AM I THE ONLY one who thinks my new Volvo XC60 long-termer looks a little smug?
As though its handsome grille is somehow twisted into a haughty smirk, and when it drives, it doesn’t so much roll past smoothly as saunter with a superior swagger. It sounds daft, I know, and yet such attitude wouldn’t be entirely without cause.
The Volvo XC60 is our sister magazine, Wheels', freshly minted Car of the Year and this particular example, which is the $92,990 hybrid-powered T8 flagship, last month trounced its rivals from Porsche, Audi, Jaguar and Range Rover in our performance mid-size SUV comparison.
Clearly then, DQC55W has already been put through the Wheels wringer and emerged not only unscathed, but manifestly more confident and more convincing. It also means a traditional ‘welcome’ report to the Wheels garage feels a little pointless.
Discussing initial impressions would simply cover old ground so, to avoid that, I’ve thrown the T8 straight in at the deep end. In less than two weeks I’ve added more than 3000km to the odo, with its first adventure being the support car on our Porsche 911 GT3 v Road feature on p106, hence the flash of bright blue wing dominating the foreground opposite.
I’d only had the T8 for 24 hours before it was charged with chasing the Porsche, its pristine boot laden with cases of camera gear and its freshly vacuumed carpets quickly sullied by mounds of dirt, grass and twigs as the photography team dragged in clumps of the Grampian scenery as we scouted for locations.
Yet even there, with its snout smattered with bugs, the interior befouled and its already lardy 2174kg kerb weight fattened further by four people’s gear, the T8 shouldered the burden with zero fuss.
The 505L boot proved more than ample, the deftly designed and beautifully trimmed cabin roomy and comfortable, and the soft and supportive leather seats, which arrive as part of the $7500 Premium Pack were a welcome reprieve from stints in the Porsche’s hard, carbonfibre-shelled racing buckets.
It really is a serene place to cocoon yourself, with road and tyre noise nicely suppressed and a supple, well-controlled ride courtesy of this T8’s optional air suspension, which is also part of the Premium Pack. As COTY testing proved, ticking the air suspension box (which can be selected on its own for $2500) is crucial across the XC60 range if you value ride comfort.
Yet the Volvo wasn’t only used as a calm oasis to recoup in after blats in the howling Miami Blue 911. With the scream of the Porsche’s flat-six bouncing off the towering cliff faces just outside of Dunkeld as Dep Ed Enright chased the 9000rpm redline, I tore off after him in the Volvo to remind myself of its performance credentials.
While no match for Stuttgart’s best, the T8 again proved its worth as a driver’s SUV that delivers accurate steering, tight body control, surprisingly high grip levels and a peach of a hybrid powertrain that combines a smooth and responsive 2.0-litre four pot petrol with fat wads of instant torque from a 65kW/240Nm electric motor.
The only dynamic element that requires some adjustment is the brake pedal which, courtesy of the T8’s regenerative braking capability, initially feels difficult to modulate.
Unsurprisingly, chasing the Porsche saw the T8’s fuel consumption jump to 9.3L/100km, yet that figure fell into the sixes the following week during an interstate run to Bathurst to collect our new Border Collie pup.
Time pressures meant that the 2000km round trip had to be completed in a day and a half and, with the seven-week-old hound asleep on the back seat as we drove into the night, the T8’s impressive bandwidth came to the fore.
Capable of hustling with surprising composure, it’s also an enjoyable and comfortable place to spend lengthy amounts of time.
Perhaps a little smugness is deserved.
IT’S CHANGING me, this Volvo. Having spent last month eroding any lingering cynicism I had towards SUVs as a category (for being too heavy, too thirsty, too cumbersome and thus deserving of unquestioned enthusiast vilification), the sleek Swede has since had a similar effect on my opinion of hybrids.
I’ll admit to being something of an unwilling hybrid sceptic, not because I don’t see the value in the technology, but because all the ones I’ve experienced have been disappointing. Heavier and more expensive than conventional drivetrains, they often have odd-feeling control weights (fizzing brake pedals, for example) and struggle, without exception, to reach their predicted ‘electric only’ ranges in the real world.
These aren’t shortfalls the Volvo sidesteps entirely, in fact it’s still guilty of all of them, yet it’s easily the most impressive hybrid powertrain I’ve driven. The electric motor delivers a surprising performance boost, with instant step-off and, when the road gets twisty, rapid response as you feed in the throttle on corner exit. The Volvo really hustles for a porky SUV, too: combined outputs of 300kW/640Nm propel the 2105kg T8 from 0-100km/h in just over 5.0 seconds.
