From £37,1507

Volvo aims its reinvigorated crosshairs at the medium-sized SUV ranks with a premium offering

It wasn’t so long ago that Volvo was commonly thought of within car industry circles as ‘that funny Northern European, semi-premium car-maker that nobody wants’.

Former custodian Ford had reportedly been pitching around for a new owner for the firm for more than a year when, in 2010, China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Ltd invested $1.8bn to buy the ailing car-maker – and then promptly invested even more in brand-new engines and platforms.

Volvo resists the temptation to let the roofline drop away at the rear, keeping plenty of tension in the bodyside

At the time, it looked like some particularly bold decision-taking. How things change.

Five years on, Volvo’s story is continuing to look like the perfect advert for Chinese ownership of a big European car-maker; Volvo is flourishing, and Geely’s strategic vision is paying off too.

Global sales are 20% up from where they were five years ago, while profitability is up 50%; and, with Volvo’s help, Geely has developed the technology it needs to launch China’s first European-style premium car brand of its very own: Lynk&Co. Suddenly you can see why Geely invested all that money.

And now the first of the really big-selling new-breed Volvo models has hit the showrooms, and it’s the subject of this road test: the all-new XC60 SUV.

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The ’60-series compact 4x4 uses the same platform and many of the same engines that power its bigger sibling, the Volvo XC90, and so in many ways it is exactly what it looks like: a boil-washed XC90.

But a car with the new-groove, tech-savvy Scandinavian design appeal of the XC90 and most of its comfort, versatility and capability, but available at prices starting well under £40,000, could plainly accelerate Volvo’s growth into a new, higher gear.

The XC60 range starts with 188bhp ‘D4’ diesel and 251bhp ‘T5’ turbo four-cylinder petrol models, before rolling in a 232bhp ‘D5’ and culminating with a 400bhp-plus ‘T8’ plug-in hybrid that promises to be an interesting alternative to the usual performance SUV.

Front-wheel drive and four-wheel drive versions are available, likewise both classically restrained styling options and thoroughly new-age-Volvo ‘R-Design’ trims.

It was a big-selling 188bhp, four-wheel drive D4 R-Design we elected to test.

Volvo XC60 design & styling

Volvo’s impressive recent design form continues with the XC60, which oozes class inside and out.

Underpinned by Volvo’s Scalable Product Architecture (SPA), the XC60 shows flashes of resemblance to its bigger XC90 sibling – like the Thor’s Hammer headlights – and sits on the same platform, but the XC60 manages to carve out enough of a difference to be distinguishable in its own right.

It’s longer, wider and lower than the previous-generation model too, but has a higher ground clearance and isn’t any heavier.

It’s also nicely proportioned to allow it an airy, spacious cabin inside while striking a sleek, understated, Nordic-chic exterior that isn’t particularly flashy, but neither is it emotionless and bland like many of the snoozefest SUVs in the class.

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As standard the XC60 gets all-wheel drive and a double-wishbone front suspension with a rear multi-link arrangement.

Like the XC90, it gets a transverse composite leaf spring in the rear axle, allowing a light, compact design with, in theory, a smoother ride and improved noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) compared with what you’d get with a regular coil spring set up. Height-adjustable air suspension (which allows an additional 60mm of travel) is available as an (expensive) option – and our test car was equipped with it.

All ‘SPA’ Volvos benefit from the lightweight and strong qualities of the modular platform, and get the same power-assisted electromechanical rack and pinion steering system, the characteristics of which can be personalised through the different drive modes available: Eco, Comfort, Dynamic, Off-Road, Individual.

These modes also affect the brake pedal feel, throttle response, damper settings and, if fitted, air suspension's ride height.

Every model has an eight-speed automatic gearbox, and the engine lineup consists of three 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engines: diesel D4 and D5 units along with a 251bhp turbo T5 petrol.

Later this year a T8 petrol-electric plug-in hybrid will join the range. The D4 will be the big-selling sweet spot of the range, with 188bhp on tap and 133g/km of CO2 emissions.

Volvo XC60 First drives