The Volvo XC60 is an often overlooked contender in this market, despite its head-turning looks. But tweaks to the styling, suspension and steering have given the racy R-Design flagship an extra dose of attitude.
However, even with this, it still struggles to match the premium image of the Audi or the off-road kudos of the Land Rover Freelander. The sporty additions are also slightly at odds with Volvo’s sensible image. But at least the matt metal-effect wing mirrors and side trim give you a bit more glitz for your money.
There’s no shortage of character inside, thanks to Volvo’s floating centre console and the R-Design’s aluminium trim and metallic blue instruments. But while the minimalist approach will appeal to some people, overall the XC60’s cabin doesn’t match the executive feel of the Audi Q5 or the rugged charm of the Land Rover. The Volvo’s also beginning to show its age in some other key areas.
Like the Q5, the XC60 was launched in 2008, but the blue-backed instruments look dated and the infotainment controls are quite fiddly to use. Still, build quality is a strong point, while comfortable seats and a reasonably lofty driving position are also pluses, although there’s not as much seat and steering wheel adjustment as in the Audi.
In the back, despite a shorter wheelbase, passenger legroom is similar to that in the Q5, but a flatter transmission tunnel means that the middle seat is more usable. Volvo’s optional built-in booster seat is also a clever family friendly touch.
Tumble the rear seats and the maximum load volume of the XC60 is down on both its rivals, and with the seats in place the shallow 495-litre boot trails the Audi’s by 45 litres. We’d steer clear of the optional powered tailgate, too – it’s frustratingly slow.
This isn’t a criticism that can be levelled at the gutsy 2.4-litre D5 engine. With the biggest power and torque outputs of our trio (212bhp and 440Nm respectively), the Volvo covered 0-60mph faster than its rivals, in 8.9 seconds. It’s just a shame the six-speed Geartronic auto undermines the five-cylinder diesel by hunting for ratios and kicking down too readily – even in manual mode.
As a result, the Volvo feels surprisingly sluggish. And things don’t get much better when it comes to handling. The steering weighting feels artificial alongside its rivals, and despite the firmer suspension of the R-Design model, the XC60 pitches and rolls its way through corners, with none of the composure of the Q5 or Freelander.
Not only that, the suspension wriggles and fidgets over bumpy surfaces, so the ride is unsettled on all but the smoothest of roads. Refinement isn’t as good as its rivals’, either. While the five-cylinder engine has a bit of character in its mid-range, it’s gruff at idle and becomes strained higher up the revs.
All of this means the Volvo has a tough job on its hands, especially as it’s the priciest car here and has the weakest residuals. Can it claw its way back into contention with its sleek looks and unrivalled safety record?