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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

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