Volvo XC60

Latest Volvo SUV adds style to a practical 4x4 package. We take the wheel in an exclusive first drive.

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

With a shape that combines chunky SUV with sleek coupé, the XC60 is more sculpted and eye-catching than any current large Volvo and should appeal more to design-savvy buyers. As well as being stylish, it’s spacious and promises to be good to drive. It needs to be, because while the XC60 is aimed at an expanding market segment, it will face stiff competition from forthcoming models from Audi and Mercedes.

Think Volvo, think safe and sensible. Functional with a capital ‘F’, the Swe­dish firm’s cars have always been big on practicality – but lack the sense of fun offered by some rivals.

All that looks set to change when the XC60 goes on sale in 12 months’ time. It will join the C30 as part of a new generation of models aimed at appealing to people’s hearts before their heads. To find out what’s in store, we jumped behind the wheel of this sensational concept – which points the way to the final production version. Lining up next to the upmarket XC90, the XC60 will be a lot more than a scaled-down version of the larger car.

Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the Volvo XC60

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The way the light plays over its carefully sculpted flanks is reminiscent of a BMW X5, while the shape of the lower front grille is similar to the Ford Kuga’s – a car with which the XC60 shares some of its engine and gearbox technology. The aggressive design combines with the 20-inch wheels to give the lower half of the model a beefy, aggressive look. In profile, the sleek top half is akin to a coupe.

But this concept isn’t only significant for portraying the looks of the all-new SUV. It shows how the firm will transform the rest of its range, too. The front badge is larger, and rather than being set in a square box, is embedded in the grille.

Swept-back headlights emphasise the distinctive V shape of the bonnet, but the best bit is saved for the rear. Here, the traditional vertically stacked tail-lights follow the flare of the shoulder line in a beautiful curve.

The back end also features a novel tailgate arrangement. It expands on the idea of the C30’s glass bootlid, but this time it’s split in two. However, rather than hinging at its base, the bottom section lifts out and up over the top segment. This means that opening the entire tailgate doesn’t require as much space as a traditional single-piece hatch.

Beneath the bonnet, the XC60 features Volvo’s 3.2-litre engine. But this has been converted to run on bioethanol, the fuel that’s 15 per cent petrol and 85 per cent ethanol. It reduces CO2 emissions by 80 per cent and mar­ginally increases performance, while retaining the same refined exhaust note you associate with Volvos.

As this car is based on the platform of the firm’s V70 and S80 models, it will feature the same four-wheel-drive system and Hill Descent Control. However, bosses are adamant that anyone wanting to buy a Volvo off-roader will go for either an XC90 or XC70. So the handling of the XC60 has been tuned for tarmac driving. Even though it’s a precious concept and we were limited to relatively low speeds, body roll through corners was barely present.

From behind the wheel, all-round visibility is good, while the panoramic glass roof adds to the airy feel of the light, leather-clad cockpit.

Volvo’s floating centre console is still present, but traditional buttons have been replaced with touch-sensitive ones, giving it the look of a giant iPod control. And the seats are as comfortable as you would expect from a Volvo, despite the long slot that runs the full length of the seatback for improved ventilation. Sadly, as with the exterior lines, which will be altered slightly for production, the interior of the showroom-ready XC60 is unlikely to be quite as adventurous. Here’s hoping that Volvo doesn’t tone things down too much.

Rival: BMW X3 The smallest off-roader in BMW’s line-up has always struggled to match the appeal of the bigger X5. The ride is bumpy, the looks are frumpy and it’s pricey. Designed primarily for on-road driving, the handling on tarmac is good and combines with limited ability in the rough stuff. But this versatility isn’t enough to buy one.

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