The lowdown on all that’s brilliant about the V60
ON THE face of it, Volvo’s all-new V60 should have ultra-high achiever plastered all over its handsome visage. It has Wheels COTY pedigree in the bloodline, after all. Riding on the same SPA platform as our reigning XC60 winner, it uses the same drivetrains, similarly lovely interior architecture and features, claims slightly more boot space, and delivers all of this from within a body that takes the centre of gravity from around waist height in the XC60, and drops it closer to your knees.
The other point to consider is that this is a C/d-segment contender that pretty much encapsulates everything Volvo stands for. The Swedes have been making roomy, family-friendly wagons since the members of ABBA were in nappies, and actually hit a production peak with the 200 Series that ran for an incredible 19 years (1974-93) and saw over 2.8 million units built. Australians may have turned up their Suv-loving noses, but this is still a heartland segment for Volvo and there’s plenty of scope for solid sales numbers in Europe.
All of which has me scratching my head slightly after a spirited run through a classic driver’s road in the shadow of the spectacular Montserrat mountain range in Spain. I’m left wondering if the take-out may be that this is a more compelling car to own and travel in, rather than actually drive hard. Or perhaps the XC60 had more of an open goal in the SUV segment, and the space in which the V60 competes is more mature and better contested.
It’s definitely a lovely thing to visually drink in before the driving even begins.
If you value well-considered functionality delivered with style, you’re in the right place
Volvo has used the wheelbase gain (100mm) over the old car to give the new V60 far more rakish, low-slung proportions. The front overhang is shorter, the rear longer, and the surfacing is beautiful. There’s a distinctiveness to the exterior that takes one part purposeful aggression and mixes it, to my eyes at least, with just the right amount of elegance.
Spend more time around it and the details shine through, like the ‘handle’ section of the so-called Thor’s Hammer headlight design that cuts its way in towards the grille. But from a practical position, the step up in size is not wasted in terms of interior packaging. There’s ample toe and kneeroom in the back, and enough shoulder and headroom for two adults to not feel cramped. There’s also a gain of 99 litres of cargo space compared to the XC60, and at 1441 litres with the rear backrests dropped, the V60 has the biggest boot in its class.
If you go sniffing around the rear-end to fact-check this, you’ll notice flawless attention to detail, like an integrated luggage partition that hinges from the floor to create a sturdy space to contain a small load, or provide elasticised straps to secure your grocery bags. There’s a sub-floor storage compartment, and all the cars at launch, whether top-spec Inscription or next-level down Momentum, were fitted with powered tailgates and remote releases for the rear seat-backs. If you value well-considered functionality delivered with style, you’re in the right place.
Having said that, true aesthetes are also well looked after. This is a beautiful cabin, as you’d expect from a treatment that doesn’t diverge too much from the fabulous effort in the XC60. The digital instruments are excellent, and the seats are generously proportioned, supportive, and hugely adjustable. The ultra-flexible driving position allows any body type to snug down to an ideal set-up. But more than that is the visual elegance. Audi may have become the unassailable master of Germanic designer cool, but Volvo counters with a distinctively Scandinavian flavour that almost certainly came from a mood-board featuring Zen-like ripple-free ponds and driftwood scattered along pristine shorelines. The dash top in the upper spec levels is a tactile sheen of quality leather that matches perfectly with the restrained use of timber. Even the door trims have a less-is-more simplicity that tends to highlight the speaker grilles, rather than veer towards over-styling. Only the bulky A-pillars get in the way – literally – of a wholly cohesive feel-good experience. Still, you’ll be doing well if you make it home from the dealership without stopping for green tea and a yoga class.
Even the D4-spec diesel (140kw/400nm), which we sampled first, can barely break the serenity. Okay, it doesn’t deliver an NVH highpoint for this segment, but it is noticeably quieter and less vibey than the 173kw/480nm twin-turbo diesel unit fitted to the V90 Cross Country I recently ran as a long-termer. The Volvo powertrain experts at the V60’s launch indicated that improved mounting and the lack of drive to the rear wheels (in this particular instance) is part of the reason for the greater smoothness, rather than the lower-output engine being inherently quieter and smoother.
But this isn’t a powertrain capable of stirring the loins of a driving enthusiast. It’s too old-school diesel in its gravelly sonics in urban driving, and quickly runs out of revs and power when you want to properly get cracking. Yet it is torquey enough to trouble the power-down ability of the chassis in front-drive form, bringing tramp and torque steer that feels unbecoming in this segment.
If you want your right foot to be able to send some zaps of satisfaction to your left brain, you’ll definitely want the 2.0-litre supercharged and turbocharged petrol four, making 235kw/400nm in T6 guise, or for short-hop, electric-only running, the T6
twin-motor plug-in hybrid. Or if someone else is paying, maybe even the high-output T8 twin-motor. Volvo Australia doesn’t yet have its model line locked down, but at least one of the hybrid variants is essential for the business to deliver on its promise of at least part-electrification across the range by 2020.
The use of both forms of forced induction may seem like an over-complication that’s been ditched by those who tried earlier (hello VW), but there’s no denying its effectiveness here. We talk about modern turbo-petrol engines being lag-free, but few fours grunt as hard off the bottom end as this unit. The delivery is at once thrusty and linear, accompanied by an agreeable, if distant, snarl.
In normal driving, the eight-speed Aisin-sourced auto feels to have its wits about it, though you’ll need Dynamic mode to lift its game the moment you start to drive with a bit more purpose. But even in Dynamic, the transmission calibration is on the snoozy side, proving keener than you’d imagine to upshift, and often acting counter to what seem well-signalled intentions. The lack of steeringwheel paddles means moving the lever over to manual mode is the only way to wrest back control, but this is slighted by the arse-about shift pattern, as well as frequent hesitation to downshift when you’re hard on the brakes into a corner.
Even if you can manage to drive around the transmission’s lack of a properly sporting map, you’ll find the rewards diminish as you go in search of greater point-to-point pace. The steering has an incisive directness, but little by way of actual road feel. It’s as though there’s been a deliberate strategy to isolate the driver from the surface while retaining a feeling of alertness and response during the turn-in phase. It may be in keeping with the V60’s cruiser character, but some of us will be left craving more tactility and feedback from the contact patches.
Once you’re at the limits of the grippy Continental rubber (optional 19s on the test cars) the chassis starts to wilt a bit, with slightly uneven understeer and general nose-heaviness becoming apparent if you get ambitious or encounter a quickly tightening radius. We suspect Audi’s A4 Avant and even BMW’S ageing 3 Series Touring will have the measure of the V60 in these conditions.
None of which will be reason to overlook the V60, especially if its ride can deliver a loping suppleness on Aussie roads in keeping with the car’s broader character. But ride quality is one area where we don’t have a definitive assessment, as the glassy Spanish roads we drove on were nothing like our blighted bitumen. What few bumps we could find were of the urban-speed variety, where a moderate level of thump and terseness was evident, even on the optional adaptive dampers.
More broadly, it feels as though Volvo has retained the overall attributes of the XC60, but hasn’t fully capitalised on the inherent dynamic advantages offered by a lower-riding wagon. Which is not necessarily an issue, as there’s so much to like and admire here. The greater challenge, however, will be finding a sufficient number of pragmatic Aussies willing to give up the perceived virtues associated with the now-default setting of SUV ownership.
For Volvo, building such a convincing XC60 has only increased the size of that hurdle.
Few turbo-only fours grunt as hard off the bottom end as this unit