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Volvo XC60 2.4D SE Geartronic

Click to view picture gallery“Volvos striking crossover XC60
  is a worthy alternative to the likes
  of the Land Rover Freelander and
  BMW X3 and a world apart from the
  old ‘beastie boys
school of 4x4s

WHEN IT COMES TO SUVS, the old maxim about 'Big is Best' has fallen by the eco-wayside. In today's cooling-down economy and heating-up planet, size still matters. Only these days, smaller is undoubtedly sexier; large SUVs and 4x4s have been unceremoniously relegated to the 'Big is Beastly' class.

If you're viewing a Volvo XC60 for the first time, you need to know one thing: this is not just a more politically-correct version of its much bigger brother, the XC90. For a start, the XC60 is 17cm shorter and 7cm lower. And while longer than similar rivals from BMW (X3) and Land Rover (Freelander), the XC60's extra inches have been put to good use for both passengers and load carrying space.

The length advantage is underscored by the XC60's sporty estate-cum-coupe bodystyle; despite it having a similar physical footprint to more traditional SUVs, the XC60 certainly doesn't look like one. It's a bold design that's easy on the eye, courtesy of a successful blending together of SUV looks and coupé styling. Thanks to its steeply-raked windscreen, sporty glasshouse and wedge-like side profile, the XC60 could be a sleek sporting estate — only taller and higher riding.

Distinctive enough, in fact, to ensure that you won't have any trouble finding it again in a crowded car park. And as we mentioned earlier, not at all to be confused with the XC90. The XC60 is a stand-alone model in its own right that will appeal strongly to buyers needing a real-world-sized upmarket SUV but without any of the 'beastliness' associated with the big, fuel-guzzling 4x4s that are now going the way of the dinosaurs.

The XC60 offers a choice of three 2.4-litre five-cylinder diesel powerplants (161, 173 and 182bhp) and one six-cylinder petrol engine. Of the three diesel units, we tested the 161bhp version equipped with Volvo's Geartronic transmission. Like an increasing number of other manufacturers (Ford with its Kuga and Nissan with its Qashqai) Volvo offers its XC60 both as an all-wheel drive vehicle but also in 2WD guise; in the XC60's case, the 2WD version is powered by the 173bhp diesel engine.

The official fuel consumption figures for our 161bhp AWD XC60 are 34mpg combined, 25.9 urban and 41.5mpg extra-urban. A full week's testing saw our car returning a liveable 28.7mpg over a broad mix of roads, including a lot of town driving — in other words, what most owners will be sure to achieve, if not improve on.

Inside there's an airy upmarket cabin that represents all that's good about Scandinavian style and, as you'd expect given the XC60's external proportions, you sit high up. Despite that, leg and headroom are very good indeed — as is the view out. Privacy glass to all rear glazing doesn't so much cut the light but rather ensures that those outside the XC60 can't easily see in.

The XC60 offers a fresh
alternative; one that’s
very likeable and which
makes it one of the best
for your money
Getting in — and out — is easy; there's just the right height between the seat base and the ground. The interior is well-appointed with smart two-tone leather upholstery, satin alloy and brushed aluminium trim highlights and the fascia is the by-now familiar 'floating' centre console — angled towards the driver, it looks smart and works effectively. Switchgear located on the centre console includes that for the telephone, electronic climate control, heated seats, audio system, parking aid, BLIS (Blind Spot Information System — as it says: warns of a vehicle coming past in your blind spot), Lane Departure (alerts the driver if the car strays out of its marked lane), speed limiter and radar cruise control.

Nice touches include the foolproof 'sculpted' controls for the climate control airflow, the centre pair of air vents set lower down so you don't get air blowing directly into your eyes and the smooth leather-covered Geartronic selector knob. Other cabin equipment includes 3-stage heating for both front seats, door pockets large enough to be useful, soft mesh pockets along the front of the seat bases (these really do come in handy!) and ample oddments storage along with a centre front armrest that flips over 180 degrees to act as a sturdy tray for the rear passengers. And another 'lifesaver' — the simple yet effective parking ticket holder at the base of the windscreen.

There's also an auto-dimming rear-view mirror with integrated compass (the compass function can be turned off) and steering wheel-mounted controls for the telephone, audio and cruise control. For added convenience there's 'keyless drive' which means the electronic key only needs to be in the cabin or the driver's pocket for unlocking the car and starting the engine. An electronic parking brake sited on the lower fascia to the right of the steering column frees up space between the front seats and, we're pleased to report, disengages automatically — just select a gear and drive away. Other convenience features include a 3-setting driver seat and door mirror memory and drive-off automatic central locking. Also included are four one-shot, auto up/down electric windows, power door mirrors that auto fold on locking, auto lights and auto wipers.

