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Volvo is justifiably proud of its different approach, and the usable, attractive XC60 is good enough to stand out in a very able compact SUV crowd

For a long time Volvo has been trying extremely hard to bury its reputation as a maker of boxy, conservative and dull saloons and estates.

It all started in the late 1990s with former Volvo design boss Peter Horbury’s sleek C70 coupé, but the real breakthrough was with the XC60 – the car that the current crop of sexy Volvos owe their DNA to.

The XC60 puts Volvo into the heart of the competitive small premium SUV market segment

The striking details and flowing curves are about as far removed from a traditional three-box Volvo saloon as possible, and the concept behind it even further distanced. For although the XC60 is a compact SUV, Volvo wants you to see it more as a cross between coupé, 4x4 and estate that majors on Scandinavian style and good taste rather than conservative solidity.

Practicality is taken care of with a spacious and intuitively designed cabin, while the range of engine and drivetrain options means there’s an XC60 to suit everyone. And while it’ll never challenge a Land Rover Defender in the rough stuff, the Volvo’s Haldex four-wheel drive system should prove more than capable for most situations.

However the XC60 places Volvo right into the heart of the extremely competitive small premium SUV market segment. Tough competition comes in the form of the Land Rover Discovery Sport, BMW X3, and Audi Q5 as well as cheaper but equally stylish options like the Kia Sportage, Hyundai Santa Fé and Ford Kuga. The question is this: can the XC60’s unarguably different approach is enough to make it stand out from this very able crowd?

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Since the XC60 was first launched, the mid-sized SUV has been given a facelift with changes left a number of minor exterior tweaks, including a restyled front grille and bumper, and a more rugged, imposing on-road stance, but as the Volvo reaches nine years on the market, the Swedish manufacturer is readying the next generation XC60, which will take styling cues from the bigger Volvo XC90 and will be the prelude before the Volvo XC40 joins the range.

To find out what our sister site, What Car? thought of the Volvo XC60, watch the video below.

Volvo XC60 rear

The XC60 was the first Volvo released under the design direction of Steve Mattin, before he left for Lada, and set the tone for the Volvo S60, Volvo V60 and the V40 that have since followed.

And while the XC60 was far sleeker than those that had come before, the rule book wasn’t totally ripped up. The trademark sculpted shoulders run right back to the original S80, and add a feeling of strength to the design.

City Safety option detects objects up to 6m in front, and applies the brakes if it senses a collision is imminent

We’re now familiar with that chamfered front end too, but on its release this made the XC60 stand out, especially next to the much more conservative first generation XC90 - although these roles have now been reversed somewhat.

The attacking profile, raised at the rear like a cat prowling, helped add visual interest and it’s easy to see why it captured on-lookers glances. But time has moved on and the latest cars from the Swedish manufacturer have move the game on too, and so these once distinctive features have now become commonplace Volvo highlights.

Still, despite looking familiar to Volvo owners, parked next to rival models from other manufacturers it is still one of the most distinctive choices in the segment. And though its based on the same platform underpinning the Land Rover Freelander 2, a throwback to Volvo’s part in Ford’s Premier Automotive Group, you wouldn’t know it – the XC60 is 160mm longer, 30mm lower and has a wheelbase 110mm larger. Opt for the R-Design models with their larger alloy wheels and body styling kits and it looks even more hot hatch than SUV.

The second generation XC60, due out in 2017, will borrow numerous styling cues from the Volvo XC90 including the 'Thor-style' headlights debuted on the big SUV and translated across other Volvo models. Changes also will be made to the SUVs powertrains with the XC60 likely to use the same 2.0-litre diesel engines and hybrid T8 unit that have marvelled in the XC90. 

Volvo XC60 interior

While we’ve grown used to the exterior styling of the XC60, the interior has always been reminiscent of Volvos in the range.

You’ll feel instantly at home if you’ve ever experienced one before, the location and style of the switches, dials and buttons lifted directly from other models in the range. It’s none the worse for it either, with neat touches such as the floating console with storage space behind it rather than in front – though not much will actually fit and you can’t see it.

You’ll feel instantly at home in the XC60's cabin

The simplified ventilation controls with their easy to read graphics are a highlight too, though the knobs for temperature and audio volume look and feel the same, so its easy to confuse them.

As trim levels go there are four to choose from - SE Nav, SE Lux Nav, R-Design Nav and R-Design Lux Nav. Opt for the entry level trim and you will get cruise control, hill start assist, parking sensors, and automatic lights and wipers. Inside the XC60 gets climate control, leather seats, electric windows, and a 7.0in Sensus touchscreen infotainment system with sat nav, DAB, Bluetooth and uprated sound system.

Upgrade to the SE Lux Nav trim and you will find 18in alloys, xenon headlights, keyless entry and electrically adjustable driver's seat, while the R-Design Nav models get sports suspension, satin silver mirror covers, sports seats, a sporty bodykit and rear diffuser.

The range-topping R-Design Lux Nav trim adds a powered tailgate, anondised silver roof rails and an auto-dimming rear view mirror.

It’s the sat-nav that’s the biggest disappointment. Yes it sits in an enclosed pod, unlike some older models, but it’s the same antiquated and hard to control system that it always was. The fact that it costs £1,535 as an optional extra makes an aftermarket portable device a much better option.

Still, the perceived quality and the standard of the materials are first rate, while the seats are comfortable and like the steering wheel, adjustable through a generous range. There’s ample headroom up front with good visibility past the narrow A-pillars and rear seat passengers won’t want for space either. And it’s a Volvo, so the load bay is well proportioned while the 40/20/40 spilt rear seat folds flat into the floor should you need it to.

