The new Volvo XC60 is a match made in road trip heaven

<i> Image: Quickpic </i>
<i> Image: Quickpic </i>

My last three visits to the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown (now Makhanda) have been undertaken in Volvos. I've completed the near 1000km journey in an XC90, V90 Cross Country and in 2018 an XC60. 

It just sort of happened that there's always been a new Volvo launched during that period and the Cape Town to Grahamstown trip is a great test for a vehicle. 

It needs to be comfortable, powerful, frugal and safe. Hmm, about the safety. 

The one overarching theme of all these cars is their safety features. The XC60 is the A-student in the class, scoring 98% in the Euro NCAP test for adult occupants. On this year's trip, the XC60's pilot assist, city safety and clever LED headlights were the stars of the show. 

Pilot assist: Via sensors the car knows when the car has veered over the (broken) white line and will alert you with a slight vibration in the steering wheel. It's a semi-autonomous driver assistance system which takes care of steering, acceleration, and braking on well-marked roads up to 130km/h. 

City Safety: This is an autonomous emergency braking system that now features steering support for when automatic braking alone may not help avoid a potential accident.

Volvo has also added 'oncoming lane mitigation with steer assist' (primarily to assist in the case of a head-on collision) and 'blind spot information system (BLIS) with steer assist functionality, has been added to reduce the risk of lane-changing collisions. 

Automatic high-beam assists: A simple switch activates the high beams which use sensors to determine if the brights need to be on and illuminate the area of the road that's dimly lit or totally dark. 

The system even manages to 'bend' around cars in front of you while illuminating the area around the other motorist so as to not blind other road users. 

A week with the XC60 Inscription D5

So, what's it like to drive? Our test unit is powered by a 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine producing a powerful 173kW and 480Nm. It uses a permanent all-wheel-drive system to keep things on an even keel, even on gravel roads. 

It'll send power to the wheel that needs it the most as part of a smart traction control system too. 

An 8-speed auto does duty and thankfully our test car wasn't fitted with paddle shifts, which I find a total waste on an SUV. 

The electric-steering system felt good on twisty bits of the road trip, although most of the route was consigned to the national road which is fairly straightforward. Admittedly, I enjoyed driving a mid-size luxury SUV more than I usually would. The high centre of gravity and turbodiesel engine means it's not hot hatch but it certainly has its own driving charm. 

The cabin is high-class, furnished with a mix of polished-metal, wood, and soft plastic. I've praised the pews in previous Volvos I've driven, but these were blessed with a massage function. Goodness, that made a huge difference on the trip. They can also be heated and cooled.  

The 505-litre boot gobbled up luggage for five adults and everyone remarked how comfortable the journey was. 

The Bowers and Wilkins sound system was a massive boon, as I believe music is an essential part of a road trip. It offers crisp Seamless integration of Apple Carplay also helped to make playing music from our phones. 

I did take the XC60 off road, into the Addo elephant national park between Port Elizabeth and Makhanda. Its 210mm ground clearance was more than enough to deal with the gravel road in the park and I was duly impressed.

To be fair, that's probably all the XC60 will be used for as owners would probably not be getting involved in any hectic off-road action.

In summary 

For the purpose of the trip: a frugal SUV with space for five adults plus luggage travelling across two provinces, the XC60 didn't miss a beat. 

The XC60 has some stiff competition in the form of the: Mercedes-Benz GLC, Audi Q5, Alfa Romeo Stelvio and BMW's X3. They are all good cars in their own right.

However, I didn't find many things wrong with the Volvo. I averaged around 8.6-litres/100km, which was impressive considering how much load the car was carrying. 

Yes, it's taken close to 10 years for the second generation to arrive in Mzansi, but the XC60 is excellent. Just make sure you stretch its legs with a road trip or two.

Price: R776 800 (D5 Inscription)

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