I started writing a road test of the 2014 Volvo XC60 D5 R-Design and then figured that – for the most part anyway – I could save you a lot of waffle and point you in the direction of PetrolBlog’s review of the Volvo XC60 Polestar from last year.
The Volvo XC60 is a firm favourite at PBHQ. Mrs MajorGav wants one more than any other car in the world and the children simply know it as ‘the big blue Volvo from Wales’. Money no object, it’s fair to say there’d be a new Volvo XC60 parked outside PetrolBlog Towers right now.
I’ll admit that I was a little sceptical that the raft of changes made to the 2014 Volvo XC60 would make that much of a difference. Volvo’s compact SUV has – along with many other cars in the range – been treated to a midlife facelift.
The big question is, have these changes made much of a difference? Has Volvo managed to improve on what was already a highly accomplished premium SUV? Here’s the PetrolBlog verdict.
You won’t appreciate the cosmetic changes until you put an old XC60 alongside the new car. The front of the XC60 appears wider – especially on the R-Design model – and as a result it looks less smiley and more snarly.
Much to the annoyance of drivers of oncoming vehicles, Volvo has moved the LED daytime running lights to the edge of the car. I lost count of the number of times I was flashed by irate drivers, clearly not enjoying the effects of retina burn. Looks like Volvo has done an Audi…
Other changes are harder to spot – especially if you’re suffering from temporary blindness caused by the LEDs. The washer nozzles have been moved to under the bonnet, the headlamp washer jets now sit flush, the grille-mounted radar cover has been painted black and the BLIS (Blind Spot Information System) cameras have been confined to the parts bin, replaced instead with radar sensors.
PetrolBlog verdict: HIT.
The changes on the inside are even more subtle and extend to little more than a new headliner, textile B-pillars and silk metal frames around the air vents and light controls. As you’d expect, the R-Design is treated a number of additional touches, but special mention has to be given to the sports seats, which provide excellent support from the thighs to the shoulders. In the past, I’ve found R-Design seats to be lacking in real support, especially when cornering fast. There are no such issues with the XC60 – the seats are brilliant.
It has to be repeated – few cars offer better cross-country, long-distance comfort than a Volvo. Settle into a Volvo for a long drive and the world seems a much calmer and relaxed place to be. It must be something to do with those talented Swedish designers – the classic recipe of simple design, mixed with supreme ergonomics and the effective use of lighting. My only gripe – the black headlining with tends to make the cabin feel smaller than it actually is.
But Volvo’s interiors still manage to feel premium, without appearing overly sombre, which is something the Germans are guilty of.
Favourite touches include the brilliantly tactile and expensive feeling optional £150 paddle shifters (take note, Renault), the heated steering wheel (a £200 option) and the sports seats.
PetrolBlog verdict: HIT (just).
Volvo has made a big thing about its new HMI (Human Machine Interface), claiming that Sensus Connected Touch turns the 7-inch infotainment display into a ‘state-of-the-art infrared, beam-scanned touchscreen that be used even when wearing gloves – a world first in cars’.
It means that – via a car-mounted 3G/4G dongle, or mobile phone – it’s possible to access a number of online services, such as Spotify and TuneIn Radio, which just happen to be two of my favourite apps. It’s now also possible to share a wifi network with everyone in the car.
In truth, it’s a bit of a mixed bag, especially if you happen to live out in the sticks. More often than not, it was impossible to get a Spotify connection, which led to a frustratingly intermittent supply of music. I’ve no doubt that it would be good in the city, and the idea is great in principle, but until areas such as mine catch up with modern civilisation, it’s just a bit of useless technology.
On the plus side, the screen can be controlled whilst wearing gloves. Not that you’ll need them if you’ve opted for the heated steering wheel.
PetrolBlog verdict: MISS.
Like the Ford Fiesta ST, the Volvo XC60 now features Corner Traction Control as standard. As you’ll find in the brilliant Fiesta, the torque vectoring system applies brake force to the inner wheels, whilst adding power to the outer wheels when exiting a corner.
It works. When coupled with the R-Design’s stiffer chassis, it helps to make the XC60 feels far more nimble than it has the right to be.
I also felt that the new XC60 had slightly meatier steering than before, although Volvo hasn’t claimed to have made any changes, so this could be my imagination. But whatever, the steering certainly feels more direct and better weighted than before.
PetrolBlog verdict: HIT.