However, it’s the benefits provided by the batteries in mundane city driving that are more useful. I’ve been charging the T8 at work (a full charge takes just over four hours via a conventional socket) and it’s able to get me home and halfway back to the office without using a drop of petrol. That’s just over 30km on electricity alone, which is impressively close to the on-board computer’s claimed EV range of 35km.
And I haven’t even been trying to be economical; the air-con is always on and my driving style normal. It’s quite satisfying actually, to glide along in near-silence, cocooned in the sumptuous cabin, smug in the knowledge that you’re not burning PULP.
Plugging the T8 in has seen this month’s commuting fuel number drop from 8.0L/100km to 4.8, which is impressive considering I’m not charging it at home, or on the weekends.
Of course, prod the throttle too heavily, or run out of charge, and the combustion engine ignites, which can sound a little gruff initially, though the transition from full EV to hybrid propulsion is fairly smooth.
The integration of the eight-speed automatic gearbox is unobtrusive too, with swift and silky shifts only adding to the drivetrain’s sense of refinement and completeness.
AH THE three month itch. Typically this is the time in a car’s journey through the Wheels Garage when the excitement of running a new long-termer begins to wane and some frustrations of familiarity begin to rise. It’s a key reason we run long-term test cars: to unearth the niggles and quirks that only begin to surface after prolonged use – the very same journey you’d experience if you bought the car yourself.
The only problem is that, in this instance, there aren’t any frustrations to report. Not yet anyway. Three months in and the XC60 T8 is proving the near-perfect companion. Quiet, comfortable and fantastically frugal (it sipped just 4.9L/100km this month; an impressive effort for a 2174kg SUV), the T8 has slipped seamlessly into my life.
Read next: 2018 Volvo XC60 Range Review
It’s effortless to drive. The steering is light and crisp, which bestows a sense of wieldiness in tight urban spaces. Visibility is excellent courtesy of an airy glasshouse and parking is a painless process, even in cramped underground spots, thanks to three camera views (choose between rear, side or overhead), which are displayed in high resolution on the central screen.
And then there’s the powertrain, which manages to achieve the usually mutually exclusive traits of being efficient while also feeling muscular and responsive. The instant torque of the electric motor helps here, yet even when the battery seems fully depleted, the T8 captures and stores enough energy in general driving to add small bursts of battery-assisted shove as you move away from the lights or gun for a gap in traffic.
Even annoyance-prone areas like the infotainment system remain bugbear-free. All of the buttons are where you’d expect, the menu structure is logical and detailed (allowing you to navigate between different song playlists without needing to touch your phone), and the portrait-orientated touchscreen swipes like a smartphone.
Read next: 2018 Volvo XC40 review
The only niggles are delivered by the stumpy Orrefors gear selector (T8 specific), which requires a double pump to move from drive to reverse. And the infotainment system can lag slightly on start-up if you’re impatiently pressing the screen to ignite the seat heaters on a cold morning. I’ve long since adjusted to the sensitive brake pedal, which I now find easy to modulate.
And that’s it. After 12 weeks of everyday use, they’re the only criticisms I can level at the T8, which further validates its COTY win. Even better is that on top of delivering the ease-of-use and functionality you expect, the T8 does so with just enough Swedish flair and x-factor (through neat design touches and quality materials) to feel interesting and desirable.
Which aren’t words often used to describe medium SUVs.
I HAVE a theory that unless you’ve spent an entire day in a car, you don’t truly know it. And I mean an entire day. The kind that starts with a 5am alarm and finishes in the dark, your eyes ruined from searching the roadside for ’roos, your lap covered in chip crumbs and the centre console and door pockets littered with spent coffee cups.
I endure such trips more often than I’d like by virtue of living in Melbourne but having family in Mudgee. In fact, it happens so frequently now that the Inwood clan’s migration north of the border unfolds like a beautifully choreographed dance, with every task honed for speed and precision. Fuel stop duties are neatly divided (refuelling and window washing for me, coffee orders and fixing up the bill for my wife) and even our luggage is packed in a particular way to allow room for the two dogs.
It’s a brilliant test of a car’s all-round ability, with a particular focus on seat comfort, cabin space, refinement and, thanks to a backroads stretch through Muttama and Wombat, ride and handling. After hours on the Hume, the undulating 160km shortcut is a welcome boredom breaker, with fast sweepers that tighten unexpectedly, blind crests and rubbish rural tarmac.
This month saw the Volvo complete its second interstate jaunt and, for those familiar with the T8’s progress thus far, it should come as no surprise that it performed strongly. The seats and seating position are bang on and inflict no hint of back or leg ache, the cabin is hush on smooth surfaces, acceptable on coarse chip, and the optional air-suspension is quiet and comfortable with decent compliance over big compressions while also ironing out most of the small stuff.