Drivers will appreciate the simple, clean design of the main instruments, the first-rate driving position, generous seat (8-way power) and steering wheel adjustment and narrow A-pillars while their passengers will appreciate the notably generous room and comfort provided in the back — two six-footers can travel pleasantly behind two six-footers. Even three can sit restfully side by side on the shapely stadium-style (it's approximately six inches higher than the front seats) rear 'bench'. Also welcome is the good size footwell that allows you to drive wearing big outdoors boots — quite likely given the XK60's 'active lifestyle' credentials. Better still, there's good knee and shin clearance too.

The SatNav display screen, situated at the top of the centre stack, is easy to see and generally reflection free. Above it on the main fascia is a slimmer hooded screen for displaying ancillary information. Other key driver's information is shown on the crystal clear circular displays inset into both the rev-counter and the speedometer.

If you have small
children you will be
particularly pleased with
the two pop-up child
booster seats cleverly
integrated into both
outer rear seats
Volvo's clever 40:20:40 split/folding rear seat system is both practical and versatile. One-touch levers allow the rear seats to be folded flat (as in absolutely flat) quickly and easily into the floor. Loading the well-proportioned 495/655/1,455-litre space is hassle-free, thanks to the wide and high-opening tailgate. Along with the requisite tie-down 'eyes', there's also a very useful snap-up horizontal panel that partitions the load area into two separate sections — very handy for keeping smaller loads from sliding about. And below the boot floor, along with a space-saver spare, there's more room for oddments.

Dynamically the XC60 is more than up to scratch for a family 4x4, helped by a four-wheel drive system that in normal driving conditions sends 95 per cent of drive to the front pair of wheels. There are no extra knobs or levers for the all-wheel drive system — it works automatically in the background until it's needed and you'd never know it was there.

Drive away and the XC60 feels exactly what it is: a safe, comfortable, capable and trustworthy 4x4 for the whole family. The steering is accurate with decent feedback — good enough to ensure progress can be maintained on twisting roads as well as the straight and narrow. The 4x4 system — which automatically distributes the power to the wheels needing it most — backs it up with plenty of grip. Brakes are, as you'd expect, progressive and powerful with good feel through the pedal. For the record, there are ventilated discs at both the front and rear. Grip from the 235/65 Continental Cross-Contact tyres is also reassuring.

The ride quality is more than acceptable and well controlled, with comfort being enhanced by the supportive seats. Sitting in front or in the back, the sensation is the same: neither too soft nor too firm — in fact, pretty much just right. Cabin ambience is also refined, and adds to the pleasure of travelling by XC60.

The five-cylinder diesel provides more than enough performance, and sounds good when it's working. There are no diesel rattles from this unit, just a muted growl when pressing on hard. Zero from standstill comes up in just over ten seconds and the top speed of 118mph is all you really need. The 2.4-litre diesel unit is a good match with the six-speed Geartronic automatic transmission and with peak torque of 251lb ft on tap from 1,750 to 2,750rpm, overtaking is always smooth. In normal driving it ensures good flexibility but not at the expense of fuel consumption.

And, whenever you choose, you can switch to manual mode and override the automatic 'box simply by flicking the selector lever to the left; after that, a light tap forward changes up a gear; a gentle pull back drops you down one.

Wearing a Volvo badge, you just know safety is high on the XC60's agenda. Pride of place goes to Volvo's standard-fit City Safety system. This is activated automatically every time the engine is turned on (you can turn it off should you wish) and is designed to prevent your XC60 running into the back of a stationary or slower moving vehicle travelling ahead at speeds below 18mph — particularly in heavy traffic and queues. If the driver isn't paying attention and a collision is likely, the system will automatically brake the car.

All clever stuff although it only works with cars and other larger vehicles; not motorbikes or foot traffic because they're not big enough for the on-board lasers to accurately detect their presence. Other 'intelligent' safety kit includes lane crossing and blind spot warning systems.

Other more traditional active and passive safety kit is all present and correct: all-wheel drive; stability and traction programmes; front, front side and head curtain airbags; and integral anti-whiplash head restraints. So much so that Volvo says the XC60 is the safest Volvo yet and also the safest car in its class. Front and rear parking sensors are fitted with both audio and visual warnings — the heavy C-pillar treatment means that you do rely on them when reversing.

And if you have small children over three years old you will be particularly pleased with the two pop-up child booster seats cleverly integrated into both outer rear seats. Pull a release and they rise up; to return them just push them back down again.

So, if you don't want to follow the crowd and drive a Land Rover Freelander or BMW X3, the handsome XC60 offers a fresh alternative; one that's very likeable and which makes it one of the best 'crossover' contenders for your money of any of the similarly-sized executive SUVs currently on sale. Impressive. —

Volvo XC60 2.4D SE Geartronic
| £25,750 (£31,150 as tested)
Maximum speed: 118mph | 0-60mph: 10.4 seconds | Overall test MPG: 28.7mpg
Power: 161bhp | Torque: 251lb ft | CO2 219g/km | Insurance group 13E