Volvo XC60: the beast from the east doesn't stand a chance
The Volvo XC60 is a cosy bear hug of a car - and of the best new cars you can buy today, says William Scholes
I was only half-listening to the radio earlier this week when I heard mention of the imminent arrival of the 'beast from the east', writes William Scholes.
Given that an item about the DUP's difficulties had occupied most of the radio programme, I assumed 'beast from the east' was an unkind reference by DUP moustache-in-chief Sammy Wilson to the party's MP for East Belfast, Gavin Robinson.
Mr Robinson - in case you're struggling to place him, which you may well be - gave one of the most appallingly ungracious speeches ever heard by a successful candidate on the night he won the Westminster seat from the Alliance Party's Naomi Long in 2015.
He is occasionally seen, typically in the background, in those gurning line-ups that the DUP has made significant strides towards turning into an art form.
Anyway, that's more enough about Mr Robinson.
Because, as we now all know, the beast from the east is not a DUP MP but a cold snap chillier than relations between his party and Sinn Féin.
This means the subject of our main Drive review today, Volvo's wonderful XC60, could barely be more appropriate for this week's icy weather.
The XC60, you see, is a warm bowl of soup on a frosty day; it's 10 more minutes stolen under the duvet when you've forgotten to turn on the heat; it's a cosy bear hug of a car that manages to make you feel calm, safe and at ease.
Volvo, whatever else it is up to these days, has discovered the secret of making cars that simply make you feel good.
The XC60 is a warm bowl of soup on a frosty day; it's 10 more minutes stolen under the duvet when you've forgotten to turn on the heat; it's a cosy bear hug of a car that manages to make you feel calm, safe and at ease
Doubtless there's a Swedish phrase that sums this up perfectly. Whatever it is, I like to think that it sounds like a contented, comfortable sigh.
The XC60 has always been a fine car. It says much for how essentially right the old XC60 was from day one that it stayed in production from 2008 until last year, when this new version arrived.
That's a long time in car years, but even when it went off-sale the original XC60 didn't feel off-the-pace.
Careful evolution of engines and so on during its life obviously helped, but that would have been rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic were the basic concept not so sound.
As an upmarket SUV, the XC60's rivals included the Audi Q5, BMW X3, Range Rover Evoque and Land Rover Discovery Sport; good cars all, but all somehow lacking in that feel-good factor that is innately Volvo.
The new XC60 shares much with the larger XC90. This is a very good thing, for the XC90 is one of the very best cars of any sort that you can buy; and so it is with its smaller sibling.
A more modestly dimensioned five-seater than the seven-seat XC90, the XC60 is handily sized for Irish roads and typical family duties.
It's roomy and comfortable inside, with Volvo clearly going for a plush living room ambience.
The blend of materials is first class and carefully considered; large windows give a clear view out and the overall impression is of space. Everything you touch is just, well, lovely and feels of superior quality.
As is Volvo's way these days, the large central touchscreen is mounted in a portrait orientation rather than the more typical landscape.
Volvo has discovered the secret of making cars that simply make you feel good. Doubtless there's a Swedish phrase that sums this up perfectly. Whatever it is, I like to think that it sounds like a contented, comfortable sigh
In truth, I'm not sure it matters how these screens are laid out; the most important thing is that they work quickly and intuitively, which the Volvo's does. It's part of the car's relaxing character - it just does what you expect, how you would want it to.
The D4 Momentum Pro version I tested was no sports car but this is still a very pleasant car to drive.
Whether petrol or diesel or augmented by a hybrid battery pack, all Volvos these days have a four-cylinder engine.
Press hard on the throttle and you will pick up that the engine doesn't make the same sorts of sonorous noise that you would expect from a six-cylinder unit - though this is less of an issue with a car in the XC60's class than it is in the XC90, where sixes remain prevalent.
All models are four-wheel-drive. A manual gearbox can be ordered with the D4 engine; otherwise, all XC60s use an eight-speed automatic gearbox.
But this isn't a car to be driven on its door handles; this is a car to soothe and relax, to eat up miles, to enjoy the company of your passengers. Or if you're on your own, to treat your ears to the excellent stereo.
Family-friendly touches that remind you that this is a very well thought-out SUV include the way the doors wrap under the car, so the sills - and therefore little legs - don't get dirty when climbing in and out.
The boot is large, at 505 litres in volume or 1,432 litres if the seats are folded, and sensibly shaped; the tailgate is electrically-powered. Storage compartments in the back are shaped to hold iPads, useful given how often these now seem to be taken on car journeys by children and young people.
Safety is excellent, even by Volvo's traditionally epic standards. The XC60 was the safest car of any sort assessed during 2017 by Euro Ncap, the body which benchmarks crash safety for vehicles in Europe.
It isn't just the strength of the car's structure that impresses. Volvo is one of the leading manufacturers in driver assist technology, such as its 'Pilot Assist' semi-autonomous system.
Though you need to keep your hands on the steering wheel, Pilot Assist can essentially accelerate, brake and help steer at speeds up to 80mph... and to a standstill.
I think it looks great too, in an understated, self-confident way that isn't as shouty or blingy as rivals from, for example, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus or Range Rover. Nor is it open to the accusations of being bland, as one might say of the BMW or Audi efforts.
Trim levels run from Momentum to R-Design and Inscription, each of which has an additional Pro option which adds even more upmarket equipment.
All, to be honest, are well equipped, though the sporty-looking R-Design models are estimated to account for around 40 per cent of UK sales.
Prices start at £36,405 for a Momentum with the 187bhp D4 version of the 2.0-litre diesel and a manual gearbox, rising to a heady £58,700 for the full-house hybrid T8 Twin Engine Inscription Pro.
Those prices are pretty much on a par with the Volvo's obvious rivals, so you aren't going to choose one because it is cheaper than an Audi or BMW.
Rather, you will choose an XC60 because it is so competent, so comfortable and so cosseting that you will wonder how you got by without one until now.
It is a wonderful car, one that somehow manages to make you - and your passengers - feel special on every journey. For a do-it-all family car, can there be a higher calling?
And should the beast from the east tighten its grip for the long haul, it is also reassuring to know that it has excellent seat heaters...
AT A GLANCE
Volvo XC60 D4 AWD Momentum Pro
Price: £39,755. As tested: £47,580. Options included: 'Xenium' pack with panoramic sunroof, surround view parking camera and automatic parallel and 90-degree parking, £2,000; 'Intellisafe Pro', with pilot assist, adaptive cruise control, blind spot information system, cross traffic alert and rear collision mitigation, £1,500; metallic paint £650; smartphone integration £300; 12.3-inch digital driver's display £375; dark tinted windows £450; keyless start and 'handsfree' tailgate £500; power adjustable passenger seat £400; adaptive dampers and electronic air suspension £1,500; spare wheel and jack £150
Engine and transmission: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel, four-wheel-drive, eight-speed automatic gearbox; 187bhp, 295lb.ft
Performance: Top speed 127mph, 0-60mph in 7.9 seconds
Fuel consumption and CO2: 54.3mpg (EU combined); 38.9mpg (real world); 136g/km
Car tax: £200 in first year, then £140 annually
Benefit in kind: 29 per cent
Euro Ncap safety rating: Five stars (98/87/76/95), 2017 - the XC60 was the safest car crash-tested in 2017