Volvo XC60 PHEV Review
Volvo XC90 is enormous, and just too big for many to consider, while the XC40 is a more urban-friendly compact SUV. The XC60 strikes a near-perfect balance somewhere in the middle, offering something for everybody - as long as they’ve got the monthly payments available.
It’s not cheap, but the Swedish style, SUV practicality and range that covers everything from tax-efficient plug-in hybrid, past luxurious limo and onto scorching performance models, means you can always make a case for considering the Volvo.
Look hard enough and you’ll see it falls slightly short of its rivals in many areas - but only just. Is it close enough where it counts?
Select's rating score* - 3.8 / 5
At a Glance
Volvo’s XC60 has something of a split personality, with sensible plug-in hybrid options alongside Polestar-engineered performance models. Underneath it all, it’s a chunky SUV that will carry your family, the dog and a chunk of furniture around the countryside without a problem.
It matches that with a sensible range of power options, from traditional diesel and petrol to impressive plug-in hybrid options. Then it mixes things up by adding a sporting Polestar variant with 405hp and lowered sports suspension.
Trying to appeal to everybody can leave a brand without a clear identity, but Volvo has such a distinctively Swedish style to it these days that there’s no way you could fail to recognise the car. It’s the understated, professional way it conducts the business of being a car that makes the XC60 stand out. Quiet confidence rather than brash arrogance.
Volvo is all about safety, but now it's added sustainability to the mix. Gone are the large engines, the soulful six-cylinder options and even the monstrous V8 cars. Now all you get is a 2.0-litre petrol or diesel option (and the latter is going before too long) or something with electric power.
There's more to it than just engines, though. The interior can be clad in recovered driftwood and sustainable wool trim, while the company is also looking at tackling its carbon emissions at the manufacturing stage and in the supply chain.
Emissions are to be cut by 40% per car by 2025 and become carbon-neutral by 2040. That’s going to require far more than simply throwing some batteries in a car, but there’s a sense that the top brass is genuinely behind the idea. It’s more than a marketing programme, which makes us very excited about the brand's future.
For now, though, it means we get stylish, interesting cars, with lots of power and impressive levels of luxury. For how much longer, though?
Performance & Drive
With such a wide range of engine options and drive types, it’s surprisingly difficult to pin down how the XC60 drives - the diesel-powered front-wheel-drive model is vastly different from the performance-tuned plug-in hybrid four-wheel-drive model.
Sitting somewhere in the middle of the range is our test model, the Recharge T6 Plug-in Hybrid AWD. This has Volvo’s regular 2.0-litre petrol engine under the bonnet, but that’s balanced with an electric motor under the boot floor that drives the rear wheels.
In urban driving, the car relies on just that motor, providing near-silent electric motoring for up to 33 miles. There’s 87hp available at the rear so, while it's not exactly a rocket ship, it keeps up with city traffic without a problem, and the smooth nature of the motor and lack of gear changes makes it a relaxing, calming drive.
Find some clear and open road and you’ll have the 253hp engine joining in, giving a total of 340hp to play with. That makes the XC60 rather tasty, with the 0-62mph dash dealt with in 5.9 seconds. Despite that alacrity, the car favours running in electric mode and, as and when demands require the engine to kick in, that can take a little while and leave you floundering for a moment.
As with virtually every Volvo, the XC60 is at its best when you’re driving unhurriedly, ploughing the nation's motorways in refined and laid back fashion. However, wheel and suspension options play a big part in how it rides - the 18 -inch wheels fitted to the entry-level Momentum grade offer the smoothest ride, while the 19-inch Inscription spec rims are almost as good. However, you can end up running to 22 inches and the ride is significantly worsened at that point.
To the same ends, as smart as it looks, the R-Design models might be worth sidestepping. Lowered, stiffened, suspension and large alloy wheels are not an enjoyable combination, especially as there’s little benefit in terms of driving engagement.
As with any plug-in hybrid, you get out what you put in - keep the battery topped up and cover average miles and you’ll barely ever use a drop of fuel. However, if you’ve got endless long journeys to cover or have no way of charging the car, then you’ll see expenses rack up quickly. The petrol engine isn’t that economical on its own, and it’s got to lug about an 11.6kWh battery pack and electric motor around.
Officially, the plug-in will return up to 113mpg, but you could easily beat that in the right circumstances, or fail to get even remotely close. The traditionally-powered models, with their 2.0-litre petrol or diesel engine options, can’t hope to get near that figure, of course, but the best-case figure of 46.2mpg is disappointing. In reality, you’ll struggle to reach that figure anyway, while petrol models can make breaking 30mpg feel like an achievement.
The plug-in might be expensive (plug-in prices start at more than £50,000, around £11k more than an equivalent petrol model) but leasing rates reduce that difference to around £50 a month. Thanks to a BIK rate of 15% for the plug-in car, company car drivers could be saving £250 a month or so in tax, effectively making the difference self-funding.
There are few nicer environments than the inside of a modern Volvo. A minimalist design, use of interesting materials such as driftwood, and high-quality components are enough to lift the ambience as high - and probably higher - than many of its traditional premium rivals.
Dominating the centre of the dashboard is a 9.0-inch infotainment screen, mounted vertically. At first glance, it’s not the most exciting system; it’s almost monochrome in style and has four large panels to operate the basics. It’s different from most systems and takes some getting used to but, once you’ve sat on the driveway and worked your way around it, it’s a masterpiece of simplicity. Everyday options require little more than a single tap away, with extraneous options only a sideswipe away.
Part of the minimalist approach means there’s a noticeable absence of climate control buttons. These have been moved onto the screen, which adds a little unnecessary complication.
