When Bert came back from Gotheborg having visited Volvo's facilities, he was mightily impressed. The Scandinavians appeared to have the bit firmly between their teeth, their safety technology was clearly beneficial and un-gimmicky and their upcoming vehicles were, without a doubt, sexy.
And as Ray wrote two issues ago, the good news for Volvo is that their new owners, Geely Zeijiang have announced their intention of not stripping Volvo of its Scandinavian-ness at all. The brand will be based out of its traditional home, will retain its core values and outside of the products Geely needs for the Chinese market specifically, Volvo will be allowed to do its thing. So if the XC60 is any indication, Volvos will only get safer, and hopefully, sexier.
The same buzz, unfortunately for the brand, has so fair eluded it in India. It appears that expats based in India, who understand what Volvo cars are about have no problem buying them here but Indians typically tend to favour the German equivalents.
The XC60, then, is the SUV which is now shouldering the mantle of bringing Volvo into the game. The company is working on expanding its reach and the XC60 is the product that has been tasked with bringing the customers into the showrooms. You've read this in practically every story we have ever written about Volvo's Indian offerings and the XC60 is no different.
Or is it? Where the S80 and the XC90 are both nice looking, they lack buzz. And the XC60, arguably, is practically bubbling over with it. We've not been in a car that's caused this much turmoil in Mumbai's traffic in quite a while and it's a great size too. To put it in perspective, we have the Audi Q5 with us. The Q5, until the BMW X3 arrives, is the perfect-for-India luxury SUV. It's the right size, seats five in comfort, is capable of some off-road work and has the space, performance, image and aura a car that expensive should. Is the XC60 better? Let us find out.
Styling and design
The Audi Q5 is a good-looking vehicle, but it's not going to make you stop in your tracks. It has a fair number of Q7 cues. In essence, it's a broad-shouldered, but well-rounded looking SUV. Its appeal lies in the stunning build quality that you see from miles away and the expectation of class-leading finish and build levels, which is but to be expected. The Q5 does all this.
In comparison, the XC60 is positively svelte. Its lines are all sloping, usually upwards towards the rear which makes the car look more dynamic from every conceivable angle. There's a stylish bent to every line and curve that suddenly make the Q5 look staid in comparison. In traffic, people almost look past the Q5 - it's a familiar, expected form - but the XC60 is nearly a hazard. Everyone wants to take a long look. From its outlandish - and very appealing - tail lamps to that swish waistline and that slinky front end, it marks the XC60 out as exotic, great-looking and generally worth strenuously working the neck muscles for. If the Q5 was like walking the colonnades of Connaught Place with Jennifer Connelly in a slinky evening dress, the XC60 is like having a mini dress-clad Scarlett Johansson - younger, fresher, great-looking and full of pouty-sensuous oomph.
And that is just the exterior, mind you. The Audi, once more, is what you expect it to be. It's solidly German. Build quality is very, very good, the layout is ultra-familiar to those of us who've driven a few Audis and everything falls neatly to hand. It's a cabin you couldn't knock. Unless you are the XC60. While I'm no fan of Ikea, I will freely admit to liking the XC at first glance. The classiness of that subdued orange-hued, matt-finish wood is breathtaking. It elevates an otherwise normal centre console by a hefty, telling margin. I love the cantilever console with the cubby hidden behind it even as I admit that because you can't see that cubby hole, you probably won't use it too much, at least initially. I was a bit surprised that the small console-topping LCD readout offers the lion's share of information while the big, colourful but low-resolution screen basically handles navigation. Yes, the Volvo XC60 we drove offered GPS navigation, and with India maps. It matched my ever-learning, ever-smarter Waze app easily in routing and re-routing though the expected arrival times were, to put it mildly, wildly optimistic for our traffic. We know that Audi is working on offering GPS navigation in Indian cars, but Volvo already has that feature up and running.
As you will see when we get to the features, the Volvo is pretty heavily loaded. But I like the fact that they've managed this without creating a 747 cockpit. The phone-pad aside, the Volvo has some very simple approaches to the layout - like the aircon controls and for all the technology and features, it's an easy, intuitive cabin to learn and use.
When it comes to space inside the cabin, again, Volvo has the advantage. The XC60 offers more space to its occupants in practically every measurement. Knee room, leg room, headroom, shoulder- room are all better in the XC60, though I hasten to add that this doesn't mean the Audi is cramped by any stretch of the imagination.
Engines and performance
We normally don't compare petrols to diesels, but I will touch upon both versions of the Q5 here for a single, relevant reason - price. We'll discuss it in detail later, but the petrol Q5 is roughly identical in price to the diesel XC60 (the sole model on offer in India), while the diesel Q5 is significantly more expensive. As expected, the engine under the XC's hood is the D5 that also powers the XC90 and the S80 diesel in India.
The Audi petrol engine is an intercooled turbocharged 1984cc 16-valve four-cylinder with variable valve timing, individual knock control on each cylinder and equipped with a drive-by-wire throttle. Peak power is 211PS, mated to a 7-speed automatic, a twin-clutch unit. The car will hit 225kmph and we've noted a bit of turbo lag in the Q5 petrol as well as the welcome urgency after the turbo spools up. How urgent? Well, 60kmph disappears in just 4.22 seconds (0.4 slower than the Q5 diesel), 100kmph takes just 9.7 (the diesel is 1.2 seconds quicker). All the performance is delivered in a hushed manner which sometimes hides the actual velocity until you look down and see the needle itself.
