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Don’t supersize me! Volvo’s XC60 could be all the SUV you need, says SIMON LAMBERT, after he loaded one up for a 1,400 mile family road trip

When I was growing up in 1980s and 1990s commuter belt Hertfordshire, Volvo estates were everywhere.

Solid, practical and safe, they were the family car of choice for those who wanted to mark themselves out as a bit different from the crowd.

To my naïve schoolboy eye, they didn’t have the cache of a BMW or Mercedes, but as my car obsession developed further, I began to appreciate the boxy style and angular swagger of the Swedish wagon.

A couple of years ago I moved back to the town I grew up in – a place that’s only got more terribly mass-affluent over the years – and Volvos are still ubiquitous.

Not the estates though. Despite today’s Volvo estates being stylish, well-thought out, premium cars, they are practically an endangered species. It’s Volvo SUVs that are everywhere now.

Swedish sibling: The XC60 (pictured) slots into Volvo's range below the big XC90, but is it all the SUV you need? Simon Lambert packed an XC60 to the brim and took it to the Alps to test Swedish sibling: The XC60 (pictured) slots into Volvo's range below the big XC90, but is it all the SUV you need? Simon Lambert packed an XC60 to the brim and took it to the Alps to test

Swedish sibling: The XC60 (pictured) slots into Volvo’s range below the big XC90, but is it all the SUV you need? Simon Lambert packed an XC60 to the brim and took it to the Alps to test 

Top dog among them is the XC90 and if you want a big SUV, it’s a great car. But there’s also a catch: it’s massive, which is where its little brother, Volvo’s biggest selling car around the world, the XC60 comes in.

As siblings they look very similar, but the XC60 is a lot less imposing. And with a cost of living crisis raging and conspicuous consumption out, do you really want a big bruising SUV when you could have a shrunken down version that’s a lot subtler?

Many may reply: ‘Ah, but I need the extra space.’ But if you don’t require the XC90’s seven seats, will an XC60 fit everything you need in and do the premium SUV job equally well? 

I borrowed an XC60 from Volvo to put it to one of the ultimate middle-class family car tests – the ski holiday drive to the Alps.

The version we had was a XC60 B5 petrol mild hybrid (more on which later), which starts at £47,465 in Core specification, or £649 per month over three years with Volvo’s subscription plan.

We loaded it up with two adults, two kids (aged 12 and 10), all the stuff we needed for a week’s ski and snowboard holiday (plus seemingly almost everything else in my house) and did a 1,400 mile round trip to Meribel, in the French Alps.

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What’s the XC60 like to drive?

Volvo’s XC60 is a sizeable all-wheel drive SUV aimed squarely at the premium but practical end of the market, so don’t expect it to come with the kind of driving dynamics that set the world on fire.

But nor should it, what buyers of cars like an XC60 want isn’t a harsh ride and sporting pretensions, but something comfortable that still has a turn of pace and enough feel in the bends to make it fun.

Our road trip to the Alps, was roughly 700 miles per leg and we did both the journey there and back in one day each way, which is about 12 hours driving plus the channel crossing.

It’s a route that ranges from the traffic of the M25 and M20 between home and the Eurotunnel in Folkestone, to the long and usually empty autoroutes of France, and then the winding roads up into the mountains, with our final destination at 1,750m above sea level.

That provides a decent test of what a car is like to drive in different conditions and the XC60 ticked the comfortable yet good-to-drive boxes well.

The XC60 B5 is a mild hybrid. This combines petrol power with light electrical assistance, which is enough to reduce emissions and fuel consumption but not powerful enough to drive the car on battery power alone. That makes mild hybrids different to their hybrid or now more common plug-in hybrid cousins that can cover limited ranges on electric power.

With 250 horsepower delivered by its 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and electric boost, mated to an automatic gearbox, the XC60 B5 can reach 60mph in 6.5 seconds and goes on to a limited top speed of 112mph.

That makes it a pretty swift car on paper, but on the road it feels adequately quick rather than fast. The XC60 B5 has rapid acceleration when you need it though, such as getting on motorways and overtaking and handles well. 

It cruises nicely on the motorway and A roads and has a bit of SUV roll in the corners – especially up those mountain roads – but is firm enough to be an entertaining drive.