PetrolBlog’s regular reader will remember than the last XC60 we tested had been treated to a Polestar upgrade – boosting the engine’s output from 215hp to 230hp. At the same time, the torque had been increased to 470Nm.
That car was fitted with a six-speed manual gearbox (420Nm), whereas the 2014 XC60 I tested had the six-speed automatic transmission, upping the torque to 440Nm.
Well I can honestly say that the Polestar upgrade is worth every penny. Without it, the XC60 feels significantly slower – although this may have a lot to do with the auto ‘box, which does tend to dilute the performance. It’s no slouch – not by any stretch of the imagination – but the Polestar chip helped raise a smile under acceleration. Without it, the performance feels less exhilarating.
That said – there’s a huge difference between the manual and automatic XC60 when it comes to the subject of efficiency. For the manual, a combined 53.3mpg and 139g/km CO2 results in an annual road tax fee of £125. In the automatic, the economy drops to 44.1mpg and CO2 increases to 169g/km, with an annual tax fee of £285 in the first year, dropping to £200 the year after.
So the automatic ‘box dents the performance and the efficiency of the XC60 D5.
PetrolBlog verdict: Get a manual gearbox and the Polestar upgrade!
Volvo always loads its press cars to the rafters with expensive options and accessories, claiming that it gives us the chance to test the features out for ourselves. And I get this – especially when it comes to the safety elements – as these are so inherent to the Volvo brand.
My test car was furnished with £6,200 worth of options, increasing the list price from £39,635 to £45,835. I had a play with the online car configurator and soon found my XC60 could cost me closer to £50,000. Wowzers.
Without the expensive options and desirable R-Design kit, there’s no doubt that the XC60 will feel like a lesser product. But it’s not exactly a car blessed with strong residuals, so what should you opt for?
Security Pack (£700) – most useful element is keyless start, but that’s not worth £700 alone.
Winter Illumination Pack (£1,500) – worth it for the heated seats, heated windscreen, headlight cleaning system, active bending Xenons, heated washer jets and auto-dimming mirrors. A must-have option!
Driver Support Pack (£1,900) – the most costly option fitted to my test car, which consists of collision warning, pedestrian and cycle detection, adaptive cruise control, queue assist, lane departure warning, road sign information, auto high beam and BLIS. Tough one as you’re paying for Volvo’s R&D time. You never really know if or when you’ll need the safety elements, although adaptive cruise control is very good.
Gear Shift Paddles (£150) – using the automatic stick to change gear remains as horrid as it did in the S60 Polestar. More often than not, you’ll leave it in auto, but for the times you need more control, you’ll be glad of these. They feel great, too.
Dark Tint Glass Rear/Cargo (£350) – looks good, but does tend to make the rear of the cabin feel slightly claustrophobic. Not a must-have option.
Tempa Spare Wheel (£150) – be mad not to.
20-inch Ixion Black Alloy Wheels (£1,200) – these wheels look superb, beautifully filling the XC60’s arches. However, I’d like to try the car on standard 18-inch rims, as the ride felt a little hard and unsettled at times. Volvo claims the 20-inch and 19-inch rims offer the same ride qualities, so it might be worth testing the 18-inch alloys first. A proper head versus heart decision.
They’re not cheap either and I’d be afraid of kerbing them. Good luck keeping them in pristine condition, especially on Britain’s pothole-infested roads.
Heated Steering Wheel (£200) – no question, every car should have a heated steering wheel.
I find it hard to believe that a car as accomplished and competent as the Volvo XC60 can still be considered an outsider in a sector dominated by the BMW X3, Audi Q5, Land Rover Freelander and Volkswagen Tiguan. Sure, it suffers from pretty steep depreciation and the price can get pretty scary once you’ve added a few ‘feel good’ options, but what price safety and reassurance?
There’s something deeply satisfying about ‘owning’ an XC60. Long drives are never a chore and there’s a massive emotional element attached to seeing your children strapped into the back of one of the safest cars on the planet. Given that cars like the XC60 are predominantly purchased by growing families, surely that should be a huge influencing factor.
And besides, depreciation is only an issue if you’re mad enough to buy new and then sell within three to four years. Top tip: buy a Volvo for life.
The Volvo XC60 remains a firm favourite at PBHQ, even if the ‘big red one’ wasn’t quite as cool as the ‘big blue one from Wales’.