the low down VOLVO V60

Volvo takes the mechanical package of the all-conquering XC60 SUV and parlays it into a mid-size wagon. Does greatness ensue?

WORDS ASH WESTERMAN

ON THE face of it, Volvoís all-new V60 should have ultra-high achiever plastered all over its handsome visage. It has Wheels COTY pedigree in the bloodline, after all. Riding on the same SPA platform as our reigning XC60 winner, it uses the same drivetrains, similarly lovely interior architecture and features, claims slightly more boot space, and delivers all of this from within a body that takes the centre of gravity from around waist height in the XC60, and drops it closer to your knees.

The other point to consider is that this is a C/D-segment contender that pretty much encapsulates everything Volvo stands for. The Swedes have been making roomy, family-friendly wagons since the members of ABBA were in nappies, and actually hit a production peak with the 200 Series that ran for an incredible 19 years (1974-93) and saw over 2.8 million units built. Australians may have turned up their SUV-loving noses, but this is still a heartland segment for Volvo and thereís plenty of scope for solid sales numbers in Europe.

All of which has me scratching my head slightly after a spirited run through a classic driverís road in the shadow of the spectacular Montserrat mountain range in Spain. Iím left wondering if the take-out may be that this is a more compelling car to own and travel in, rather than actually drive hard. Or perhaps the XC60 had more of an open goal in the SUV segment, and the space in which the V60 competes is more mature and better contested.

Itís definitely a lovely thing to visually drink in before the driving even begins. Volvo has used the wheelbase gain (100mm) over the old car to give the new V60 far more rakish, low-slung proportions. The front overhang is shorter, the rear longer, and the surfacing is beautiful. Thereís a distinctiveness to the exterior that takes one part purposeful aggression and mixes it, to my eyes at least, with just the right amount of elegance.

If you value well-considered functionality delivered with style, youíre in the right place

Steel yourself

No, the image of the shell you see pictured to the right is not the basis for a new Wiggles staff car. The red sections indicate the use of ultra-highstrength boron steel Ė claimed to be the strongest type of steel currently used in the automotive industry Ė forming the V60ís safety cage. Orange sections are extra-high-strength steel; yellow is Ďveryí high-strength. Green sections in the engine bay are aluminium to reduce weight. Itís stiffer and roomier than the old V60, and better to crash in, although more advanced safety systems reduce that likelihood.

Spend more time around it and the details shine through, like the Ďhandleí section of the so-called Thorís Hammer headlight design that cuts its way in towards the grille. But from a practical position, the step up in size is not wasted in terms of interior packaging. Thereís ample toe and kneeroom in the back, and enough shoulder and headroom for two adults to not feel cramped. Thereís also a gain of 99 litres of cargo space compared to the XC60, and at 1441 litres with the rear backrests dropped, the V60 has the biggest boot in its class.

If you go sniffing around the rear-end to fact-check this, youíll notice flawless attention to detail, like an integrated luggage partition that hinges from the floor to create a sturdy space to contain a small load, or provide elasticised straps to secure your grocery bags. Thereís a sub-floor storage compartment, and all the cars at launch, whether top-spec Inscription or next-level down Momentum, were fitted with powered tailgates and remote releases for the rear seat-backs. If you value well-considered functionality delivered with style, youíre in the right place.

Having said that, true aesthetes are also well looked after. This is a beautiful cabin, as youíd expect from a treatment that doesnít diverge too much from the fabulous effort in the XC60. The digital instruments are excellent, and the seats are generously proportioned, supportive, and hugely adjustable. The ultra-flexible driving position allows any body type to snug down to an ideal set-up. But more than that is the visual elegance. Audi may have become the unassailable master of Germanic designer cool, but Volvo counters with a distinctively Scandinavian flavour that almost certainly came from a mood-board featuring Zen-like ripple-free ponds and driftwood scattered along pristine shorelines. The dash top in the upper spec levels is a tactile sheen of quality leather that matches perfectly with the restrained use of timber. Even the door trims have a less-is-more simplicity that tends to highlight the speaker grilles, rather than veer towards over-styling. Only the bulky A-pillars get in the way Ė literally Ė of a wholly cohesive feel-good experience. Still, youíll be doing well if you make it home from the dealership without stopping for green tea and a yoga class.

