From short odds via the podium to the long haul

Well knock us down with a feather, our freshly crowned COTY is actually quite XC-lent

ALEX INWOOD

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 doesnít so much roll past smoothly as saunter with a superior swagger. It sounds daft, I know, and yet such attitude wouldnít be entirely without cause. The XC60 is our 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 Ďwelcomeí report to the Wheels garage feels a little pointless. Discussing initial impressions would simply cover old ground so, to avoid that, Iíve thrown the T8 straight in at the deep end. In less than two weeks Iíve 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.

Iíd 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 peopleís 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 (see top left strap) were a welcome reprieve from stints in the Porscheís 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 T8ís 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 wasnít only used as a calm oasis to recoup in after blats in the howling Miami Blue 911. With the scream of the Porscheís 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 Stuttgartís best, the T8 again proved its worth as a driverís 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 T8ís regenerative braking capability, initially feels difficult to modulate.

Unsurprisingly, chasing the Porsche saw the T8ís 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 T8ís impressive bandwidth came to the fore. Capable of hustling with surprising composure, itís also an enjoyable and comfortable place to spend lengthy amounts of time. Perhaps a little smugness is deserved.

ALEX INWOOD

Pack íer up boys

Optional extras fitted to my XC60 include the $7500 Premium Pack that, despite the hefty outlay, bundles together useful and desirable goodies such as an excellent 15-speaker Bowers & Wilkins audio system, air suspension, heated and cooled seats with electric under-thigh support and a heated steering wheel. My car also includes Nappa leather for $2950 and $1900 of metallic paint that blows the total to $105,340.

Electric avenue

One key weapon in the T8ís arsenal Iím yet to properly deploy is its ability to drive on electric power alone for a range of 35km. Covering such large distances this month meant the T8ís battery was depleted most of the time, making its 8.0L/100km average all the more impressive. Iíll be staying local for month two, where itís feasible my 64km round-trip commute can be made without using a drop of fuel, if I can find a socket to charge it while Iím at my desk.