Here’s a pretty common scenario for most blokes: you bust your ass through your late 20s, save some cash in your early 30s, then as soon as you can afford to buy that 86, M Series, or Type-R, you find out that you’re going to be a daddy, and your finally-realised boy-racer fantasies go up in smoke faster than you can get your new beemer or rice rocket to 100 km/h.
There’s no way she’s letting you keep it – the bucket seats won’t fit a child booster and she’s not going to be doing daycare runs with a twin-turbo – that’s for damn sure. So fun’s over. Time to get a soccermum wagon and hopefully you’ll make it to 60, when they’ve moved out and you can finally rekindle your love, which will be a vintage fixer-upper by then. Right?
You can be forgiven for your surprise upon hearing the name “Volvo” in a story about an exhilarating driver’s car that prioritises fun for the car-enthusiast bloke behind the wheel as much as it does the safety of its occupants, and those around it – the marque may not traditionally be known for crafting the most exciting vehicles (at least not since their P1800 from the ’60s), but in this instance they are the company to build the ultimate dad-mobile, and given their well-publicised claim to be making “death proof” cars by 2020, we were keen to try it out.
By providing a seriously fun driver’s car that ticks the family boxes too, Volvo have addressed an obvious problem with the XC60, and they’ve done it well. The first thing you notice when you step inside is how much more attention to detail they’ve given the interior when compared with previous models. This doesn’t just feel like a nice car that’s had a bit of leather thrown at it for the sake of luxury, but an actual luxury vehicle – comparable with the interior of a BMW, Audi or Mercedes. The seats extend under your knees if that’s your thing; the dashboard and instrument panel is sleek and sexy in a way that only a Swedish design could be; the chrome-clad glossy-screened control panel is portrait-layout (similar to that of a Tesla). It’s both elegant and wildly practical (to the point that you wonder why most vehicle control panels are landscape) – they’ve even included a microfiber cloth in the glovebox so you can give it a quick polish if you’re a little OCD.
Then you start the engine. Whichever model you get, you’ll have a 2.0L diesel or petrol four-cylinder engine under the hood with a turbocharger for boost (The T6 & T8 models also have a supercharger, with the T8 also boasting a plug-in hybrid engine – I’ll get to that in a sec). The engine is expectedly quiet and efficient, the XC60 is still, at its core, a Volvo, but a quick fiddle with the control knobs (this is easy, there are only 8 in total) and you’re in Dynamic driving mode.
This is where the XC60 really reveals its hand as a fun ride. All at once the suspension and steering are tighter, and the engine comfortably revs much higher, offering greater torque once you’re rolling. In other cars, “sports” or “performance” modes tend to just offer lip service, but you can instantly feel the difference with this – even just how much more the front wheels talk to you through the steering wheel is a great feeling; cornering is nimble and tight, and the AWD drivetrain feels like you’re on rails.
The only criticism is the turbo-lag: not so much an issue going from 60-100 km/h, but if you’re buying one for city driving you’ll want the additional supercharger of the T6 to get you off the line faster – put your foot flat without it and there’s a noticeable pause before you get the power you’re looking for. This is even further rectified in the T8, with the addition of a plug-in hybrid electric engine sending another 80-odd horsepower to the rear wheels, you’re looking at a 0-100 km/h time of just over 5 seconds – that’s seriously quick for a 2.0 litre SUV.
The safety features are the next thing to look at. Splash the extra few grand for the Inscription range and you get Volvo’s PilotAssist feature, one of the closest examples of an autonomous driving system currently on the market. Unlike the last XC60, this one doesn’t need a car in front of it to follow; once it’s detected the painted lines on the road it can accelerate, brake and steer up to 130 km/h (a big jump from the 50 km/h of its predecessor). This isn’t much help in stop-start city driving, and the fact it switches off if you don’t touch the steering wheel when it beeps every 30 seconds gets annoying, but the cons outweigh the pros in that department for an easy highway drive – once you’ve set it up it makes cruising literally effortless, on the proviso that there aren’t any sharp bends.
It also has clever sensors that not only detect a hazard up ahead, but can determine the nature of the hazard, whether it’s a cyclist, car or deer (though curiously, they’ve admitted to having trouble teaching the computer to recognise a kangaroo, which looks to make an interesting challenge not just for Volvo but for all manufacturers of autonomous vehicles who plan to market down under in the not-so-distant future).
To think of the advancements in this car since the previous XC60 model is astonishing, and elicits excitement to think of what might roll off the Swedish manufacturer’s factory floors in the next decade or so. Volvo have rebranded before, but never managed to fully shake the fact the if you were driving one, you were driving a Volvo – until now. This car is good news to rev-head dads everywhere, and makes for a truly exciting time on the road while your family’s safety is still top priority.