The Volvo on the other hand, employs an engine we've met before, the 205PS D5 diesel that also powers the S80 and the XC90. The D5 is a 2400cc twin-turbo five-cylinder diesel and while it makes less power than the Audi's petrol engine, it uses its displacement advantage to make 70Nm more torque. The six-speed Geartronic automatic is pretty good and helps the engine's seamless performance really shine. The Volvo, though, is slower to 60kmph than the Q5 by 0.35 second, and just slower to 100kmph by 0.05 second. The Volvo is the slightly noisier car and is usually just behind the fleet Q5 on performance terms, except for the top speed, where the 205kmph Volvo is 21kmph slower than the Audi.
In pure performance terms, the Audi is quicker, but the Volvo is close enough for this not be a reason to pick one over the other to be honest. The Q5 diesel, on the other hand, is significantly more powerful, has 500Nm of torque and that helps immensely, blasting the diesel Q5 into a clear performance lead on practically every count - yes, including fuel economy.
Diesel to diesel, the Q5 is the more fuel efficient of the two, the Volvo's 8.2kmpl overall falling a little short of the Audi's superb 10kmpl.
Ride quality and handling
The Q5, as we've noted in previous stories, is a well-rounded SUV. Its ride quality is on the stiff side but not harsh and over good roads it's great and over bad roads, it feels rugged and relatively unruffled. The XC60, surprisingly, tops that. It does transmit sharp bumps, but takes the sting out of them. This leads you to expect undulating stretches - like the bits where the dreaded paver tiles have gotten out of whack - to be a nuisance. But through these the XC60 is positively great. It encourages to you go quicker through them while keeping the cabin stable and unruffled. We like very much indeed.
Around corners, once more, the Volvo is the sportier, more agile of the two SUVs. Again, the Q5 is an accomplished performer. Its on-road performance is near flawless with only a bit of the attendant bodyroll of its stature left for nitpicky auto journos to, erm, nitpick about. The Volvo tops that with responsive steering, great poise in corners and marginally less bodyroll. On our favourite sort-the-men-from-boys stretch on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway... a downhill bridge with grievous expansion joints, and uneven patches meeting a sharp-ish, long, downhill right-hander... the cars are a revelation. For context, the last generation 5 Series car, when punted with intent down the same stretch, would nearly change a lane because its suspension was too stiff to hold on firmly to the challenging tarmac stretch. The Q5 feels it but doesn't lose its line. If you persist with your speed of entry, the passengers will be thrown around a bit - the road is that kind of severe. The XC60, on the other hand, breezes through this, demonstrating its benchmark wheel- and body-control.
Features and Volvo are old friends. Volvo's typically appeal in Europe has always been a mix of space and features. Their cars have always slotted in above their German peers in size and features while matching prices or marginally undercutting the Teutons. The XC60 does this with aplomb in India as well.
The adaptive cruise control system in the Volvo had us worried. You know how chaotic our traffic is. We had given up hope - it couldn't possible work. But the XC surprised us. Bert gave it a whirl in Delhi and I tried it closer to home. It every case, it locked on flawlessly, followed the car ahead scrupulously, braked when needed and when you changed lanes, speeded up to the cruise speed you chose smoothly. To give you an example, the first time I turned it on - this is a simple intuitive set of buttons on the left cluster on the steering wheel - it was an inopportune moment. Fast traffic was heading for top lane while slow traffic was trying to get out of the top lane at the same time. I was behind with the control speed set to 120kmph and approaching this mess. The XC60 noted the issue and braked so that the 2-second gap (the gap is measured in seconds) stayed firm. Once the traffic ahead sorted itself out and speeded up, so did the Volvo. When I flashed the SX4 up ahead and he pulled off into the middle lane, my car whooshed up to 120kmph and passed it. Bert and I had a bet going that you couldn't get from Mumbai to Pune without ever touching the throttle or brakes save for stopping at the two toll booths along the way. I am conviced that you could. And not just on the expressway either.
The XC60 also has a proximity sensor that projects a set of red lights on your windscreen head-up display when it detects a vehicle too close to you. This system looks for tail lamps and while Volvo cautions over-reliance on the feature, it's damn useful. It's like having a second set of eyes on the road ahead with you. In complicated traffic - like the snarls that overloaded trucks cause in ghats - the Volvo makes over-the-shoulder checks before lane changes much, much safer. Beeping and flashing if the truck ahead is too close. I got so used to this, that I actually missed it when I switched to the Q5.
As you can probably tell by now, the Volvo XC60 is a persuasive SUV that makes the Q5 look a little staid. There's a certain classiness and stylish personality to it that the Audi simply cannot match. Of the two, I'd plump for the Volvo in a flash. But that isn't the
heart of this test. Audi's Q5 will outsell the XC by the dozens no matter how good the XC is. And that's where the issue really is. Volvo's India presence, so far, has been too quiet and too spread out. The XC60 clearly has the dynamics, performance, cool factor and features it needs to bring Volvo up to speed in the luxury market. What it really needs is a broader sales-service network, a lot more advertising to spread the word and many, many more products as cool as the XC60. We hear, thankfully, that all of those things are on the way.