The two-wheel drive SUV might sound like an oxymoron, but it’s a trend that’s catching on – BMW’s X1 will be available with rear- and four-wheel drive drivetrains, and the previously all-wheel drive-only XC60 can now be had in front-wheel drive too. That’s the car we’re driving, in 2.4D DrivE SE Lux spec.
And the point of the front-wheel drive Volvo XC60 is…
Volvo is acknowledging that nobody really uses these posh off-roaders for anything more taxing than soggy car parks and kerb climbing – activities for which a raised ride height is all that’s required and where four-wheel drive acts as nothing more than a placebo.
Losing the rear diff, driveshafts and propshaft saves 80kg compared with the like-for-like all-wheel driver, and there’s a correspondingly positive effect on emissions and consumption too.
How much cleaner is it?
It’s difficult to say exactly, simply because the 2.4-litre 5-cylinder diesel in the AWD is 30bhp more powerful and significantly quicker – hitting 60mph in 7.9sec to the front driver’s 9.3sec.
However, you don’t really miss the extra performance in a car so un-sporting, and, combined with the weight saving, it means you’ll get over 6mpg more and emit 24g/km less in the front-wheel drive XC60 than it’s nearest AWD equivalent.
How about torque steer?
This car puts the same 310lb ft through the front wheels that its big brother puts through four, but it’s available over a smaller spread of revs (1500-2750rpm compares with 1500-3250rpm). Accelerate hard in first and second gear and you will feel a light twitch through the wheel, but it’s nothing more serious than that and, oddly, a completely different experience to the scrabbly XC70 FWD, which employs the same engine and delivers the same performance.
If this were the automotive equivalent of the Pepsi Challenge (the blind taste test of Pepsi and Coke – remember that?), we’d bet most drivers would struggle to tell the difference between the front- and four-wheel drive variants.
Is it good to drive?
It’s as bland as it’s always been – competent, inoffensive, never puts a foot wrong, never puts a smile on your face – while the ride’s generally compliant, if not as polished as the plush XC70.
The gear change and steering are light and direct and, while there is an auto option, the stop/start system (the DrivE bit of the name, it cuts the engine at traffic lights when you’re in neutral) needs a clutch and a stick to work.
And, of course, it’s practical. There’s almost as much rear legroom as the spacious V70-based XC70 and the boot’s large with split-folding rear seats that lay flat – rather than jutting up at a slight angle as is normally the case.
If you’ve bought into the ‘must-have-four-by-four’ mindset, it’s time to shift your preconceptions. The XC60 FWD is still plenty robust enough to tackle the gnarliest farm tracks and, with ESP and traction control keeping the chassis in check, you’re no more likely to fall off the road.
It’s also cheaper, cleaner and greener and there’s very little disturbance to the steering with only two driveshafts.
Strangely, in taking away one of the XC60’s key attributes, Volvo has produced the better car.