Overall, it feels fleet of foot and munched the miles on our long-slog journeys well.

About 30cm of fresh snow had already fallen on the night we arrived, but even on standard non-winter-tyres the XC60 made it all the way up to the highest part of Meribel About 30cm of fresh snow had already fallen on the night we arrived, but even on standard non-winter-tyres the XC60 made it all the way up to the highest part of Meribel

About 30cm of fresh snow had already fallen on the night we arrived, but even on standard non-winter-tyres the XC60 made it all the way up to the highest part of Meribel

The XC60’s all-wheel drive also deserves a special credit for passing a tough test on the final leg of our journey to the mountains.

It was snowing heavily on the night we arrived – and it would have been snow chain conditions for most cars. But riding on normal tyres, rather than winter boots, the XC60 made it all the way up the mountain roads to our destination. The only bit it didn’t managed was a steep final 50 yards to just outside the apartment, and even then it had a pretty good crack at that.

Where I would say a petrol-powered mild hybrid XC60 falls down slightly, however, is on fuel economy, but this is a common issue with its SUV peers. Most of these cars nowadays are at least knocking on the door of two tonnes, the XC60 B5 is 1,845kg before you put any people or luggage in it, and that’s a lot of weight to be lugging around.

We averaged 27.5mpg over the whole trip, albeit you must bear in mind that is fully loaded and with a roofbox, doing fast motorway miles and some mountain driving.

Nonetheless, this isn’t great fuel economy and arguably diesel engines make far more sense for SUVs like this than petrol ones do. 

Surprisingly, there is still a diesel option in the XC60 range, the B4 mild hybrid and its official WLTP combined fuel economy figures are about 25 per cent better. I doubt with many modern buyers too scared to buy diesels it’s a particularly popular choice though.

The XC60's smart interior has some nice designer touches and is a comfortable place to be The XC60's smart interior has some nice designer touches and is a comfortable place to be

The XC60’s smart interior has some nice designer touches and is a comfortable place to be

Google is built into the XC60 for maps, voice-controlled assistant and playing media Google is built into the XC60 for maps, voice-controlled assistant and playing media

Google is built into the XC60 for maps, voice-controlled assistant and playing media

What’s the XC60 like inside?

If you are picking a premium SUV, then how much space there is inside and what it’s like will be among your chief criteria.

The XC60 passes both tests with flying colours. Volvo’s modern-day interiors are lovely places to be and the XC60 is no exception. It felt classy and light and airy. I was a fan of some of the nice interior touches, such as wood and metal effects, the quality switchgear and the clear crystal automatic gearknob.

The clear crystal automatic gearknob in the XC60 is a nice extra stylish touch The clear crystal automatic gearknob in the XC60 is a nice extra stylish touch

The clear crystal automatic gearknob in the XC60 is a nice extra stylish touch

The tech – an all-important aspect for many these days – was good, with Google built in for maps, assistant and playing media, and the touchscreen with its big tiles is reasonably intuitive to use. 

Although, as ever these days, it would be nice if more stuff was controlled with some simple dashboard buttons rather than the distraction of a touchscreen.

There is lots of space upfront and plenty of headroom, so tall drivers and passengers will have no problem getting comfortable. 

The back seats are generous, with lots of knee and head room, and the rear bench’s width means that three adults could sit across it in reasonable comfort (probably not all the way to the Alps, mind you) and three children have plenty of space.

There are three specification levels for the XC60, Core, Plus and Ultimate, which add features as you go up the price ladder. My two girls were big fans of a feature that comes as standard on Plus upwards: heated rear seats.

I did have one slight gripe with those rear seats though, and it’s one I have with many carmakers. 

Volvo has stuck with traditional 60/40 folding rear bench split rather than offering the far more practical 40/20/40 split, where the middle folds down independently.

The latter is a far more practical option and one I’d love to see family carmakers offer as standard, as it allows you to load any longer items, not just skis or snowboards, while retaining two back seats and therefore without needing to resort to a roof rack.

The XC60 did come with a ski hatch, but as with many of these, it was quite small and while it would have got my skis through, you certainly couldn’t get our snowboards through there.

That meant we needed a roofbox, which is no great trauma, but it is nice to be able to avoid having to do this.

