Scandinavian Zen: The Volvo XC60 R-Design Drive Review

The Scandinavians know a thing or two about design. They believe in elegance over brash aggression, and functionality over all else. Be it furniture or automobiles, their products have an air of simple sophistication about them. Mature and evolved in their approach towards design, they always keep people at the centre of everything they set out to do.

Take the Volvo XC60 for example. A classic Scandinavian design fused with technology, created for the sole purpose of making human lives safer and simpler. Step inside, and you are engulfed with a sense of comfort that you would usually associate with things that are dear to you. Like a warm hug from a loved one. The atmospherics instantly make you feel at home.

The Volvo XC60 is a premium SUV that combines refinement with capability; and is versatile and weather proof. In Sweden, they say there is no such thing as bad weather. Just the wrong clothes. And when the Volvo India team sent us the XC60 R-design over a rain soaked weekend, we knew we couldn’t have asked for better clothes. This was a perfect foil to the weather, with all the technology and comfort-nomics to go anywhere, regardless of what the weather throws your way.


For starters, the XC60 is desperately good looking. It is incredibly well balanced in its design, and the R-Design pack adds a touch of sportiness. Visually you can spot a R-Design version from the mirror caps and window frames that come in a metallic silver finish and the R-Design badging on the wide black front grille. There are also motor sport style front & rear diffusor, chrome lined dual exhausts at the rear, and swirling 5 spoke 18″ alloys that feel like they are in motion, even when still. The vertical daytime running lights in the front and signature light cluster at the back going all the way to the roof add to its elegance and distinguished road presence. Unmistakably Volvo.

The exterior color palette of the XC60 is again, very Scandinavian. Soft natural tones with a few bold splashes inspired by the ocean, the sky, the shore and the changing lights through the seasons. Think Twilight Bronze, Rich Java, Savile Grey or Onyx Black.

Step in, and you are greeted by an all black cabin. Our test vehicle had a bit of an issue with the driver side door opening and closing and for a brand new Volvo, it was odd. Considering the overall built quality, it didn’t have the reassuring thud that one would have expected, and one had to slam it hard to shut it.

Inside, the first thing that blew us away were the seat belts. You have to experience these to know the difference. Now we all know that Volvo invented the familiar three point safety belt in 1959 which all cars around the world use today. But compared to any other vehicle, the smoothness and precision of this one is unmatched. Imagine slicing through melted butter. Or biting into a light, fluffy, airy vanilla milk sponge cake. That’s how it feels when you pull down a Volvo seat belt and secure it around you.

The next thing you can’t help but admire are the seats. Now seats have always been a proud tradition at Volvo. They are designed to ensure that everyone travels first class, nothing less. So here we have sporty seats in high quality black leather, which are unarguably the best in the business. They don’t just look drop dead gorgeous with the meticulous double stitching and perfect craftsmanship, but are also ergonomically crafted for a fatigue free ride over long hours. The front seats can be electronically adjusted, have memory settings and are heated (although ventilated would have been better for hot Indian summers), with side support from the thigh all the way to the shoulders. The rear is equally comfortable, although leg room comes at a bit of premium. The rear seats can be folded 40:20:40, making it easier to access the boot from inside the cabin, without opening the tailgate. 

Its not just the little details about the XC60 that impress. The overall interiors are extremely well appointed and the cabin insulation is brilliant. The flowing interior design is uncluttered, stylish and soaked in simplicity; and the R-Design pack adds sporty and aluminum trims for a touch of class. Nothing is flashy or tries too hard for your attention, and every element is in harmony with each other. Primarily centered around driver and passenger comfort, the XC60 has luxury airliner like interiors with plenty of headroom that gives a sense of space, and an electronic panoramic sunroof for added effect.

The dashboard angles towards the driver and the single dial digital TFT instrument cluster gives out all relevant information at one place, without adding clutter. There are three themes – Elegance, Eco and Performance with varying colours to choose from, to suit your driving mood. The three spoked multi function R-Design steering wheel comes with paddle shifters for manual control – perfectly sized with a nice grip, and elegantly wrapped in leather. We missed a head up display though, which would have been a nice touch. There is a key slot and start stop function towards the left of the steering wheel, and an adaptive cruise control function on the wheel that is convenient to use.

The signature floating console has four prominent knobs for menu control, audio control and two zone temperature control. There is CD/DVD, USB, Aux, and Bluetooth connectivity for your phone and music streaming. The stowage behind the floating console is practical and very useful.

The infotainment system has a 7″ screen that gives you all the vehicle information and control over radio, media, phone and navigation. The interface is fairly easy to use and there are buttons for direct access to any of the functions. A number pad for dialing and feeding input information takes up much of the central section and is a bit cumbersome to use. Given a choice, you would prefer to use the voice assist.

There are front and rear park assist with a rear parking camera, and a Harmon Kardon sound system that is quite brilliant. The map quality is average and this is one issue that all automobile manufacturers should review. Car navigations systems are usually clumsy and not as refined as Google Maps, which has been around for about a decade. It is the go to app for navigation on smart devices and customers are already used to its format and functionality. When it is the undisputed category leader by a mile, there is no clear reason for not integrating it in automobile navigation as standard. That’s where you need it most. Perhaps Volvo could take the lead and show the way.

