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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

Road test: 2018 Volvo XC60

Volvo hasn’t won its reputation as a safety pioneer by accident (excuse the pun). The Swedish carmaker has given us so many innovations designed to preserve the lives of its vehicles’ occupants that one almost needs a roll of honour to list them all.

Here is just a taster of some of the safety firsts the manufacturer has chalked up over the years: the three-point seat belt (1959), the rearward-facing child seat (1972), side-impact airbags (1994), inflatable curtain airbags (1998) and blind-spot information system (2003).

These are just a few of the life-saving technologies that the company has conceived, but even then, one mustn’t get too bogged down in Volvo’s claim that the all-new XC60 is “one of the safest cars ever made”.

It may well be that, but there is no way of verifying this claim without analysing extensive statistics compiled after they have been on the road, in the hands of users, for five to 10 years.

On paper, though, it all bodes well – in addition to the usual raft of airbags and other safety features fitted to past Volvos, the latest XC60 gains oncoming lane mitigation (à la the Mercedes E-Class) that uses steer assist to guide you back into the correct lane (at speeds between 60kph and 140kph) to prevent head-on collisions.

There’s also the optional Pilot Assist semi-autonomous system, which, when activated, takes over most steering, acceleration and braking duties on well-marked roads at speeds up to 130kph. My first taste of the car takes place on suitably challenging roads around Dalaman and Marmaris, on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, where the scenery is breathtaking, but the local drivers are often erratic – either straddling the centre of road or weaving around unpredictably. A perfect environment, then, to determine how the new XC60 fares in the type of cut-and-thrust you also occasionally encounter in the UAE.

The first thing you notice when you scrutinise the XC60 from inside and outside is that its quality levels are way up compared with previous-generation Volvos. The newbie is now genuinely on par – perhaps even half a rung above – the Audi/Mercedes/BMW opposition in terms of is premium feel, and credit here must go to Volvo’s Geely masters, who have done a very astute job of managing the brand since taking over ownership of it from Ford in 2010.

Geely has provided Volvo with large-scale resources (and inroads to the high-volume Chinese market), but they have wisely allowed it to continue functioning as a Swedish-run entity, which means the brand’s core strengths remain undiluted.

The result is that Volvo last year sold more than half a million cars globally, and offerings such as the latest XC60 stand to further grow that tally. UAE deliveries of the new model start in October, with pricing for the XC60 line-up ranging from about Dh180,000 up to Dh280,000, depending on which engine (all versions get a 2.0-litre turbo motor, but power outputs vary), trim level and options you choose.

I sample the T6 Inscription, which derives its propulsion from an engine that is boosted by both a supercharger and turbocharger, with the idea being that the former bolsters low-end response while the latter kicks in higher in the rev range.

Outputs of 320hp and 400Nm certainly sound healthy for a 2.0L engine, but there is 1.9 tonnes to lug around, which is a lot of mass for such a small power plant.

Volvo claims a 0-to-100kph sprint of 5.9 seconds for the XC60 T6, but out in the real world, the engine feels a tad breathless at low revs. You need to really stomp on the throttle coming out of tight corners (of which there are plenty on our drive route) if you’re aiming to make brisk progress. My car doesn’t have paddle shifters (the R-Design gets them), so it was necessary to use the gearshift lever manually to keep the engine on the boil.

The XC60 is no Porsche Macan dynamically –there’s much less grip and more body roll – but overall, it is a very pleasant device to pilot. Ride quality is beyond reproach, even on 20-inch rims with low-profile tyres, the seats are excellent (even in the back) and cabin ambience is as hospitable, if not even more so, than its Mercedes GLC/BMW X3/Audi Q5 rivals. Volvo deserves kudos for coming up with an interior-design language that clearly stands apart from the horde. It is beautifully executed, and fit/finish levels are impeccable.

The new Volvo XC60 features impeccable interior design. Courtesy Volvo
The new Volvo XC60 features impeccable interior design. Courtesy Volvo

The exterior styling is also very well-resolved, and its rakish proportions distinguish the new XC60 as arguably the best looker in its class – with the possible exception of the ultra-stylish Range Rover Velar.

The Volvo’s luggage capacity certainly isn’t the biggest in comparative terms, at 505 litres, but even so, there is enough space there to cater to most families’ needs.

All things considered, I see no reason why the new XC60 won’t build on the sales success of its predecessor, despite competing in a segment that is becoming increasingly congested. It is a very capable and desirable premium crossover SUV.

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The specs

Price: From Dh180,000 (estimate)

Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged and supercharged in-line four-cylinder

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

Power: 320hp @ 5,700rpm

Torque: 400Nm @ 2,200rpm

Fuel economy, combined: 9.7L / 100km

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