Volvo already has a couple of off-roaders. What does it need another one for?
The Swedes claim that people who want to do off-roady things like driving down dirt tracks and towing horseboxes will go for its XC70 and XC90 models. The XC60 is being aimed at design-conscious townies who want an on-road vehicle with a tiny bit of off-road ability. So it’ll have permanent all-wheel drive and Hill Descent Control as standard, but it doesn’t have the lofty ground clearance of a pukka off-roader. And that shows when you’re on the road in the XC60.
Does the XC60 drive like a car then?
Well the first thing to remember is that this is a concept vehicle and it hasn’t had its chassis tuned much at all. It’s based on Volvo’s big car platform that underpins the V70 and S80 and although our test drive was speed limited, the car felt remarkably perky. It didn’t have the leaden steering that’s usually a feature of prototype cars like this. And body roll round corners was remarkably well controlled although perhaps unsurprisingly the ride was a touch on the firm side.
What’s the XC60 got under the bonnet?
Volvo is keen to add a six-cylinder bio-ethanol engine to its range of four-cylinder flexi-fuel units and the XC60 features that powerplant. The fuel is 85 percent crop-based ethanol and 15 percent petrol so carbon dioxide emissions are down by 80 percent. The 19.2mpg economy figure is artificially low, because bio-ethanol has 40 percent less energy than regular unleaded. Despite this, the engine still has a handy 265bhp and sounds as refined as Volvos usually do.
It doesn’t look much like current Volvos…
This is the first car that incoming design chief Steve Mattin (CV includes Merc SLK) has worked on from scratch. He thinks it’s time Volvo did away with the boxy lines that have graced its cars up until now. Slab sides are out in Mattin’s brave new world, so the XC60 has beautiful curvy flanks that are reminiscent of BMW’s flame surfacing. Sitting on its 20-inch wheels the half below the shoulder line looks ripplingly muscular. The half above is sleek and almost coupe-esque, although Mattin says the finished version will be more ‘conventional’, so the roofline probably won’t be quite as raked. If Volvo elects to lose the achingly cool rear lights it’ll be a crime. They’re stacked in traditional Volvo style, but the curve they’ve been given is simply beautiful.
Anything else we should know about those looks?
Check out the nose. You’ll probably notice the badge is about three times bigger than Volvo badges normally are. And it’s been taken out of the square box that normally surrounds it. This is how all Volvos of the future will look. Each new-era Volvo will also have the company name spelt out in large slightly wider spaced letters on the boot lid. Mattin claims he wants Volvos to become much more distinctive - the sort of cars people crave because they look good.
What’s the XC60 like inside then?
Pretty stunning actually, the sort you’d crave in a car. There’s a glorious feeling of spaciousness thanks to the glass roof and the light-coloured seat coverings. They’ve also extended the ‘pony-tail slot’ on the front seats to improve ventilation and help with the view rearwards. The dash incorporates Volvo’s usual floating centre console but rather than traditional buttons they’re all touch-sensitive so it’s like staring at a giant iPod. Visibility is good thanks to its lofty stance and the rear has a glass tailgate which helps when you’re trying to reverse.
The XC60 concept gives us a couple of insights into Volvo’s future and both are initially positive. Visually the car is a success. It’s not a wild makeover, but it’s been sensibly done and is definitely far more eye-catching than any of the firm’s current products. More importantly, it shows us what Volvo’s entry into the premium SUV category is going to be like and the signs are that it’ll achieve its mission of creating a good-looking and desirable on-road car. The main problem the firm’s going to have is that between now and autumn 2008, when the car is launched, is that Mercedes (the GLK, for left-hand drive markets only) and Audi (new Q5) will have launched competitors.