Volvo XC60 T5 R-Design review - practical petrol SUV tested

Handsome, comfortable and refined, the XC60 is a slick and practical alternative to the Q5 and X3

It seems that buyers can’t get enough of premium badged compact SUV models, so it's surprising to find that it's taken Volvo nearly a decade to launch a replacement for its XC60. The original hit showrooms in 2008 and proved to be an instant hit, thanks in no small part to its surprisingly sleek looks and a cabin that mixed style and comfort. It was hard to believe that this car was distantly related to the boxy and upright Land Rover Freelander 2.

Yet over the past nine years newer and more desirable machines that deliver sharper handling, greater efficiency and far more in-car technology have overtaken the XC60.

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As a result, this all-new version couldn’t have arrived a moment too soon. Squarely aimed at the Audi Q5, BMW X3, Jaguar F-Pace and VW Tiguan, the newcomer packs Volvo’s latest family look plus a range of diesel, petrol and plug-in powerplants.

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A real highlight of the new car is its cabin, which takes its design cues from the XC90. That means it gets the same portrait style infotainment screen and TFT dials, plus the same cool and typically Scandinavian minimalist layout for the dashboard. There are plenty of high quality materials and the fit and finish is not far off the standard set by BMW and Audi. And as you’d expect from Volvo, the multi-way adjustable front seats are supremely supportive.

The interior is fairly roomy too, with plenty head and legroom in the rear, plus a useful 505-litre boot.

Technical highlights 

The XC60 is the latest model to be built on the same SPA scalable platform that also underpins the larger XC90, as well as the S9 saloon and V90 estate. Utilizing high strength steels, the latest architecture is relatively light and stronger than before.

> Audi Q5 review

Like all Volvos, the XC60 showcases the firm’s latest safety kit. The highlight is the semi-autonomous cruise control, which will accelerate, brake and steer the car at speeds of up to 80mph – although you have to keep your hands lightly on the wheel if you don’t want the system to shut down.

Under the bonnet, the XC60 uses the same modular four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines – ignore the T5 and T8 badges, because the XC60 is a four-pot only. The D4 and D5 diesels serve-up 187bhp and 231bhp respectively, while the T5 driven here produces a healthy 251bhp.

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Flagship of the range is the T8 Plug-in, which mates the 316bhp turbocharged and supercharged version of the 2-litre four-cylinder to an 86bhp electric motor, which gives a combined output of 401bhp.

All versions of the XC60 get double wishbone front suspension and a multi-link rear axle, both of which feature coil springs and passive dampers. However, our T5 R-Design was fitted with the £1,500 Active Four-C Chassis. Effectively, this is the same air sprung and adaptively damper system that was first seen on the larger XC90. It can be lowered for sharper responses on the road or raised for extra ability in the rough.

Engine, transmission and 0-62mph time

Our test car was fitted with the 251bhp T5 version of the 2-litre four-cylinder, which develops 258lb ft at a diesel-like 1,500rpm. Despite a reasonably hefty 1,779kg kerbweight, the XC60 will crack 0-62mph in an extremely brisk 6.8 seconds before running out of steam at 137mph. Volvo also claims 38.7mpg for this R-Design model, but it’s worth bearing in mind that we struggled to get above 25mpg during the mixed conditions of our test.

On the move it certainly feels as strong as the figures suggest, pulling with real vigour from very low revs. Keep the throttle pinned and the T5 will have no trouble keeping the average hot hatch in its sights, down the straights at least.

Yet despite the impressive performance figures, there’s an air of disappointment about the way the XC60 goes about its business. Drivers brought up on the characterful offbeat warble of older T5-badged Volvos will find the 2-litre's bland engine note rather underwhelming.

> Volvo XC90 review

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All XC60s get an eight-speed automatic as standard (there’s no manual option), which drives Volvo’s AWD electronically controlled four-wheel drive. The gearbox itself does a fine job of smoothly shuffling ratios when left to its own devices, yet it responds crisply enough to the wheel-mounted paddles when you want to take manual control.

What’s it like to drive?

Volvo has traditionally been a brand that focuses on comfort, refinement and ease of driving rather than maximum thrills on a back road – and a short spell in the old XC60 would only confirm this approach.

Initial impressions of the new car aren’t likely to change that view, particularly when it’s equipped with the air suspension. In its Comfort mode (there’s also Dynamic, Off Road and Individual, where you can mix and match your preferred settings) the Volvo gently wallows down the road, with only sharp ridges and deeper potholes upsetting the calm of the cabin with a thump and a shudder. The easy-going nature is reinforced by the steering, which accurate but light and lifeless. Factor in the low levels of wind and road noise, and the XC60 is one of the most relaxing long distance cruisers out there.

Toggle the driver mode switch into Dynamic and the XC60’s suspension is firmed-up, although not by much as there’s still a fair amount of body roll. Still, push through the mute steering and soft suspension and you’ll discover a surprisingly capable chassis. Pile into a tight corner and the expected understeer doesn’t materialize, instead the Volvo grips well and you can feel the rear axle sharing the cornering loads. You need to be smooth and restrained with your inputs to stop the high-riding body lurching around, but the XC60 can cover ground remarkably quickly. You’d struggle to call it fun – a Jaguar F-Pace is still the keen driver’s choice in this sector – but the Volvo is more capable than you’d think.

Prices and rivals 

Prices for the XC60 start at £36,950 for the D4 Momentum, while the cheapest T5 is £37,345. The R-Design Pro model tested here weighs in at £43,845 – although our heavily optioned test car was closer to £50,000.

Even without the extras, the R-Design looks expensive when you compare it to the £42,150 that Audi wants for the similarly powerful Q5 2.0 TFSI quattro S line S tronic. And the Volvo is only a fraction cheaper than the £43,905 Jaguar F-Pace 2.0 R Sport AWD, which admittedly has a little less power at 247bhp.

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However, another way to look at the XC60 is as a cut price XC90 rival. Unless you need the seven-seat layout, then the T5 delivers nearly as much space, refinement and comfort as the 316bhp XC90 T6 R-Design, which will leave your bank balance lighter to the tune of £55,555.


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