Fold the XC60's rear seats flat and there is plenty of room Fold the XC60's rear seats flat and there is plenty of room Which is handy if for any odd reason you need to stick a roofbox in the XC60's boot Which is handy if for any odd reason you need to stick a roofbox in the XC60's boot

Fold the XC60’s rear seats flat and there is plenty of room, as was proved when I had to stick the roofbox in the back to get under a carpark height restriction

Other than that slightly niche grumble, the load space in the XC60 is very good. At 483 litres, the boot is slightly smaller than the largest of rivals in its class – a BMW X3 has 550 litres, for example – but there is more than enough room for almost all your needs. And trust me, we put a lot of stuff in that car.

The roofbox did also provide the XC60 with another unusual test of what you can fit in with the rear seats folded flat.

When the car was delivered to me, I discovered that with the box on it was too tall to get into our underground car park at work. After scratching my head for a while, I had an idea, and following a rough measure up, I had the back seats flat, the roofbox stored in the rear of the car and the height restriction defeated. So, yes, load capacity with the rear seats down is pretty good.

Peak performer: In a crowded field, the Volvo XC60 is among the best premium family SUVs Peak performer: In a crowded field, the Volvo XC60 is among the best premium family SUVs

Peak performer: In a crowded field, the Volvo XC60 is among the best premium family SUVs

The Cars & motoring verdict

The premium family SUV sector is a crowded field and Volvo’s XC60 goes up against luminaries ranging from the BMW X3 to the Audi Q5, Jaguar F-Pace, Mercedes GLC and Land Rover Discovery Sport. Spend a bit more and you could be in a Porsche Macan, or save a bit of money and you could get into a top-end seven-seater Skoda Kodiaq.

This competitive market means Volvo has to really hit the nail on the head to attract buyers and the XC60 is a class act that manages to do that.

It looks the business inside and out and is a handsome car, with a well-considered interior that will keep you happy behind the wheel and your passengers content and comfortable.

If you are in the market for this type of car, an XC60 is an excellent choice: but can you say the same about picking the B5 petrol mild hybrid option?

Performance-wise, I’d say yes, but there is a part of me that thinks the other XC60 options could be better.

The alternatives most will eye up will inevitably be the more expensive 2 litre Recharge petrol plug-in hybrids, either the 350hp T6 or 455hp T8. These have claimed WLTP combined figures of 101 to 282mpg, although you’ll have to do a very particular type of driving to achieve that. 

But arguably, a version that should seriously be considered is the B4 mild hybrid diesel XC60.

Arguably, a version that should seriously be considered but almost certainly won’t by most buyers is the B4 mild hybrid diesel XC60 

Diesel power provides the combination of fuel efficiency, lower CO2 emissions, load-lugging grunt, and pace that potential buyers look for.

But I doubt many potential buyers will go for diesel. Despite modern engines being cleaner than the air-polluting diesels of the past, the fuel has been demonised to the extent that new sales have dwindled to a trickle and buyers are terrified of rules changing and a potential collapse in resale values.

It’s a shame this has chimed with a moment in time when buyers are chasing big, heavy SUVs that diesel power is suited to.

Of course, the other alternative would be to step out of the SUV crowd and opt for a Volvo estate instead – getting the space, luxury, and pace you need in a smaller, lighter package – but that’s a topic for another story.

While we wait in vain for that estate car revival, the XC60 will continue to do Volvo’s biggest selling premium family wagon job with aplomb.

Volvo XC60: Will it fit in my garage?

Price: From £47,465 or £649 per month on subscription

Model tested:  XC60 B5 AWD 

Test car price with options: £52,690

Engine: 2.0 litre 4 cylinder petrol mild hybrid, automatic gearbox

Power: 250 horsepower

 0 to 62mph:  6.9 seconds

Top speed: 112mph limited

Fuel efficiency:  35.8mpg 

CO2 emissions: 176g/km

Length: 4,708 mm

Width (mirrors extended): 2,117 mm

Height: 1,658 mm

Weight:  1,845kg (min kerb weight)

Fuel tank:  71 litres

Boot volume:  483 litres

Also available as B4 AWD diesel mild hybrid, from £53,575, or XC60 Recharge plug-in hybrid, from £60,555

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