Aside from that, the cabin is delightful. The seats are wide, comfortable and supportive, clad in wonderfully soft Nappa leather that’s perforated and ventilated, at least on this Inscription model. However, you might want to be brave and eschew the leather and replace it with wool.
Yes, you can have sheep fur covering the seats, and it’s wonderful. Sustainable, too.
Practicality & Boot Space
The XC60 is a big car, and you can feel that in the front of the car. Those with long legs, long arms, long torsos, or even all three, should be able to find a suitable driving position with plenty of room spare.
The same continues in the rear seats, which are wide, with plenty of legroom and headroom. Even with a tall driver in front, there’s unlikely to be any knee rubbing on the back of the seat. However, squeezing in three passengers might be asking a bit much thanks to a large tunnel on the floor that leaves little room for the feet of whoever loses the race to avoid the middle seat.
Despite its bulk, there’s no seven-seater option - that’s reserved for the even larger XC90.
The rear seats fold and split, as you might expect, but there are no tricks - you can’t slide the bench forward or back, or recline the seatbacks. That means the boot is a fixed size, measuring 468 litres in the plug-in, although the petrol and diesel models get a boost up to 483 litres. That’s a little smaller than some rivals, and a little larger than others, but still healthy enough to accommodate most requirements.
Those seats fold down completely flat, though, and there’s no lip left at the boot lid, making loading and unloading a cinch and extending the load area to cavernous proportions.
Safety and Volvo. Two words that go hand in hand.
As you would therefore expect, Euro NCAP awarded the XC60 a maximum five-star score after it's round of thorough safety testing, with adult occupant protection recording a near-perfect 98% rating.
Children are well looked after, too. Available as a £300 option, the rear seats can include a built-in booster cushion that pops out of the base. It’s an incredibly simple design that works brilliantly, especially as it has no impact when the seat is being used by an adult.
Electronic aids are amongst the best in class, with maximum scores for the automatic emergency braking, while the lane departure warning and lane-keeping assist systems work perfectly.
The only disappointment is that some safety gear is relegated to the options list, meaning you’ve got to pay an extra £500 for a blind spot warning and collision avoidance system, rear cross-traffic alerts and a rear collision mitigation system.
Volvo used to have a simple and elegant lineup, but it keeps adding new trim levels and complicating matters. Right now there’s the entry-level Momentum trim, followed by Inscription Expression (which is only available as a plug-in hybrid), which is a lower trim level than Inscription, while Inscription Pro adds more kit. The sporty-looking R-Design and R-Design Pro models sit somewhere alongside those models. Finally, a Polestar Engineered model sits on its own with a 405hp plug-in hybrid power plant.
Engine options aside, most will be happy enough with the Momentum car as that’s got an awful lot of equipment included as standard, including things like LED headlights, a reversing camera, 12.3-inch digital instrument panel, leather seats and European navigation.
Inscription models add some nice luxuries, while R-Design models add sporty adornments to the outside and inside of the car.
Our advice? Ignore the sporty look of the R-Design (despite its ‘sport chassis’ it’s still two-tonnes of SUV) and choose the softer route. Wheels make a huge difference to the ride, so don’t be tempted to upgrade to larger alloys as you’ll live to regret it.
Despite the comprehensive specification, several essential items have been left on the options list. Charging extra for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay seems particularly mean, but the decision to charge extra for blind-spot warning and collision avoidance, rear cross-traffic alert and a rear collision mitigation system seems misjudged for a brand all about safety.
Who Rivals the Volvo XC-60
The regular German trio provides like-for-like rivals for the Volvo XC60, all matching each other for performance, space and price, at least on paper.
The Audi Q5 is, arguably, the least interesting option, but that conservative exterior masks a stunningly high-quality interior. It’s spacious, comfortable and well equipped, but isn’t particularly entertaining to drive and, like the Volvo, can start getting very expensive once you add options.
Opting for the BMW X3 will get you the most engaging drive, along with plenty of space for passengers and luggage. If you want to shift, the X3 can be had with more than 500hp, which should keep the dog firmly pressed against the rear window. However, while the interior is high quality, it’s messy and, at times, downright confusing. The ride is less than cosseting, too.
Mercedes-Benz offers the GLC, which has the best quality ride of the German options and is smoother than the Volvo. The interior looks and feels special, although it’s not all as easy to use as you might hope for. The hybrid option is strong, and the AMG models are scenery-warping quick, but the diesel power units are rough and rattly.
Consider, too, the Lexus NX. This sharp-suited Japanese competitor brings a distinctive style, cutting-edge interior design and exemplary build quality. There are few choices to be made with just one hybrid-power engine option, but it’s economical, quick enough, and all four trim levels come well equipped.
Verdict & Next Steps
You could be forgiven for picking the Volvo purely to escape the clutches of the regular German trio of rivals, and there would be no shame in doing so. However, there are plenty of reasons for going for the Volvo beyond simply trying to be different (although not too different of course) as there is so much to like about the XC60.
Get the measuring tape out and some rivals might edge it in some areas, but there’s such a fine balance between all aspects that the XC60 makes a lot of sense. Just avoid the petrol and diesel models, splash out the little extra on the plug-in hybrid, and kick back and relax as you waft along in silence.
Where to next?
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*Score based on Select’s unique meta score analysis, taking into account the UK’s top five leading independent car website reviews of the Volvo XC60 PHEV
**Correct as of 03/03/2021. Based on 9 months initial payment, 8,000 miles over a 48 month lease. Initial payment equivalent to 9 monthly payments or £3245.51 Ts and Cs apply. Credit is subject to status.