From £26,915
Refined, handsome and upmarket family 4x4

What is it?

This is Volvo’s all-new ‘crossover SUV’. To all intents and purposes it’s the Swedish car-maker’s answer to the Land Rover Freelander, BMW X3 and Honda CRV, and a smaller sibling for the successful XC90.

But it’s also a more interesting and different car in its own right than that would suggest; a real breath of fresh air for anyone considering an upmarket, small soft-roader.

What’s it like?

To look at, it’s pretty – and pretty unusual. Although it occupies the same space at the kerb as a conventional medium-sized 4x4, the Volvo XC60 doesn’t resemble one.

From the belt line upwards this could be a sporty estate car, such is its cabin-rear profile, the sleek shallowness of its glasshouse and the steep rake of its windscreen.

But sporty estates aren’t this tall; they don’t have so much metal between the door handles and the door sills, and they don’t ride so high off the ground.

Neither are Volvos usually this bold and assertive of appearance. That’s because the XC60 represents the beginning of a new chapter for Gothenburg’s design team.

This is the first production car by recently appointed design boss Steve Mattin and, judging by its swollen badges and features, its wedge-like bodyside and its dynamic and sculptured surfaces and lines, he’s determined to drag the brand’s hitherto conservative metal aesthetic kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

The XC60’s cabin feels solid, airy and upmarket. There has perhaps not been as much innovative thinking invested in creating this interior as there has for the car’s exterior, but it’s all very pleasant, well-appointed and well-built.

The car’s driving position is good – and typically high – and there’s enough room for full-sized adults to travel in the back seats in comfort.

There are three engines to choose from for prospective XC60 buyers – a 281bhp turbo six-pot petrol and two five-pot diesels (a 161bhp 2.4D and a 183bhp D5). We tested the D5, in six-speed manual form.

The car’s performance isn’t what you’d call fast, but it’s certainly brisk enough to make for easy overtaking at cross-country speeds, accompanied by the Volvo diesel’s characterful but workmanlike thrum.

There’s just enough urge to propel this car down the road briskly, but not so much that it becomes too thirsty. Volvo claims 37.7mpg and 199g/km of CO2.

The car’s performance is abetted by the fitment of a positive, chunky-feeling six-speed manual gearbox, which allows the driver full control over gear changes in a way that never seems possible with Volvo’s ‘Geartronic’ automatic ‘box.

The car’s steering isn’t quite as impressive. It’s accurate, but there’s almost no communication coming though the helm to the XC60’s driver, which is regrettable, if not unpredictable from Volvo.

Like all other XC60s offered at launch, ours had Volvo’s tried-and-tested Haldex multi-plate clutch-equipped four-wheel drive system.

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It’s been updated for this application with a non-return valve in the hydraulic set-up, which makes it faster-acting once wheel-slip is detected at the front wheels, but in normal driving conditions it sends 95 per cent of engine power to the front wheels.

This is a 4x4 system you won’t even know is there until you really need it then, and for that reason its effect on the car’s driving experience under all-but-the-slipperiest conditions is undetectable.

Should I buy one?

If you like setting trends rather than following them, and you’re looking for a handsome, upmarket and refined family 4x4, we’d say so.

Just as it did with the XC90, Volvo has come late to an established zone of the 4x4 segment with a car that seems totally fresh and appealing.

If you’re concerned that the XC60 won’t be as pleasing to live with as it is beguiling to look at, don’t be.

This is a car whose build quality and practicality could withstand comparison with any medium-sized 4x4 on the market. Put simply, this is the best-executed £25k ‘crossover vehicle’ the market has produced.

It seldom feels entertaining or agile to drive, but Volvo’s priorities have always lain elsewhere, and if you’re one of those family people who values safety, comfort and a certain amount of alternative style higher than driving appeal, the Volvo XC60 will be right up your street.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

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Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

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Add a comment…
jskater 26 September 2008

Re: Volvo XC60 D5

Bruce Wayne wrote:
4WD's "dynamic advantages" are not "negated" by a higher centre of gravity. Pull out at speed from a wet T-junction and you'll be glad you have 4WD in any car.

I agree that four-wheel-drive gives better traction, but as the average SUV spends 100% of it's time on tarmac, the centre of gravity is needlessly high which will have a detrimental effect on the handling. This is the reason why they run WRC cars closer to the ground on tarmac than gravel. So, visiblity aside, it may just as well be a four-wheel-drive estate.

Personally, I find a dextrous conbination of throttle and clutch just fine for wet T-junctions, but take your point as have driven a 2.5 WRX and my old man's Legacy Spec B and as we seem to agree, four-wheel-drive is A Good Thing in road cars.

My other vehicle is a skateboard. Try raising the axle-line or centre of gravity on that and see what it does for the handling... Please feel free, I'd love to see the results. Yours, "sheepishly"...

Pye 26 September 2008

Re: Volvo XC60 D5

A CO2 of 199 k/km isn't good enough - comparing like with like, how about Honda CRV Diesel @ 173. The Ford Kuga is quoted at 169 k/km which they claim is best in class - why dosn't Volvo drop the D5 engine in favour of the Ford unit? These cars must be related?

Quite good looking car though.

julianphillips 26 September 2008

Re: Volvo XC60 D5

It's about time someone came up with a 6x4 again. There used to be an open-top Range Rover 6x4 with an elevated seat for hunting!