In recent years Volvo has managed to dust off its rather dull image and, released from the shackles of Ford ownership, has acquired a new design swagger and confidence – and nowhere is this more in evidence than with the new XC60.
The XC60 is an incredibly important car for the Swedish brand, with the first-generation model having been Volvo's best-selling car of recent years and the top-selling mid-sized SUV across Europe.
Now, though, premium rivals from Audi, BMW and Mercedes, and most recently Jaguar, are muscling in on the act, so this second-generation XC60 needs to be pretty special.
Volvo XC60 D4 AWD Inscription Pro
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cylinder diesel
Power output: 190bhp
Max speed: 127mph
0-62mph: 8.4 seconds
Price: from £37,205 (model as tested: £55,755)
The XC60 is certainly a handsome-looking car, and we reckon Volvo has got the balance just right – it's not as brash as an Audi Q5 or BMW X3, but it's sophisticated enough to stand out from the crowd, with some nice little touches like the 'Thor's Hammer' daytime running light arrangement.
Volvo clearly hasn't spent all of its design budget on the exterior – climb inside the XC60 and you're cocooned in a welcoming mix of matte woods and light colours. The quality of finish is superb.
The clean, minimalist look is thanks in part to the large 9-inch touchscreen interface in the middle of the dash. Rather than orienting the display horizontally, Volvo has opted for a vertical positioning specifically for navigation; it reckons we want to see where we're heading, not what's either side of us, and when you put it like that it makes a lot of sense.
The navigation system works a treat, but it's the overall user experience of the touchscreen interface that impresses. It's your window to pretty much every facet of the XC60's entertainment, convenience and safety functions, and it's very intuitive to use.
The XC60 also offers plenty of connectivity. There are Apple CarPlay and Android Auto options, and two USB connectors, while it's possible to stream music through Spotify or use other entertainment and info apps.
There's a customizable 8-inch digital instrument display up front (our Inscription Pro model featured an even larger 12.3-inch display), which can also relay a version of the satnav, as well as road sign info and distance alerts. Our test car also came with an optional (£750) heads-up display, which can project a similar array of information just below your line of sight; we found this incredibly useful, and rarely needed to glance down at the digital instrument display.
Our XC60 was also equipped with a Bowers & Wilkins 15-speaker sound system that kicked out 1,100 watts. It's a pricey optional extra at £2,500, but the sound quality is breathtaking – if you love classical music you'll love the fact that the system has been designed to replicate the sound as if you were sitting in the central seat of the Gothenburg Concert Hall, as well as a recording studio or stage.
World-class safety tech
Volvo built its reputation on safety, pioneering numerous features that are now standard on most cars, and it continues to burnish those credentials with the XC60. This is a car packed with features designed to keep you safe, including three technologies that are new for a mid-size SUV.
First up is Steer Assist, which automatically provides steering input in an emergency to help avoid a collision. Next is Oncoming Lane Mitigation, which is designed to prevent head-on collisions, while the third is the optional Blind Spot Information System with Steer Assist, which automatically applies the steering to bring the car back into its own lane and away from any vehicles that might be in your blind spot. Clever stuff.
Our car was also kitted out with Volvo's semi-autonomous Pilot Assist drive technology. Designed to make long motorway journeys a bit less tiring, the tech uses a forward-facing camera and radar to detect your lane and any vehicles in front. Set the desired cruising speed and the system will then assist with the steering (up to 80mph), while taking care of the brakes and accelerator.
We tested it out on a pretty windy dual carriageway, and it worked a treat. It's a little unnerving at first, but once you've got over that initial fear and put your faith in the tech, it's brilliant. With just a couple of fingers resting on the steering wheel the XC60 happily cruised along, inputting turns into the steering wheel while slowing and braking with the flow of traffic, and even coming to a near-complete stop when necessary.
On the road
Every XC60 model comes with all-wheel drive, but our car was also equipped with electronically controlled air suspension – this enables automatic lowering at high speeds to improve aerodynamics, while the ground clearance can be increased by over 40mm when driving off-road.
While the extra grunt of the 235bhp D5 model might be tempting for some, our 190bhp D4 delivered a responsive and assured ride. There are four selectable drive modes that adjust engine responsiveness and the height of the car, while individual settings allow you to tailor each element to your liking.
This latest XC60 embodies Volvo's core principles of practicality and safety, and builds on those with a sleek, sophisticated body that's complemented by a luxurious interior. Add a large dollop of advanced tech, and the XC60 is a hugely impressive SUV.