Minority report: let's be 'up front' with new Volvo XC60
Our motoring editor is not a fan of the blunt looks, but loves the cabin
Let me come right out and say I'm not a major fan of how this week's car looks at the front. I think it is far too blunt. Let me also say I am in my accustomed position: I'm in a minority. I just haven't tuned in (clued in?) to the forceful look of the new Volvo XC60 mid-size Sports Utility Vehicle yet.
That's hardly a wonder considering I am still lukewarm about the similar blunt looks of its big brother, the highly acclaimed XC90, which is otherwise one of my favourites. No surprise that my reservations transcend the generation gap.
I don't know why they made the front so strong that it reminds me, in miniature, of one of those big-nosed US trucks. I love them and want to drive one across the US before I die. But to go that strong on a premium family SUV? I'm not sure. I feel the same about the Jaguar F-PACE crossover. I'm on my own on that, too (it's a World Car winner).
Maybe I was spoiled with the previous, more curvaceous XC60. I liked it a lot.
The thing is though - and this is often pointed out to me - you're not aware of how a car looks when you are driving it. The inside is more important. That has never been more acutely the case than now where, with occupant comfort, interaction and connectivity prioritised, the driving environment is what truly makes a car.
And that is where I am with the majority. I think, with the possible exception of Mercedes, no other so-called premium brand has revolutionised its cabins to this extent.
I'm not without the odd misgiving but from its central tablet-like interactive display that gives the cabin its focal point, to the way the leather seats snuggle you, it is a study in how to do things the right way.
Better still, I like how they have created space despite this being one of the lower SUVs. At 4.7m, it's a little longer, and wider than the old one. But it has the feel of a big, comfortable car inside, with the side-on profile of a smaller one outside. The latter is important for me. I think we're overburdened with muscle-bound SUVs these days. Whatever about my criticism of the XC60's looks, it tries to be different, unlike the new Audi Q5 which is almost a mirror image of its predecessor.
Another initial concern I had with the XC60 was the price increase. It costs from €53,950 for the D4 diesel AWD. Initially, that looks like a big hike (from €39,995). But the old price was pitched lower, as so often happens with 'runout' models, and this has substantial standard spec. They definitely did not skimp (leather, 9ins touch-screen, 18ins alloys, heated front seats, satnav, etc). The new price also includes All-Wheel-Drive (AWD) as opposed to 2WD and an 8spd auto transmission compared with manual.
Put all that together, allow for the benefits of new engineering/technology and the gap narrows. It is, however, still a bit of a lift and I wonder, will those who could afford the old one be able to stretch to this. Yet it remains competitive on that front against keen rivals such as the Q5, BMW X3 and Land Rover Discovery Sport. And a version with front-wheel-drive will give it lower-price, wider relevance.
It may be less dynamic than those three rivals too but, for me, it outguns them on comfort and user-friendliness. I think the seating, space, ease of drive, interactive infotainment and general environment make it a standout car.
The seats are worth individual mention. They are thin, hugely supportive and a lesson in design and space saving. They even have special aluminium crumple zones to reduce the impact on your back from harsh bumps on or off road. And as the bases of the rear row are tilted for more room, passengers get loads of space. But boot-room pays the price; at 505 litres, it's far from class leading.
I had a few lovely drives in this over a mix of roads. My only complaint was that it was too soft, a bit bouncy, in Comfort mode. I used Dynamic for tauter feel, though I still wanted quicker kick-down gear-change.
My drives were relaxing and easy, with minimal noise from the 2-litre diesel, tyres or wind. That's what you should get when you talk 'premium'.
It is almost passé to mention, but highly important to note, the extent of its safety technology. It is part of the company's 'vision' that no one driving one of their new cars will be killed or seriously injured in an accident by 2020. Here's hoping they achieve that target.
And when you really think about that sort of undertaking/vision, my piffling remarks on the XC60's looks pale into obscurity.
But would I buy it? Tough call. I'm working on those looks. I could probably get used to them. Because I think this is, otherwise, the car to beat in this segment.
FACTS & FIGURES
Volvo XC60 mid-size SUV, 2-litre D4 190bhp diesel, AWD; 136g/km, €280 tax.
Momentum trim from €53,950. Inscription: €60,450; R-Design: €58,150.
Standard spec includes: 8ins TFT info display, 2-zone climate control, leather upholstery, heated front seats, cruise control, dynamic chassis, rear park assist, rain sensor, electric tailgate, integrated roof rails, LED headlights/active beam/DLRs, 18ins alloys, tyre sealant kit, voice control, electric front seats/lumbar support, front collision mitigation support, auto load cover; range of safety elements, ISOFIX for rear seats, Sensus navigation/Connect/10 speakers, one USB slot.