“Built like a tank” was a jibe often aimed at Volvos in the past.
As motoring writers with one career spanning 46 years this month and the other a mere novice with 33 years travelling in other people’s cars for a living, we’ve experienced many Volvos although since the demise of the 140 series cars the tank description has been less apposite, at least when it comes to physical driving.
Size may have remained impressive but the advent of technology that Volvo has always been keen to embrace or, more frequently, pioneer, has made the cars mostly less demanding to drive.
The latest addition to the range is the new XC60, second generation bearing the model name and now slightly bulkier than the first.
It’s an interesting amalgam of the latest (vast) XC90 at the front and the earlier XC60 behind in that the front sports the rictus grin grille of the 90 while the rear has the more curved styling of the old 60, albeit updated.
The purpose of the XC60 is to give Volvo an entry in the SUV class opposite the likes of the Land Rover Discovery and Range Rover Sport models. The natural territory of the Land Rover used to be off-road while the Range Rover is more of a city cruiser. How does the XC60 stand up?
One way to find out was to hit the expanses of Salisbury Plain, long familiar to tank crews in training, although not going as illegally off-road as the many hare coursers and trail bikers who now blight the 90,000 acres of wildlife haven with seeming impunity.
The XC60 takes to the conditions with some relish. In the summer dust is the big enemy rather than mud although dust itself, acting as a fine grinding paste, is far worse in terms of causing mechanical havoc than mud or water. We set out to tackle several miles of tracks which can suddenly deteriorate depending on how often the military have slewed off to the side in tracked hardware.
Potholes also open up frequently, more difficult to see when the water in them has evaporated – and the fairy shrimps that live in them have gone into a torpid state waiting for the next rains and a passing tank to spread their eggs in its tracks.
From the commanding driving position in the XC60, spotting the potholes is as easy as spying trouble ahead when blasting down the motorway and taking avoiding action can be planned well in advance most of the time. The odd pit that caught us out was not too jarring and if it had been full of water this car can cope with wading through 40cms depth.
Our test car was the D5 PowerPulse AWD Inscription, a 2.0 litre, four cylinder, 235 bhp model with 480 Nm of torque (354 lb ft for those still using old money) at a very nice spread of 1,750 to 2,200rpm.
The car is no slouch with its 137mph top speed and 0-62mph time of 7.2 seconds – this is reflected in the average test consumption of 32.5 mpg of diesel, nowhere near the combined figure of 51.4 mpg, although that’s nothing unusual for any car.
Every XC60 now gets an eight speed auto gearbox, a smooth operator perfectly suited to today’s conditions. Each also bristles with software such as city safety that detects pedestrians, cyclists, and large animals. Unfortunately it also seems to spot parked cars in some circumstances, slamming on the brakes when you least need them. The result is it gets deactivated, rendering it pointless.
Electronics are the Achilles heel of this car, just as they are with the XC90. The huge touch screen that side swipes like an iPad is a pain when you’re driving and you dream of the days when buttons ruled the world. The XC60 is also the first test car ever to be delivered with an iPad but we consigned it to the glovebox.
Load capacity is excellent at 1,432 litres maximum while the towing capacity of 2.4 tonnes for a braked trailer will cope with most leisure needs. There’s great passenger space for five, even when tall people ride up front, and with 505 litres of boot capacity to the window line as a five seater they can take plenty of gear with them, too. It’s Volvo at its best.
Maurice and Annette Hardy
Car: Volvo XC60 D5 PowerPulse AWD Inscription
Does it fit your ego…
0-62 mph: 7.2 secs
Top speed: 137 mph
Bhp: 235 @ 4000 rpm
Torque: 480 Nm @ 1750 – 2250 rpm
…and your wallet…
Combined: 51.4 mpg
CO2 emissions: 144 g/km
Best bits: more manageable than an XC90