Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Review: 2016 Volvo XC60 D4 Polestar

Volvo is putting all the attention squarely on the all-new XC90 and rightfully so because it’s a beautifully designed, intricately detailed SUV that’s serving as the company’s bellwether ushering a new era for the premium Swedish carmaker. But sitting just outside the limelight is the XC60, a compact crossover that’s been a success story for the brand considering it’s been released in the market six years ago. With the 2016 model, it’s clear Volvo isn’t ready to put this one out to the pasture just yet. With understated luxury and the most convincing drivetrain yet, the 2016 XC60 D4 might just be the second reason why people should seriously consider a Volvo.

From what you see, it’s hard to tell where the differences are. It’s pretty much the same shape that debuted in 2010 with the added nip-tucks done last year. Thanks to its understated look though, especially compared to the busy Germans, it stays elegantly timeless. However, placed alongside newer Volvo models, and it becomes clear the XC60 wasn’t’ designed with the same language. That and the smallish 17-inch rims are the only dead giveaways when it comes to its age.

Inside, it’s pretty much the same story of understated luxury with a simple and straight-forward cabin with high quality plastics and supple leather. Most people tend to gravitate toward the nicely-done full LCD gauge cluster which is re-configurable based on preference (Elegance, Eco, Power), but undeniably, the best part of the XC60 experience are the seats. Whether they’re the front or the back, they’re supportive and wide, perfect for touring long distances in unparalleled comfort. The driver is also treated to a thick, meaty steering wheel that’s nice to hold and offers an excellent range of adjustment for both tilt and reach.

As great as it is inside, there are some details that do date the otherwise timeless execution. First is the multimedia system. Though a more modern version has debuted to much acclaim in the XC90, the Sensus system on the XC60 feels so, well, last decade. The audio output is impressive enough, but the interface feels old. Don’t get it wrong, navigating through the different menus is easy and the system itself is snappy in operation, but the graphics and the calculator-style buttons are passé. Another thing that dates the XC60 is the lack of a passive entry system. As this feature becomes commonplace even on some entry-level cars, you still have to slot a key into the XC60’s dashboard before pushing the start button to fire up the engine.

At this point, it’s hard to see what makes the 2016 XC60 that exciting given it’s aesthetically unchanged from before. See, the beauty lies in what you don’t see. The big news is the drivetrain which is essentially the same one found in the award-winning XC90. Part of Volvo’s new engine family called Drive-E (experience, environment, efficiency), this compact engine is meant to replicate the performance of a six- or even eight-cylinder engine using just four cylinders. Sounds impossible? Consider the numbers in the D4 tested: 181 horsepower at 4,250 rpm and 400 Nm of torque from 1,750 to 2,500 rpm—and that’s from two liters of displacement. And add to that the Polestar engine tuning package and the figures hit 200 horsepower and 440 Nm of torque. Zero to 100 km/h come in at a spritely 8 seconds flat from 8.1 seconds for the non-Polestar version. Either way, that’s faster than the similarly engined German competition.

On the road, the muscular in-gear performance is what makes the XC60 D4 great. Dip the throttle and it’s always met with broad spreads of torque. Compared to the gasoline-fed variant, the D4 feels like the better choice because it makes driving effortless. Plus, the engine is smooth and refined. It’s only at higher revs where the diesel clatter becomes evident, but not to the level that’ll deter from the premium feel of the driving experience. It even has an automatic idle start/stop system, but it only engages under strict circumstances including having an ambient temperature more than 30 degrees Celsius. The 8-speed automatic is just as smooth and refined as the engine. It’s not as quick to respond, even with the paddle shifters, but the copious power hides this weakness. With an average speed of 13 km/h, the XC60 D4 manages 9.09 km/L.

With a simplified line-up in 2016 (one gasoline, one diesel, and one R-Design), the XC60 is purely a front-driver. Coupled with all that torque, wheel spin is inevitable. Mash the throttle with the steering wheel in any direction but straight will have you saw the wheel for control. There are driving aids for sure, but they’ll take a split-second to get everything in order. Treat it smoothly though and it’s an effortless cruiser. The ride is also plush, smoothening out most imperfections that come its way, but it does feel harsh on quick and abrupt dips. The handling is controlled and the body control direct and tight, but the driver-adjustable steering effort is frivolous (best kept, surprisingly, at Low effort).

Though the 2016 Volvo XC60 D4 feels like an interim product that mixes both the new generation of Volvos with the current, it does withstand the test of time (largely) even after six years out in the market. Thanks to its understated execution and Scandinavian twist to style and performance, it manages to stand up to the best of them. If this is how the XC60 is right now, imagine how the new-generation Volvos could be.

2016 Volvo XC60 D4 Polestar
Ownership 2016 Volvo XC60 Drive-E D4 Polestar
Year Introduced 2010 (Refreshed: 2015)
Vehicle Classification Premium Compact Crossover
The Basics
Body Type 5-door Crossover
Seating 5
Engine / Drive F/F
Under the Hood
Displacement (liters) 2.0
Aspiration Common Rail Direct Injection, Turbo
Layout / # of Cylinders I4
BHP @ rpm 200 @ 4,250
Nm @ rpm 440 @ 1,750-2,500
Fuel / Min. Octane Diesel
Transmission 8AT
Cruise Control Yes
Dimensions and Weights
Length (mm) 4,644
Width (mm) 1,891
Height (mm) 1,713
Wheelbase (mm) 2,774
Curb Weight (kg) 1,854
Suspension and Tires
Front Suspension Independent, MacPherson Strut
Rear Suspension Independent, Multi-link
Front Brakes Vented Disc
Rear Brakes Vented Disc
Tires Michelin Latitude Sport 235/65 R 17 V (f & r)
Wheels Alloy
Safety Features
Airbags 6
Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS) Yes
Traction / Stability Control Yes
Parking Sensors Yes, Rear
Exterior Features
Headlights HID, Active
Fog Lamps Yes, Front, Rear
Auto Lights Yes
Auto Wipers Yes
Interior Features
Steering Wheel Adjustment Tilt/Telescopic
Steering Wheel Material Leather
Seating Adjustment Electric
Seating Surface Leather
Folding Rear Seat Yes, 20/40/20
On-Board Computer Yes
Convenience Features
Power Steering Yes
Power Door Locks Yes
Power Windows Yes
Power Mirrors Yes, with Fold
Climate Control Yes, Dual
Audio System Stereo
No. of Speakers 8
Steering Wheel Controls Yes