Voted World Car of the Year 2018, the XC60 continues Volvo’s impressive reinvention.
Voted World Car of the Year 2018, the XC60 continues Volvo’s impressive reinvention.

My previous encounter with a Volvo of any kind was with the flagship XC90: an amazingly well-sorted car which Volvo used to shift the goal posts for large SUV standards by a mile.

It’s a previous winner of the South African Car of the year gong in 2016. So with a full-plate of eagerness and curiosity to jump in, I pointed the square key to open our Volvo XC60 long-term test car — the current holder of the 2018 World Car of the year title.

The introduction was genuinely much like that of any potential first-timer. It’s a surprisingly handsome vehicle, with strong aesthetic links to the larger XC90 but a tad smaller in form. As motoring media we hardly pay much attention to entry and egress. Thankfully Volvo has thought of this bit extensively and slipping into or out of the XC60 is about one of its lesser celebrated hallmarks.

Aside from the beautifully shaped and cream leather-bound chairs crafted with input from chiropractors, the XC60’s cabin is a homely environment. Having recently hopped out of a BMW X4 and straight into the Volvo provided the ideal opportunity to compare decorative tastes between Volvo and the German triumvirate.

Starting off with its central command centre that’s modelled on a contemporary digital tablet, accessing its many features is helped by operational protocols similar to the world’s mobile devices. It makes finding features through its touchscreen interface very easy.

The Scandinavian decor mimics a high-end apartment in execution
The Scandinavian decor mimics a high-end apartment in execution

Then there are the surface trimmings. The Scandinavian decor in our Volvo mimics a high-end studio apartment in execution. The Inscription grade walk also beautifies the XC60 with acres of chrome edges around the glass house, skirting and on the front and rear valances. The XC60 can be had in both petrol or diesel flavour and our D5 model is powered by a 173kW and 480Nm four-cylinder diesel mated to an AWD drivetrain — a fine configuration I must admit.

What’s it like to drive though? Very good indeed. A punchy engine and light steering action makes it pleasingly agile everywhere and heightens the sense of refinement. The XC60 sticks closely to the established recipe of 2.0l diesel derivatives of the BMW X3, Audi Q5 and Mercedes-Benz GLC in sensibility driven packaging of practicality, class, affordability and safety.

Recalling modern obsessions of vehicle brands to create some sort of ambidexterity in combining road driving with beaten track capability, and although I’ve yet to make a detour down a gravel road, this Volvo’s 20-inch Michelins should fare well on country roads, the ability of the AWD four-wheel system to redeploy torque across all wheels implies it can crawl over reasonable difficulties without expensive crunchy sounds emanating underneath.

Our long-termer is generously loaded with tech. Adaptive cruise control with pilot assist is what I’d like to focus on outside of a litany of safety and convenience systems. Volvo has become exceedingly good at safety but so too have other brands in its segment. The race for supremacy exists in the autonomous driving cachet.

The easily activated jump to semi self-driving begins with adaptive cruise control, which under normal circumstances scans your vicinity looking for a lead vehicle directly in front with automatic application of throttle or brakes in line with the vehicle in front. Thumb in Pilot Assist and the army of sensors seeks out lanes and barriers; the car then takes over steering duties with alarming accuracy.

I spent each and every available opportunity on the road testing out its self-driving prowess and found it scores highly, first, on rapid identification of objects directly or surrounding the vehicle. Then it scored well in successfully tracking the majority of road lanes, able to swiftly make light steering adjustments to keep itself on the straight and narrow in between other vehicles and closed up places. It’s particularly impressive when the road curves, more so than in any other vehicle I’ve analysed.

Full autonomy is still some way off. As a driver you are still required to intervene, a lot. The cars still have no clue what a yield line is nor can they recognize red traffic lights or sharp changes in the flow of roads.

Have your XC60 with Pilot Assist and you will find that you are able to delegate a modicum of driving functions to the car in aiding your travels to be less laborious and safer too. It’s easy to understand why it has been chosen best car in the world right now.