Read next: Volvo XC60 Range review
It’s an excellent long-distance cruiser and the T8 is fun on the winding shortcut too, thanks to precise steering and near-unflappable road holding that ensures rapid progress without turning the serene cabin into a mess of dog vomit and a disgruntled wife.
It was deep into our return leg, however, that a small hiccup appeared on the digital dash. ‘Regular maintenance overdue’ it read, signalling DQC55W was due for its 15,000km service. No biggie, I thought, I’ll book it in when I get home (handily, you can organise an appointment at the dealer through the XC60’s central touchscreen).
But then, with nothing but hours of road ahead, I began to consider the T8’s battery pack. While efficient and useful for commuting on money-saving electricity, could the batteries and motor become problematic and expensive to maintain? A call to Volvo put my mind at ease.
Read next: Volvo XC60 T8 review
Turns out the T8’s servicing is no costlier or complicated than a conventionally powered variant (see sidebar, above) and the battery pack itself is guaranteed for the life of the vehicle. With that blip attended to, I was left to crank up the stereo, dive into another chip packet and sink further into the plush leather seat as the glowing city lights of Melbourne grew ever closer through the windscreen.
Spanner and the works
Volvo describes the T8’s battery pack as a serviceable unit, meaning that unlike earlier hybrid batteries, individual cells can be replaced if they fail. Despite its powertrain complexity, servicing costs for the T8 are the same as the rest of the XC60 range, varying from $745-$865 every 15,000km/12 months. As for resale, the T8’s respectable 61 percent retained value after three years is consistent with other XC60s, so no hybrid penalty there.
IT’S ONE thing to narrowly avoid a cataclysmic accident on your own. It’s quite another to flirt with disaster when your in-laws are perched in the back seat, their unsuspecting (yet ever-judging) eyes distracted by their smartphones. The wife’s parents were visiting from interstate for a long weekend and happily, things had been going smoothly. Until the blue Hyundai appeared that is, its faded and dinted passenger door doing its best to shoulder-charge the XC60’s handsome nose.
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It’s often hard to fathom the stupidity of others, but in this instance, despite the Hyundai’s callous recklessness, I could kind of empathise. He’d probably been sitting at the intersection for a long time, his patience slowly starting to simmer and then boil as he tried to turn right across two lanes of unrelenting traffic. In the end he’d plunged blindly into the fray, his car jumping out of the oncoming traffic and straight into the path of our Volvo, which came as something of a surprise.
I’ve never really bought into the whole ‘time slows down’ thing during stressful situations and yet, looking back, that’s pretty much what happened. With the Volvo cruising at 60km/h and the left-hand lane partially blocked by parked cars, I hammered the brakes and twisted the steering decisively to the left to avoid the Hyundai. Weirdly, I was totally calm, which is exactly how the Volvo felt, its sensors springing into action to pre-charge the brake pedal and assertively tighten the seatbelts of all four passengers (which is how it must feel to be garotted).
We washed off speed quickly but most impressive were the XC60’s body control and agility as it changed direction. It didn’t lurch or wallow as its weight rushed forward and to the right; it just gripped and turned.No fuss, no squealing tyres, not even an ABS intervention. And while the steering lacks feel, it was crisp and accurate.
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In the end we slid through the ever-closing gap between the Hyundai’s nose and the parked cars, the Volvo’s cabin full of gasps and the loud ‘crack!’ of glass on plastic as a phone shot from a hand in the back and hit the centre console.
It was a stressful few seconds, which is perhaps why, in her rush to leave the Volvo a few moments later, my mother-in-law didn’t spot the park bench lurking on the footpath. She opened her door onto it, leaving a dint about the size of a five-cent piece, which seemed a bit unfair given what we’d just avoided. Life’s crap like that sometimes.
IT STRIKES me that performance, like money and holidays, falls into that category of things you can never really have too much of. It’s true that life is all about balance, and I don’t discount the benefits
of fuel efficiency or creature comforts, but nothing tickles my adrenal glands quite like an accelerator pedal that feels as though it’s connected to some kind of military-grade explosive.
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Imagine my surprise then when, with the keys to a Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S clutched in my hand, I began to question just how much performance a mid-size SUV actually needs. With my XC60 relinquished to Volvo for its 15,000km service, and the GLC in the Wheels garage after last month’s feature drive in Tassie, I approached Affalterbach’s brutish SUV full of anticipation.
Two days later, having experienced the animalism of its 375kW/700Nm 4.0-litre V8, the firm intent of its chassis, and its willingness to perform small powerslides on demand, I began to wonder if, as a mode of regular family transport, it was a little too focused.
