Volvo XC60 B4 review - a mild upgrade for Swedish SUV
The Volvo XC60 sometimes feels like it gets a little lost among Volvo’s SUV range. It’s in the shadow of the flagship XC90 and outshone by the award magnet that is the compact XC40 but it’s still an attractive model in its own right.
Like every other Volvo of recent years, it’s a stylish, spacious and safe machine worthy of its place among the premium models from Germany and Japan.
It’s also one of the models leading the brand’s march to an electrified future. Volvo has committed to making its entire range electrified - either as a pure EV or a hybrid - and every new model from 2019 onwards will have an electrified option.
All the SUVs are built on platforms that can take full electrification and an XC40 EV is coming in 2020, but alongside that Volvo is turning to hybridisation with both plug-in petrol/electric hybrids and “mild” hybrids like this B4 diesel-electric setup.
The B4 hybrid is what other manufacturers might call a self-charging hybrid, that’s one with a relative small battery that is only charged via the car’s engine and energy recuperation rather than plugging into an external power source.
That means it doesn’t offer driving in pure-electric mode but is designed to reduce consumption and emissions by using the electric motor to ease the demand on the engine. It cuts in and out as required without any driver intervention and is virtually undetectable.
Official WLTP testing puts the B4’s economy at up to 46mpg and emissions at 142-151g/km. In comparison, the entry-level D4 diesel returns up to 48mpg and emits between 129 and 135g/km of CO2. However, that comes without the four-wheel-drive that’s standard in the B4, and doesn’t have the extra weight of the battery.
To compensate for the extra weight, the hybrid gets a minor performance improvement - there’s an extra 7bhp and 15lb/ft - but it’s more noticeable than you might think. The electric motor provides extra torque from 0rpm and gives the car a useful additional shove under acceleration. It also makes for smoother, more linear acceleration and smooths out Volvo’s occasionally jerky eight-speed transmission. It’s particularly handy around town where there’s less hesitation at junctions and traffic lights.
The system’s weakness is the same as other Vovlos, namely the four-cylinder diesel engine. Compared with the smooth, refined units of its premium rivals, the D4 and D5s are as rough as a badger’s behind, displaying old-fashioned diesel coarseness. It settles down at cruise but around town and under acceleration the gruffness is a constant companion.
Away from the new drivetrain, the XC60 is largely unchanged. It looks as good as it did on its original launch nearly five years ago and the interior continues to exude a unique style and offer unrivalled comfort. The pale driftwood finish to our test car’s dashboard makes everything from rival brands look positively tacky and there’s something strangely soothing about all the material and design choices.
Its on-road behaviour is also unchanged. The extra shove of the electric motor helps with responsiveness and there’s decent grip and body control if you’re minded to hustle along a twisty road but this is still a large-ish SUV that’s more focused on being smooth and calm rather than rival a BMW X3 for sportiness.
Volvo’s reputation for safety innovation is showcased in the XC60 with everything from pedestrian-detecting autonomous braking to oncoming lane mitigation, which automatically provides steering assistance if you drift out of your lane. All models also get the full Sensus media/nav system, heated leather seats, LED lights and a powered tailgate but smartphone mirroring is, sadly, part of an £850 option pack.
If the XC60 is the slightly forgotten member of Volvo’s SUV family, the B4 diesel feels like it could become the forgotten member of the XC60 range. It’s a pleasant, competent car but for drivers serious about electrification the more expensive T8 plug-in hybrid offers far more significant benefits, and for those looking for the lowest running costs, the standard D4 has better economy and a lower list price, if you can live without four-wheel drive.