The automatic climate control is effective. The rear AC vents in the B pillar instead of the central tunnel significantly improve air flow and circulation at the rear. There is an interior Air Quality System that works silently behind the scene. Whenever the sensors detect increased levels of contaminants in the outside air, it closes the air intake and recirculates the air inside the cabin. A filter cleans the recirculated air, thereby reducing the levels of odour and contaminants inside. Smells good.

There is ample stowage both in the front & back. There are cup holders in the front, stowage under the central armrest, and the rear armrest opens up a wide tray and cup holders that can hold a meal tray for two with ease. The XC60 comes with a 495 ltr boot, which goes up to 1455 ltr of uninterrupted space with the seats folded. You could virtually move your entire world in here. The power operated hydraulic tailgate works like a breeze. Flick it with a finger to open. Press a button to shut down. Simple.

When it comes to safety, you just can’t beat a Volvo. Here is a company that has its vision clearly chalked out for the future. To design cars that should not crash. The aim is that by 2020 nobody anywhere in the world should be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo. Now that is massive, as we are talking speed machines on wheels here. And the XC60 remains exemplary of Volvo’s legendary safety standards. The Intellisafe approach towards intuitive safety makes every drive safer, not just for those inside, but also outside. It has 2-step airbags, SIPS airbags and inflatable curtains, whiplash protection, Emergency Brake Assist and Emergency Brake Light Flashing. Surprisingly, the Auto Hold feature was missing (where a car doesn’t move forward after braking, till you press the accelerator). But there is The City Safety Collision Avoidance Technology that automatically applies brakes when driving up to speeds of 50 km/h, if it senses that you are about to run into a vehicle in front. Now we didn’t try to test that feature, because what if..? But rest assured, it works. Like airbags, this is one safety feature that is good to have, but rather not put to use.

Overall, you feel extremely secure inside the Volvo XC60 R-Design because of the near human like response you get from the vehicle. There is a silent assurance that the vehicle will keep you out of harm’s way. But if you still manage to crash, you probably shouldn’t be driving at all.

The XC60 R-Design is powered by an all new Drive-E 2.0L engine that produces 184 BHP and 400 Nm of torque. Although the power is not mind boggling, the car offers enough grunt to suit all your city driving needs. The engine is noisy when you stand next to the vehicle, but once inside, you can’t hear a thing. The power delivery is smooth and linear with negligible lag. There are moments on the highway when you do get a sense of it being a tad underpowered, but before you make up your mind, the XC60 quickly regains its mojo and you leave the thought behind.

The gearbox is an 8-speed automatic that is perfectly mated to the engine, delivering timely shifts programmed to squeeze every bit of efficiency out of the car. The R-Design variant equipped with the four cylinder engine is on paper, faster than the five cylinder version, which shows the prowess of the transmission. The sport mode can be engaged at a flick of the gear knob, which surprisingly does not illuminate to show the current status. So each time you want to know the transmission status, you have to look at the instrument cluster. Manual sport mode can be activated via paddle shifters.

In terms of fuel efficiency, we got around 11.2 km/l, which is much lower than the official figure of 21 km/l. But then, these were not perfect driving conditions either. Customer feedback figures range between 14-15 km/l, and that is what you should expect.

Although the XC60 is a fairly large car, its driving dynamics are well sorted. We drove at speeds of 160 km/h and thereabout, and the vehicle challenged us to go further. The control, stability and ride quality even at high speeds was excellent. There is a tiny bit of body roll which is along expected lines. That apart, the car remains nimble, agile and very well balanced.

The car offers phenomenal grip through the corners, thanks in part to the standard Pirelli PZero tires. The R-Design version comes with a stiffer chassis and direct steering that significantly improves cornering and responsiveness, and that adds to the driving experience. The emphasis is on sportiness, but the ride remains pliant and comfortable. The suspension is top notch and there is absolutely no compromise on ride comfort, which is remarkable.

The driving position is commanding. The only flaw being the position of the central armrest which is pushed back. It is not adjustable and we would have preferred a sliding option. For someone short who pulls the seat forward to drive, accessing the arm rest to place his/ her elbow comfortably might be a challenge.

While the AWD variant could perhaps drive through snow and rocky trails, serious off roading is off limits for the FWD XC60 R-Design. Neither were we too enthused to push it to the limits as this one is frankly too sophisticated to be bad mannered. Rather, it is a perfect set of wheels to take out of city limits over the weekend. Out into the countryside, along dusty tracks or on mountain roads. It swallows the road with ease, has an appetite for pot holes and assures a stress free ride over long hours. The result is zero fatigue and a fresh on arrival feeling.

The XC60 R-Design comes to India as a CBU and is priced at INR 54.0 lacs (ex-showroom). Expensive? Yes. But it excels on several aspects when compared to its rivals. It is one of the better driving SUVs on the market, is extremely stylish inside and out, and offers more equipment than you will ever require. A 4×4 option in the R-Design variant would have been just perfect though.

The XC60 is not your run of the mill SUV. It is a refreshing alternative to the BMW X3 and Audi Q5, and has a very strong presence on the road. It has a distinct air of sophistication that appeals, and a desirability factor that is extremely high. It is sensible and practical, yet evolved and enchanting. With oodles of Scandinavian zen like flair.

And most importantly, it silently speaks a lot about those who drive it.

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