, the AWD
system will pull the Volvo out of any hairy situation, as the approach (20,0 degrees), breakover (22,1 degrees), and departure (26,9 degrees) angles are perfectly decent for what is essentially a comfortable glorified estate with all-wheel-drive. On the outside, the Volvo XC60 has very few SUV traits going on for it. If it weren't for the greater ride height and slightly taller body, we'd be nominating cars very different from the BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLC and Audi Q5 as his rivals. And given the way sales are going, I'm sure those three wouldn't mind at all to get rid of it.
But for all its off-road abilities, the XC60 feels more at home on the asphalt, where its wonderful suspension setup can dampen all road irregularities. City traffic is no challenge for the mid-sized Volvo SUV either, as it comes with almost just as many safety systems as buttons on the dashboard. Visibility is also great both through the large windscreen and at the rear as large side mirrors, parking sensors, and a rearview camera make sure of that. The collision prevention system's warning light and sound are the first things you'll want to switch off inside the city if you don't like to hear a strident warning alarm every time you pull up behind a car.
However, the 2.4 turbodiesel engine hiding behind the D5 moniker is a much better fit for long-distance travel. It is at its best chumming silently at low revs at cruising speeds thanks to the excellent six-speed automatic transmission. It's a five-cylinder engine developing 220 hp at 4,000 rpm and a maximum torque of 324 lb-ft (440 Nm) between 1,500 and 3,000 rpm. Compared with the equivalent 2.0-liter engines the competition uses, this feels like an older heavyweight fighter among younger, more hip middleweights. They might know more about how this new world goes around, but when it comes down to brute force, there's really no contest. The "no replacement for displacement" mantra is clearly at work here, with the extra cylinder and 0.4-liters making a huge difference.
It makes little work of any of the XC60's needs, providing plenty of power for every situation. Using the Sport mode makes it a lot more rev-happy (it went a little over 5,000 rpm, maximum engine speed being 5,400 rpm), but that's not really useful unless you're overtaking a lot. Other than that, the Comfort mode is all you need - the engine will rarely feel as if it's using all the power supply and everything about the delivery itself is smoother.
Apart from the D5 top version, there are two more diesels available - D3 (150 hp) and D4 (190 hp) - as well as two gasoline turbos - T5 and T6 - with powerranging from 240 hp to 325 hp. US customers can only go for the two gasoline engines (with five different power outputs).
While there is an option for an eight-speed automatic on some models, our test car came with a six-speed auto shifter. It does its job surprisingly well for what is a pretty old design, and those paddle shifters behind the wheel are only there for show, as you'll never really feel the need to use them.
That is because dynamically speaking, the XC60 is just as you would expect from a car so comfortable: not at all enticing. It's not that it's bad - it handles above average for a car in this segment, with good road holding abilities and a decent amount of roll.
The steering, however, feels completely disconnected, and is the main reason you won't necessarily be looking forward to a fast, winding road.
You won't be looking forward to crashing either, even though the Volvo XC60 comes with excellent safety records both in the US and Europe. It received full marks on either side of the Atlantic, and if that isn't enough, it has a screen-load of safety and assistance systems that can be switched off or customized to be more or less irritating while protecting your well-being.
And that's exactly the problem with the XC60 - it's too nice for its own sake. It's like a member of the opposite sex that you just know right from the start will never come out of the friend-zone. You enjoy spending your days with it, but you can't wait to go out at night with a different car.
But the thing is, the Volvo XC60 doesn't mind. It knows what it's good for and it isn't trying to be anything more. If you like it, then good for you. If you don't, there are plenty of other people waiting to fork the necessary cash and take it out for a very, very relaxing cruise.
And speaking of money, a lot of people think this is the secret behind Volvo's success with the XC60 - pricing it lower than the competition. Looking at the starting prices and what the cars are offering for that money, they seem to be right. The XC60 is at least $2,000 below its rivals, and usually offers more power for that money.
It's even worse (or better, if you're planning to buy an XC60) in Europe. There, for example, the entry diesel XC60, the D3, costs €36,650 and offers FWD
and 150 hp. The new Mercedes-Benz GLC220 d only comes with a 9G-TRONIC automatic transmission and 4MATIC
all-wheel drive system, plus a 190 hp engine, and so it costs €44,863. That's just €200 less than the D5 AWD with a six-speed automatic and 220 hp. Ok, we might be on to something here.
But the XC60 deserves to sell well enough even if it weren't for this price gap. It found itself a nice little niche on which no other premium automaker has called dibs, and it's making the most of it. A medium-sized SUV with the same numbing effect as a chloroform soaked cloth applied to the face? Who would have thought that was a good thing?