Big SUVs can be controversial to own. This one from Volvo, isn’t.
The luxury SUV. So necessary and sensible for South African conditions, yet so contentious.
Car enthusiasts lament the exitances of large SUVs, because they are ungainly, especially when driven in a spirited manner. Environmentally minded people look at them dismissively, for their sheer size and weight.
But is there is great compromise luxury SUV? The answer, for the best part of a decade, has been Volvo.
Volvo’s Scandinavian design philosophy prioritizes passenger comfort and a humble, yet elegant, vehicle presence. The brand not bothered with brash details or ridiculous vehicle proportions. It uses simple and clever architectural principles, to make the brand’s luxury SUVs look good, without being offensive to people who do not like cars.
We spent some time driving Volvo’s XC60 T6 Geartronic AWD R-Design. The XC90 might be larger, but for most garages, private or public, it is a touch too big.
Volvo’s designers and engineers have taken everything that is brilliantly appealing about the XC90 and scaled it down a touch in length and weight.
Finished in a vivid metallic blue and rolling huge 21-inch alloy wheels, the XC60 with its R-Design finish does not lack for a sense of occasion.
The interior design is terrific too, as one has come to expect from Volvo. I first encountered the vertically orientated Sensus infotainment screen system back in 2015. Trend analysts will tell you that technology ages rapidly, especially user interfaces. Despite this, I find the Sensus system brilliantly intuitive to use even five years late.
Powering the XC60 is an interesting engine configuration: a dual-charged two-litre turbopetrol. South Africans will remember that VW marketed a dual-charged 1.4-litre engine a part of its original Tiguan, but then discontinued it.
Combining a super- and turbocharger is not easy, but Volvo’s engineers have seemed to solve the complexity of this configuration. The XC60’s 2-litre engine is very potent for its size, boosting 235kW and 400Nm.
It always feels ready to provide adequate torque, with much of that credit going to the presence of a supercharger, that boosts from idle before the turbocharged adds more power as engine speed increases.
The eight-speed automatic gearbox is ideally matched to the engine’s output curves and you never suffer that annoying throttle creep or snap-response, which can be a bane of large SUVs with small capacity engines.
Volvo’s opted for a relaxed steering geometry and very bump-compliant suspension, instead of doing what most German rivals do: by overdamping their SUVs, to deliver excellent cornering poise, but invalidating gravel road driveability.
The magic element in Volvo’s XC60, is without question the air-suspension system. I believe that if air-suspension is available, on any vehicle, it should be the first option among equals in your up-spec budget. It makes an enormous difference by smoothing out bumps and helping the XC60 track with wonderful stability, through high-speed corners.
Our XC60 test unit was fitted with an array of options, swelling its list price of R882 700 to R1 1045 600. At R26 750, we would keep the air suspension, but probably lose the R19 500 panoramic sunroof, which is a bit pointless in sunny South African conditions.