My ponderings were thrown into sharper relief by Volvo itself, which in the same week, announced performance upgrades for models with T8 powertrains. Fettled by Polestar, the optimised version of the XC60 jumps to 314kW/670Nm (up 14kW/30Nm), adds swankier Ohlins shocks, beefier Brembos, lighter wheels and a revised gearbox calibration that shifts cogs faster and holds onto gears longer if it detects enthusiastic driving.
The thing is, not once in our six months together have I lusted for my XC60 to feel sportier. It’s fast enough to be exciting, collected enough to accurately carve corners, and crucially, as slipping back into its freshly serviced form solidified, comfortable and quiet enough to feel genuinely luxurious. Remember that ‘balance’ thing I mentioned earlier? The regular T8 XC60 feels like the sweet spot.
Read next: 2018 Volvo XC60 Range Review
Our time apart did, however, shine a harsher light on a few XC60 weaknesses I’d perhaps grown too familiar with to be bothered by. The four-up ride, for example, wasn’t quite as supple as I recalled, with sharper bumps telegraphed clearly into the cabin. And the steering, which has always been light, suddenly felt numb and detached.
There’s no questioning its accuracy, but in an SUV with a performance bent such as this, a greater sense of connection would go a long way. Perhaps someone should tell Polestar.
IT LOOKS, it has to be said, slightly ridiculous, and just a little perilous. The wide white rump of the XC60 hustles left, then right, as Wheels deputy editor Andy Enright hurls it up the twisting mountain road at ten tenths, body roll and squealing Pirellis doing little to slow his rate of progress.
I’m following closely behind in a Ferrari 812 Superfast, watching in amused silence as next to me, photographer Nathan Jacobs asks in a puzzled voice, “That is a family SUV, right?”
Welcome to the corkscrew-esque piece of tarmac that runs up from the Thomson Dam reservoir in Gippsland, Vic, and to a glimpse into next month’s feature drive of the 812SF.
The Volvo is along as the support car, partly because it has sublimely comfy seats and a big boot to lug camera gear about, but mostly because I wanted to give my trusty long-termer one final drive; a balls-out farewell on some of Victoria’s best driving roads before it heads back to Volvo HQ. That’s right; having occupied these pages for seven serene, incident-free months, this is the last time you’ll read about DQC55W. I’m more than a bit sad about that.
It’s the intangibles that separate the great cars from the merely very good. The fact my XC60 has proven to be a triumph of comfort, packaging and efficiency is no real surprise. It is our reigning COTY after all. What’s set it apart during its stint in the Wheels garage are the things that are harder to measure.
The sense of quality imbued by the cabin, for instance, not just from the materials and how well it’s screwed together, but by the beautiful and uniquely Scandinavian design. It’s also extremely well insulated. Road and tyre noise are nicely suppressed and in EV mode, it verges on tranquil, the silence and comfort rarely troubled by poor road surfaces despite enormous 21-inch wheels (providing you tick the $2500 option for air suspension).
Read next: 2018 Volvo XC40 Range Review
In many ways it feels the antithesis of its German competitor set. Where a BMW or Audi can feel brash or austere, the XC60 is warm, textural and to my eyes, a deeply attractive SUV, inside and out.
And then there’s its ability to surprise. With Enright turfed out, I climb in for a final blast along the jinking test route, the drive mode switched to Power, this month’s fuel number thrown to the wind. It’s brutally proficient when pedalled hard. Push it right to the edge and there’s no escaping its 2174kg heft, or its breath of bodyroll as the weight transfers, but the steering is accurate (if remote), and its roadholding steadfast. The way it obliterates mid-corner bumps is enormously impressive too, the suspension simply pounding them into submission without upsetting the balance or knocking you off line.
There is an underlying sense that it’s a car you admire more than you enjoy at ten-tenths, but what you lose in ultimate dynamic connection you more than make up in everyday usability and comfort.
It’s an imposingly well-rounded package, this XC60, though no car is perfect. At this juncture it’s normal practise for a Wheels journalist to don their product planning hat and to wax lyrical about what they’d change on their long-termer to improve it.
My only question mark surrounds the value proposition of the T8 powertrain. There’s no doubting its efficiency (see breakout, above left), or the ease and intuition with which it combines a turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-litre four with an eight-speed automatic and a 10.4kWh battery-powered motor.
Read next: 2018 Volvo XC60 Range Review
But is it really worth the $16K premium over a similarly specced T6 R-Design, which uses the same high-output four-pot, sans the electric gubbins? Even if the T6 uses twice the fuel, it’d take more than six years to recoup the initial outlay at the bowser. As much as I’ve enjoyed the battery pack’s thriftiness and effortless muscle, if it was my money, I’m not sure I’d spring for the range topper.
Still, seven months with our reigning COTY has done nothing to undermine the argument that Volvo has created the best premium mid-size SUV you can buy. If anything, it’s galvanised it.