I do love the etymology of some of the popular expressions we use, but rarely think about. ‘Posh’, for example: Something elegant, exclusive or typical of the upper class. Have you ever questioned the word’s origin? It’s rather good. Back in the days of old-time ship travel between England and India, cabins on the port side for the outbound trip and starboard side for the return trip were reserved for the wealthiest passengers, as they benefited from a cooling sea breeze and were sheltered from the sun. The tickets were accordingly stamped with ‘POSH’. Well, that’s how the story goes. It seems there is no evidence that such tickets actually existed, but the legend has persisted nonetheless. And there’s a similar parallel to be drawn with Volvo’s latest posh SUV, the XC60.
Besides its sponsorship of the world-class sporting event that is the Volvo Ocean Race (known simply as The Volvo by competitors obsessed with the ultimate prize in sailing) the Swedish carmaker is also embarking on a west-to-east journey, with premium acceptance its goal. Since 2010, the marque has been backed by Chinese money. The unlikely partnership, based around clever scalable architecture and modular power trains, has been on a roll, almost totally erasing memories of Volvo’s conservative, Ford-owned, Premier Automotive Group days. First came the trailblazing seven-seat XC90, ably supported by the low-slung S90 and V90 models. Now it’s the Goldilocks car – the compact, attainable, but no less desirable XC60.
Compromise is not usually a good thing, but in the case of Volvo’s ingenious IKEA-style platform, it all slots together perfectly for the SUV. As the first compact version of the Swedes’ Scalable Product Architecture (SPA), it will eventually spawn the next S60 and V60 Volvos. For now, in SUV configuration, it boasts a handy 216 mm ground clearance and 505 ℓ boot capacity with the rear seats in place – 1 432 ℓ with them folded flat. Not exactly as cavernous as the cat-swinging XC90 – with 967 ℓ in two-row configuration and 414 ℓ even with the third row in place – but certainly enough to swallow the luggage of most drivers with active lifestyles. Stepping a rung down the practicality ladder, though, does come with a smaller price tag. The XC60 D5 R-Design pictured here starts from just R716k. Compare that to Alfa Romeo’s R200k dearer Stelvio, or R100k more for an equivalent Audi Q5: In time-honoured Volvo tradition, the XC60 is as attractively priced as it is styled.
Its Scandinavian grace comes through like the residual afterglow of the XC90, sharing plenty of its tasteful design. A-pillar forward, shrunken silhouette, and front and rear LED light treatments reinforce the ultra-cool bloodline of this R-Design model. It’s only the heavy C-pillar that breaks with convention and is instantly identifiable as that of an XC60. Not bad, considering the XC60 has accounted for over a third of all Volvo sales in the past – one million-plus units worldwide. No pressure, then, to fill those boots. Even if the boots in question now come in the size of 20” wheels and up on the R-Design, with the option of 22” diamond-cut alloys. They’ll no doubt look great, but compromise that all-important ride quality.
Equally Scandinavian is the stunningly detailed yet minimalist interior – a direct carry-over from the brand’s 90 range. Noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) suppression is said to have attained new heights for the segment too. The R-Design pack features fine nappa seats and the choice of Metal Mesh, Iron Ore, Driftwood or Line Lime dash inlays – elegant in the extreme. Also in attendance is the marque’s 9” upright touchscreen (with tablet-like pinch, swipe and tap functionality) that acts as a sort of overlord for all vehicle functions. From satnav and seat massage to the myriad revolutionary active-driver aids, it all lives behind the crisp display. Volvo says the software’s been upgraded for 2018, so it should prove more intuitive to use on the move than previously. Even the most button-hungry late adopters can adapt to it. I know I did.
Volvo hit the headlines recently, saying that by as soon as 2019 all its new vehicles will feature hybrid/electric propulsion. Now, that may sound a little ambitious; however, the XC60 already has a plug-in hybrid-boosted T8. Lower down the range are turbocharged, non-hybrid T6 and T5 petrol models, and D5 and D4 turbo diesels. All 2.0 ℓ four-cylinder units, all studies in efficient performance and refinement courtesy of i-Art low-friction technology, even if their peak torque band is a little narrow for my taste. The D5 features a healthy 173 kW/480 Nm, driving all four wheels via an eight-speed Geartronic automatic, with four driving modes: Eco, Comfort, Dynamic and Individual.
Of course, the manufacturer that pioneered the three-point safety belt has impeccable safety as its cornerstone. It promises that by 2020 all new cars will be ‘deathproof’ – as in no occupant of a Volvo will die or be seriously injured. No wonder, then, that the new XC60 is brimming with optional safety systems (and the somewhat posh acronyms to go with them). Semi-autonomous Pilot Assist keeps you from straying out of your lane, Adaptive Cruise Control keeps the perfect space between you and the car ahead of you, Run-Off Mitigation prevents the car from leaving the road, and Rear Collision Warning does its best to protect occupants from impact from behind.
Yip, the XC60 is as decidedly safe as houses. Or should that be state-of-the-art cruise ships? Port out, starboard home, of course.
1 968 cc, 4-cylinder, turbodiesel
173 kW @
4 000 rpm,
480 Nm @
1 750–2 250 rpm
in 7.2 sec,
5.5 ℓ/100 km (claimed)
CO2 emissions 144 g/km
from R664 000