2018 Volvo XC60 D5 R-Design review

The high-spec diesel version of the all-new Volvo XC60 range is quick, luxurious and extremely likeable.

I want one. That’s the overwhelming thought that has stuck in my mind after driving the 2018 Volvo XC60 D5 R-Design.

It’s a big call for the new-generation Volvo XC60, considering what else is available in this market space. There are plenty of accomplished names, like the Mercedes GLC, BMW X3 and Audi Q5. There are newcomers, too, like the Jaguar F-Pace and Range Rover Velar, while the Porsche Macan isn’t that much dearer in base guise than this high-spec Volvo mid-size SUV. One can't forget the surprise segment sales leader, the Land Rover Discovery Sport.

The previous generation model was around for almost a decade – but I can assure you that this all-new second-generation model is set to shake things up in the premium SUV segment.

Ours is the flagship diesel offering in the XC60 line-up, the D5 R-Design, which – I would argue – is one of the best looking cars in the segment. But given the competition, being well specified could be even more vital for the success of the XC60. It has what it takes, and part of that comes down to the pricing and positioning of the thing. It is much better specified than it was previously.

This range-topping diesel R-Design is listed at $73,990 plus on-road costs and it comes loaded with equipment. Read the 2018 Volvo XC60 pricing and spec story here.

It has sports front seats with electric adjustment (and front seat cushion extension) and Nubuck leather trim, a black headliner, plus all the goodies you get from the models below, such as quad-zone climate control, a leather-bound keyfob with keyless entry and an electric tail-gate with hands-free operation, a digital driver information screen, and a head-up display.

It’s a tech powerhouse, too, with standard adaptive cruise control and Volvo’s PilotAssist system with steering assistance – then there’s all the safety equipment that, this time around, is included, not part of an added-cost option pack.

The list includes forward collision warning with autonomous braking, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, rear collision warning and auto-braking, a 360-degree camera with front and rear parking sensors and semi-autonomous parking. Comprehensive!

And because it’s the R-Design version, you get 21-inch wheels wrapped in Pirelli P-Zero (255/40) rubber, and it has tyre pressure monitoring and a temporary steel spare wheel. The R-Design also gets the ‘Sport chassis’, which is apparently a little stiffer than the standard ‘Dynamic’ setup – but it’s hardly a bone crunching, teeth-rattling ride: we’ll get to that in a sec.

Despite all that stuff, there are a few notable things left in the desirable column: heated seats remain an option ($384), as does a sunroof/panoramic glass roof ($2269). Still, it feels worth every cent of the asking price on the inside, with lovely materials, a quality look and feel to the cabin, and plenty of thoughtful storage options. There’s a lot of piano black plastic, though, and while that’s fine when the car is clean, just a day of use will see you noticing smudges on that stuff and the screen.

Volvo’s portrait-layout media unit takes a little bit of learning – there are three ‘pages’ to swipe between, but there’s a home button like you might find on an iPad. It has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and once you get used to it, it’s a clever system – we just wish that you didn’t have to use the screen to adjust the temperature: there are a few hard buttons below the screen for demisting, but a fan control or temperature button would be much nicer.

Space in the second row is perfectly fine for six-foot tall adults to sit comfortably – and you could fit three adults across reasonably easily, too. For kids there aren’t the clever booster seats this time around – they may come at a later date – but until they do, there are three top-tether attachments and two ISOFIX points.

There are big door pockets all around, nice covered sections between the front seats, and map pockets in the rear. The boot is a good size, but doesn’t set any standards for the class at 505 litres, about 10 per cent smaller than the best in the segment.

There’s no denying that Volvo isn’t at the forefront of driver enjoyment when it comes to SUVs, but it delivers where it counts – the XC60, for example, is a refined, comfortable and predictable thing to drive. It also happens to be very sprightly.

The 2.0-litre twin-turbo diesel engine offers very strong outputs of 173kW of power (at 4000rpm) and a dual-cab-ute-beating 480Nm of torque (from 1750-2250rpm), and its roll-on acceleration is very strong. Volvo claims 0-100km/h in 6.9 seconds, and I reckon that’s achievable, but the fuel use claim of 5.6 litres per 100 kilometres seems more pie in the sky: our barely-run-in test car managed 10.0L/100km.

There can be some lag when you’re getting on and off the throttle, but that is down to some turbo lag and the eight-speed automatic transmission. The ‘box shifts smoothly and relatively smartly at speed, but in stop-start traffic, or when you’re slowing and then getting back on the go-juice, it can be a tad slow to choose the right gear. There’s no rumble from the diesel engine above about 60km/h, but it can be a touch grumbly at low speeds – but not to a frustrating or unusual degree for a diesel engine.

You get paddle-shifters in the R-Design model, too, and they help you take matters into your own hands, or you can opt to choose Dynamic mode using the drive mode selector, which manifests in allowing you to rev each gear out further.

The majority of our time in the car was spent in Comfort mode, which makes for a good cruising setup by lightening the throttle response up and also adjusting the weighting of the steering. The steering response is quite light, easily manageable around town but it’s not as involving to drive some of its competitor vehicles.

The suspension on our test car was the standard setup – not the optional air suspension – and it coped with lumps and bumps relatively when bearing in mind the size of the wheels on it. It’s kind of weird, considering the rear is a transverse leaf spring setup – a distant relative to what they use in utes – but there’s a good level of compliance on offer, with good balance and a nice amount of control through corners, despite it being clear there is some noticeable weight shift in corners (it is quite heavy for the class, at 1918kg tare weight).

So it doesn't feel nimble, per se, but nor does it feel cumbersome as there is plenty of grip from the tyres, and the torque vectoring system helps pull it through the bends in tandem with the all-wheel-drive system, which apportions torque where it thinks it needs it.

Over coarse-chip road surfaces there’s a bit of road roar, but it wasn’t to a degree that would be considered too loud for a vehicle on low-profile tyres like these. In fact, I’d say it was pretty hushed, considering.

There’s a petrol version and I can tell you it’s a refined and punchy thing. But Volvo thinks the diesel will appeal to more buyers – and they could do worse, that’s for sure.

What might stop some buyers considering the XC60 is the cost of ownership. Buyers can pre-purchase maintenance packs in two different levels – SmartCare and SmartCare Plus – and the costs are high, no matter which you choose. For example a three-year plan with 45,000km of cover in the basic guise is $2225 (four-year/60,000km – $3500; five-year/75,000km – $4230), and if you want the more comprehensive cover, the three-year/45,000km plan is $3050 (four-year/60,000km – $5200; five-year/75,000km – $6400).

There’s a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty plan, with the same cover for roadside assistance. If you maintain your car by the book, you’ll have six years of roadside cover, too.

If the brief is for a well-equipped and stylish luxury SUV, there is no denying the second-generation Volvo XC60 nails it. It is a huge improvement over the previous-generation version and, at this price point, with this much equipment and with these looks, it could well be one of the surprise packages in the luxury SUV segment.

If you want sportier, more thrilling option, there are plenty to choose from. But in terms of driveway desirability, I’m not sure if anything quite matches this new Swedish model.

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