These days, it feels like choosing what sort of engine you want to power your new car is as difficult as choosing the car itself. Diesel has fallen out of favour, but if you want a large, comfortable SUV, petrol is still too thirsty. Electric power and plug-in hybrids are starting to look appealing, but only work in certain circumstances. But perhaps there’s a solution in the form of this latest Volvo XC60.
It’s powered by a petrol engine with a small electric boost, making it what’s termed a mild hybrid. That means you can do without the extra noise and smelly fumes of diesel, and stick with a smooth petrol engine instead – ostensibly, while still saving fuel. And you don’t need to plug it in to charge the electric components up – instead, they charge themselves by harnessing the energy that’s normally wasted when you’re slowing down.
In theory, teamed with the luxury and comfort we’ve come to know and love from the XC60, that should make this a winning combination as SUVs go. Read on to find out whether that’s the case – and don’t forget to register or login to find out our decisive verdict.
Pros: Luxurious interior - Comfortable ride quality - Potent new engine - Cost-effective to buy and run
Cons: Average standard equipment - Not exciting to drive - Not very versatile
What’s under the skin?
This new petrol hybrid is one of two you can now find in the XC60 – the other is a little more powerful – in addition to two diesel hybrids, one conventional diesel, and one petrol plug-in hybrid.
With the exception of the plug-in, all of the hybrids are of the ‘mild’ type – which means they consist of a very small battery and electric motor that can’t power the car by themselves, so you won’t be able to drive around silently on electric power alone.
Instead, the battery is charged using the friction generated when you’re slowing down or braking, and the electric motor can then provide a boost when you want to accelerate, taking some of the load off the petrol engine.
The combined set-up results in a maximum power output of 247bhp; in other words, even this, which is now the least potent petrol engine available in the XC60, is no slouch.
It’s the sporty-looking R-Design version we have here, which comes with a snappy bodykit, but not much else over and above the cheaper Momentum version. You’ll also find some toys that come as standard on lesser cars, such as adaptive cruise control, are absent.
What’s it like day-to-day?
You can see where your money’s going once you get out on the road. Even with the big wheels and sports suspension of the R-Design version, this is a fabulously comfortable and quiet car; yes, you might get the odd shudder over really churned-up patches of Tarmac, but they’ll be the exception to the rule.
The seats are endlessly supportive, too – as we’ve come to expect from Volvo – and the XC60’s interior is a lovely place to be, with fabulous, high-quality materials and handsome design.
Volvo’s big central screen is now present in every one of its cars, but if you aren’t familiar with it, it’ll take a little time to work out some of the more intricate menu arrangements and functions. Once you’ve done so, though, it’s easy enough to find your way around, and the screen itself is clear and responsive.
We’d prefer some physical buttons or dials for the climate control settings, though – having them on the screen diverts your attention for too long, as you can’t feel your way around while keeping your eyes on the road.
Will it fit into your life?
It’s hard to imagine passengers will want for space inside – whether you’re in the front or the back, there’s room in all directions, and plenty of storage for your odds and ends.
The boot less is impressive; it isn’t as big as its best rivals’, by the order of about one medium-sized suitcase, and neither is it as flexible. For example, the rear seat only folds with a 60/40 split – you can’t fold the centre seat down individually, as you can in some big SUVs.
Neither can you slide the rear seat forward and backward to vary the ratio of boot space to rear leg room, and there’s no seven-seat option – you have to upgrade to the larger XC90 for that. How much will it set you back?
In this form, the XC60 undercuts most of its premium rivals when compared with similar-specification cars equipped with a petrol engine – though only just.
It’ll also lose more of its value during your ownership than most of those rivals, which will probably make it an expensive option if you’re leasing or buying on finance. However, the XC60 makes up for this with low day-to-day running costs. It uses less fuel than its similarly powerful petrol rivals, and should be cheaper to maintain and repair.
