I've never been a particular fan of smaller four-wheel drives, or soft-roaders as they've become amusingly titled. The idea of a car that looks like a rugged off-roader but doesn't have the capabilities seems more than a little odd to my practical mind. Being originally from a country populated almost entirely by small cars, I also like my cars big. In fact, the bigger the better in most cases.
There's also always been the Gulf snobbery among your so-called peers assuming you couldn't afford the bigger version, so you went for the smaller car. No one ever thinks you may have bought the car to avoid having a hulking heavyweight cluttering up your drive. The power of others' opinions has often driven manufacturers to see completely reversed buying patterns in the region when compared to the rest of the world, with the top-of-the-range model selling the most units, while the less well-endowed cars sell substantially less.
In all, smaller four-wheel drives are perceived to be driven by soccer mums and people who don't think they can park a bigger car, giving the whole segment a bad image. So to say I was a little underwhelmed when I went down to collect the Volvo XC60 was a bit of an understatement. But in the name of good journalism I decided to give it a fair trial before writing it off as a completely pointless school-run car.
At first glance, the it is an extremely pretty car. The rear light treatment is brilliant and the lines running down the side to the neat front give the XC60 a really aggressive stance. Not something I expected from it. In fact, my main worry with the XC60 is that it's such a good design and so far ahead of anything else in the class that it may age prematurely. It's also a worry for the designers, as they have to come up with something even better to replace it. Thankfully, that's not my problem at all.
Inside, it's all very much as per the Volvo norm. A floating centre console, minimal clutter and smooth surfaces. I'm not keen on the seats as they're a little flat for my liking; I prefer a sportier surface regardless of the type of car they're fitted in. With the smooth leather I found myself sliding around a little more than I like when cornering a little briskly. I also found the doors to be rather heavy, especially when they jerk back to settle on their various stops and clout you on the shoulder. A little less exuberance from the door springs might be in order.
What I do like is the blind-spot warning system, which alerts you to anyone hanging around your rump as you prepare to overtake. I find it very useful even if, unlike as it seems for the rest of the UAE, I have a good look before changing lanes. It's also nice to sit in a car that shies away from the mission control look that seems popular at the moment. I don't want to have to figure out how to turn up the stereo without adjusting the damper setting or the rear spoiler. The inside of this neat car is certainly well thought out. Importantly, it feels big as well, despite giving away a fair bit in length and height to the bigger XC90. Above your head is a full-length sunroof with an electric blind to keep the hot summer sun at bay. On the road the XC has light steering and a great suspension setup. It corners well and doesn't pitch like many of the other cars in this class. Don't get me wrong, it's no sports car, but it certainly does well considering it's an SUV, albeit a road-orientated one.
The brakes are strong and perfectly weighted for the size of the car. I didn't get a chance to fill the car up with people, but it certainly coped with my more exuberant style of driving. But by far the most surprising thing about the XC60 is the engine. Indeed, the turbocharged 3.0L will hit the 100kph mark in just 7.1 seconds, and it simply keeps on accelerating past that point. What this does is prove two things: firstly, everyone should buy the larger engine on offer, and secondly, never underestimate a soccer mum in a Volvo. If you do, you'll probably get a bit of a shock. Motoring@thenational.ae