Volvo XC60 side profile

The vast majority of XC60s sold in the UK come with a diesel engine under the bonnet – Volvo's T5 petrol only accounting for a few percent of UK annual sales.

That leaves three different diesel engines to choose from, starting with the 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit found in the front-wheel drive DRIVe models. Focusing on economy, the lack of heavy four-wheel drive system allows this 188bhp unit to sprint from 0-62mph in 10.3 seconds. There is also a five-cylinder version of the 2.4-litre oilburner which can only be had with Volvo's all-wheel drive system and surprisingly prodcuing the same output.

The D5 engine emits more of a grumble than a rattle, and the note is curiously pleasing when pushing on

Topping the range is a 2.4-litre five cylinder producing 218bhp, with all the extra weight of the AWD system it’s actually one tenth of a second slower from 0-62mph when fitted with a manual gearbox – the six-speed Geartronic taking 10.9 seconds to complete the benchmark. It’s a decent automatic box, but the Powershift unit mated to the 2.0-litre turbocharged T5 engine swaps cogs quicker and smoother.

But if it's performance married to economy that floats your boat, the most powerful D5 diesel is for you, dispensing with the 0-62mph sprint in only 8.4 seconds and carrying on to 130mph. Best of all there is no penalty in terms of emissions or economy for this extra oomph either.

However, the D5 isn’t the newest of engines, and neither is it the quietest in the class – though the five-cylinder emits more of a grumble than a rattle, and the note is curiously pleasing when pushing on.

Volvo XC60 cornering

The form book doesn’t lead you to expect great things when it comes to the dynamic abilities of the Volvo XC60; however, it’s better in reality than most would expect.

It doesn’t ride with the pillow-soft pliancy of an executive saloon, but compared to many of its rivals it is more comfortable, quieter and controlled. Opt for a car with the R-Design chassis and the ride isn’t as smooth at lower speeds as the standard car’s, though the stiffer dampers and anti-roll bars do improve body control at speed.

Volvo doesn't make much of a play of the XC60's off-road credentials. Riding on Pirelli P-Zero rubber that's probably a good thing.

Even when the road turns twisty the XC60 gives off a good first impression, offering good body control and plenty of grip – especially when equipped with the Haldex four-wheel drive. Badged Volvo AWD with Instant Traction the system transmits the vast majority of power to the front wheels for increased economy, but reapportions it as wheels lose grip.

Still, whatever drivetrain and chassis you choose it’s only when you really begin to push hard that the limits of the chassis are relatively quickly exposed. The steering is less than fantastic, and although accurate, it’s short on feel. Meanwhile the large rim and heavy weighting can make it seem rather ponderous in the first quarter of a turn.

Regardless, the XC60 manages to exceed the relatively lowly levels expected of its dynamics, particularly in terms of ride quality. But if driving enjoyment is a priority, there are definitely more involving rivals out there – such as the BMW X3 or Land Rover Discovery Sport, to name just a couple.

Volvo XC60

Volvo offers four different trim levels for the XC60, starting with SE Nav and rising through SE Lux Nav, R-Design Nav and R-Design Lux Nav. The range kicks off with the sub-£33,000, front-wheel drive D4 manual and finishes with the D5 AWD at a whopping £39,000. All models are well-equipped, and it’s the D4 manual SE Nav that strikes the best balance at £34,215.

It’s a Volvo, so all variants of XC60 come loaded with safety equipment including front, side and curtain airbags as well as whiplash protecting seats. And in a bid to steer clear of the accident itself, every trim level benefits from ABS, Electronic brake-force distribution, ready alert brakes, electronic brake assist and traction and stability control.

Those on the quest for economy should look towards the DRIVe

There’s even City Safety which brakes the car to a halt if it detects an impending impact at low speed. R-Design trim brings with it 18-inch alloy wheels, skidplates, matt silver mirrors and grille treatment and blue instrument dials for the cabin.

Those on the quest for economy and efficiency should look towards the DRIVe model. This front-wheel drive only model emits 149g/km, and more importantly can return 49.6mpg on the combined cycle. Opting for the same engine but with the six-speed Geartronic transmission means economy drops to 41.5mpg and emissions jump to 179g/km. And if you must have a petrol, then the 2.0-litre T5 is the one to have, thanks to reasonable 33.2mpg combined figure and 198g/km CO2 output.

Volvo XC60 rear quarter

It’s often tempting to dismiss SUVs or crossovers that look like they belong off road when in fact they don’t, and highlight their frequent and obvious failings: they’re too tall to drive pleasingly and their pretentiousness usually makes them thirstier and heavier than they need to be.

But while there are elements of that with the Volvo XC60, it actually looks more suited to the road than most. Admittedly there might not be a great deal of satisfaction for the enthusiastic driver, especially in comparison to some of its more polished rivals, but the XC60 has a breadth of talent that ensures it maintains plenty of appeal.

A Towing Assist stability function is a nice option in this class

There’s a wide range of engine and drivetrain options, the latest of which adding a welcome dose of sophistication to the car, and it’s incredibly safe. In 2009 it gained a five star Euro NCAP rating, offering a vast array of safety-focused technology either as standard or optionally. And as many XC60’s will be used to transport owners’ nearest and dearest, that counts for a huge amount of its appeal.

It’s just as stylish, both inside and out, as its many rivals too. And while it’s not as capacious as some of Volvo’s traditional estate models the XC60 does a decent job of being day to day practical as well.

In fact, there’s a great deal to like about the XC60, which is undoubtedly one of the most appealing and attractive small SUVs on sale. This can only stand it in good nick as the 2017 model is readying itself to enter the market.

Volvo XC60 2008-2017 First drives