Mind you, if cost is foremost in your mind, and you don’t want to resort to a diesel, the Lexus NX300h, which is a full hybrid (with a larger battery and electric motor), looks like the most cost-effective SUV of this size – especially if you’re a company car driver.
Is it fun to drive?
Attempt to hammer it down a back road, and you won’t find the XC60 a particularly rewarding companion. Its soft suspension causes it to roll over onto its outer tyres in fast bends, while relatively numb steering means you don’t have much of a feel for what’s going on beneath you.
It isn’t all bad, though – even though it’s soft, the XC60 doesn’t feel sloppy, and there’s plenty of grip, so it still responds predictably and safely in sudden manoeuvres, such as you might have to carry out in an emergency.
Besides, who really buys a big SUV like this to drive it this way? Cars like this are more usually found on the motorway – and there, the XC60 excels. It’s just as comfortable at speed as it is around town, if not more so, skimming along at the legal limit in utmost comfort.
The only small fly in the ointment is the automatic gearbox. It reacts too quickly at times, changing down a gear more than it really needs to,and not fast enough at others, which leaves you hanging when you want to go for a gap. Thankfully, the surfeit of power you get from this muscular engine helps to compensate; floor the throttle and the XC60 takes off with an unremitting surge of grunt that’s immensely satisfying.
Does it have the feel-good factor?
It’s hard not to admire a car that fits its brief of luxury, comfort and space as well as the XC60 does. Volvo’s placid image means it seems somehow less confrontational than some of its rivals, and the XC60’s excellent safety ratings show it will look after your family, too.
And when you climb aboard, and are met with that gorgeous interior design, it’s hard not to smile.
The Telegraph verdict
You’ll be disappointed if you want a truly versatile SUV with clever rear seats and a massive boot. On that front, the XC60 can’t quite beat its best rivals, and as a result, we can’t really give it the full five stars.
But be in no doubt: this is a very rewarding SUV to own, and the high notes it hits – on comfort, luxury, and an indefinable sense of wellbeing – are probably the ones that will matter most to buyers of cars like this.
And now, with this new engine, it’s not only surprisingly affordable to buy, but it’ll cost you less than most of its petrol rivals to run, too. If you don’t need seven seats, and you don’t much care about hustling your SUV down a twisty road – and let’s face it, who does? – you won’t go far wrong with the XC60.
Telegraph Rating: Four stars out of five
On test: Volvo XC60 AWD B5 (Petrol) R-Design
How much? £43,225 on the road
How fast? 137mph, 0-62mph in 6.9sec
How economical? 36.2mpg (WLTP Combined Max)
Engine/gearbox: 1,969cc four-cylinder petrol with 247bhp, eight-speed automatic gearbox, four-wheel drive
The electric bits: DC 13bhp electric motor with 48V battery
Electric range: 0 miles
CO2 emissions: 185g/km (WLTP)
VED: £855 first year, £465/year for five years thereafter, then £145/year
Warranty: 3 years / 60,000 miles
Boot size: 483 litres
Spare wheel as standard: No
Audi Q5 2.0 TFSI 245 S Line Quattro Auto 242bhp, 32.1mpg, £44,160 on the road The Q5 is effortless to drive and endlessly competent, and it handles more sweetly than the Volvo. The trade-off is that it’s nowhere near as wafty, and while the interior is beautifully built, it doesn’t quite feel as special. In this form, it’s thirsty, too.
BMW X3 xDrive20i M Sport 181bhp, 35.3mpg, £44,135 on the road The X3 is the SUV of choice in this class for those who want an invigorating driving experience. Trouble is, this is the most powerful petrol engine you can get, and given the high price, it isn’t very fast. It’s also thirstier than the Volvo, and it doesn’t ride as softly.
Lexus NX300h AWD F Sport 194bhp, 37.6mpg, £43,310 on the road If running costs are a key factor, and you don’t want a diesel, the NX is an attractive alternative. But with its narrow body, space is at a premium, and while it’s beautifully built, the driving experience and ride comfort are pretty average.
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