Even the D4-spec diesel (140kW/400Nm), which we sampled first, can barely break the serenity. Okay, it doesnít deliver an NVH highpoint for this segment, but it is noticeably quieter and less vibey than the 173kW/480Nm twin-turbo diesel unit fitted to the V90 Cross Country I recently ran as a long-termer. The Volvo powertrain experts at the V60ís launch indicated that improved mounting and the lack of drive to the rear wheels (in this particular instance) is part of the reason for the greater smoothness, rather than the lower-output engine being inherently quieter and smoother.

But this isnít a powertrain capable of stirring the loins of a driving enthusiast. Itís too old-school diesel in its gravelly sonics in urban driving, and quickly runs out of revs and power when you want to properly get cracking. Yet it is torquey enough to trouble the power-down ability of the chassis in front-drive form, bringing tramp and torque steer that feels unbecoming in this segment.

If you want your right foot to be able to send some zaps of satisfaction to your left brain, youíll definitely want the 2.0-litre supercharged and turbocharged petrol four, making 235kW/400Nm in T6 guise, or for short-hop, electric-only running, the T6 twin-motor plug-in hybrid. Or if someone else is paying, maybe even the high-output T8 twin-motor. Volvo Australia doesnít yet have its model line locked down, but at least one of the hybrid variants is essential for the business to deliver on its promise of at least part-electrification across the range by 2020.

The use of both forms of forced induction may seem like an over-complication thatís been ditched by those who tried earlier (hello VW), but thereís no denying its effectiveness here. We talk about modern turbo-petrol engines being lag-free, but few fours grunt as hard off the bottom end as this unit. The delivery is at once thrusty and linear, accompanied by an agreeable, if distant, snarl.

In normal driving, the eight-speed Aisinsourced auto feels to have its wits about it, though youíll need Dynamic mode to lift its game the moment you start to drive with a bit more purpose. But even in Dynamic, the transmission calibration is on the snoozy side, proving keener than youíd imagine to upshift, and often acting counter to what seem well-signalled intentions. The lack of steeringwheel paddles means moving the lever over to manual mode is the only way to wrest back control, but this is slighted by the arse-about shift pattern, as well as frequent hesitation to downshift when youíre hard on the brakes into a corner.

Even if you can manage to drive around the transmissionís lack of a properly sporting map, youíll find the rewards diminish as you go in search of greater point-to-point pace. The steering has an incisive directness, but little by way of actual road feel. Itís as though thereís been a deliberate strategy to isolate the driver from the surface while retaining a feeling of alertness and response during the turn-in phase. It may be in keeping with the V60ís cruiser character, but some of us will be left craving more tactility and feedback from the contact patches.

Once youíre at the limits of the grippy Continental rubber (optional 19s on the test cars) the chassis starts to wilt a bit, with slightly uneven understeer and general nose-heaviness becoming apparent if you get ambitious or encounter a quickly tightening radius. We suspect Audiís A4 Avant and even BMWís ageing 3 Series Touring will have the measure of the V60 in these conditions.

None of which will be reason to overlook the V60, especially if its ride can deliver a loping suppleness on Aussie roads in keeping with the carís broader character.

Model Volvo V60 T6

Engine 1969cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo/supercharged

Max power 235kW @ 6000rpm

Max torque 400Nm @ 2200-5100rpm

Transmission 8-speed automatic

L/W/H 4761/1850/1427mm

Wheelbase 2872mm

Weight 1654kg

0-100km/h 5.8sec (claimed)

Economy 7.6L/100km (EU)

Price $73,000 (estimated)

On sale Q4 2018

Few turbo-only fours grunt as hard off the bottom end as this unit

But ride quality is one area where we donít have a definitive assessment, as the glassy Spanish roads we drove on were nothing like our blighted bitumen. What few bumps we could find were of the urban-speed variety, where a moderate level of thump and terseness was evident, even on the optional adaptive dampers.

More broadly, it feels as though Volvo has retained the overall attributes of the XC60, but hasnít fully capitalised on the inherent dynamic advantages offered by a lowerriding wagon. Which is not necessarily an issue, as thereís so much to like and admire here. The greater challenge, however, will be finding a sufficient number of pragmatic Aussies willing to give up the perceived virtues associated with the now-default setting of SUV ownership.

For Volvo, building such a convincing XC60 has only increased the size of that hurdle.