Volvo XC60

Has Swedish firm come up with a genuine Freelander rival?

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.0 out of 5

Volvo has made every effort to create a sporty image with the XC60 – and the styling will certainly make people look twice. However, it can’t match class-leading competitors on the road. What’s more, the Swedish manufacturer has failed to address the ever-important environmental issues – the dismal fuel economy and hefty carbon output are difficult to ignore.

Here’s the car that Volvo says proves safe and functional design can also be fun… Following in the wheel tracks of the XC90, the XC60 aims to break new ground for the Swedish company – both on and off road. The Land Rover Freelander-sized model lines up alongside the latest C30 and V50 in the maker’s fast-growing line up, having made its debut as a concept at the Detroit Motor Show in 2006.

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

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The arresting styling is a testament to the engineers’ efforts to ensure that the final production version looks every bit as exciting as that original design study. And it also means the newcomer has no problem turning heads – something we couldn’t help noticing during our first drive of this flagship 3.0-litre petrol-engined model.

Finished in bright green, the car is one of the most adventurous looking Volvos ever, and with its nose-down, wheel-at-each-corner stance, it certainly appears sporty.

This theme continues inside. With daring two-tone fabrics, a low driving position and thick-rimmed steering wheel, the new Volvo has all the hallmarks of a potent driver’s car. As we expect from the firm, the front seats are very comfortable, but head and legroom is good, too. In the rear, passengers fare just as well, getting a decent view of the road ahead. This is thanks to the stadium-style seating, which sees the rear bench mounted high up.

Turn the ignition key, and the 2,953cc six-cylinder quickly settles to a smooth idle. Our car, which also featured an automatic gearbox, develops an impressive 282bhp and 400Nm of torque.

It can sprint from 0-62mph in 7.5 seconds – that’s among the fastest times in the class, and leaves the likes of the 3.2-litre Freelander trailing by nearly a second.

Yet while the new Volvo impresses with its straight-line pace, it simply can’t match its rival’s road manners. The ride is smooth, but it’s not as fluid as the Land Rover. The steering, too, is neither as accurate nor as full of feel.

Although the brakes and throttle respond swiftly, if you are searching for the ultimate driver’s car in this expanding sector of the market, our early impressions suggest you would be better off with a Freelander or Audi Q5.

That’s not to say the XC60 is without appeal, though. It’s extremely refined, and the model we drove, with its superb seats and quiet cabin, makes an excellent long-distance cruiser.

You cannot question the practicality on offer, either. The boot is vast, and because the rear bench splits and folds, the car offers nearly as much room as the firm’s vast, seven-seat XC90.

So there’s a lot to like about the newcomer, with a driving experience which is unique in this class. However, there is one chink in its armour: its fuel consumption and CO2 output. The petrol XC60 returns 24mpg and emits 284g/km.

As good as it is to look at, and as safe and comfortable as it is to ride in, that could prove too much for some drivers.

Rival: Audi Q5 The new little brother for the Q7 delivers everything buyers have come to expect from the four-ringed brand. Top-notch build quality, generous kit as standard and fine handling are complemented by Audi’s superb four-wheel-drive system.

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