Driven: Volvo’s XC60 T5 crossover – available now with Polestar options

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volvo_xc60_2016_009Here at #MTHRFKNWIN, we like to think that we take on test cars for a reason, and this week’s Swede set of wheels are no different. Volvos have typically carried the squalid image of safe and boring. Over the last coupe of years, much has changed, clearly evident from the last Volvo which passed through our hands. Yes, the S60 T6 is a sleeper missile with the most powerful, non-hybrid engine you can find from Gothenburg (read our full review of the Volvo S60 T6 here).

Unfortunately, it carried one flaw – the torque steer compensation on that number killed the feedback through the wheel with any throttle input whatsoever, such that corners were best enjoyed with lift-off, or for the really ballsy, trail braking throughout. It was only ever really in its element in a straight line, humiliating anything German, and petrol driven, within a RM100,000 radius.

volvo_xc60_2016_018volvo_xc60_2016_010But this here is an XC60. It is a crossover. And although it only carries the T5 badge, there is a story to tell here.

The XC60 received an update in mid-2014, gaining a Drive-E heart which upped the important figures by 5hp/30Nm, giving a final, respectable outputs of 245hp/350Nm. The funny thing about sub-240hp is how it reminds every Evo fanatic about the Evo VII’s output back in the day, but I digress. Now with Drive-E motivation, the T5 can let fly its torque between a satisfyingly wide power band of 1,500 to 4,800 rpm for a 0-100km/h of 7.2 seconds. This is no doubt helped by the new eight-cog Aisin ‘box, sporting an extra two ratios than before.

volvo_xc60_2016_007Before you scoff at that century sprint time and flip the bird at our website, consider this: the Mk6 Golf GTI does it in just three-tenths of a second less at 6.9 seconds. The goalpost may have moved for hot hatches, of that there is no doubt, but for what is essentially an overweight family hatchback with a height disadvantage, 7.2 is plenty impressive. Somewhere, a Lexus NX 200t is having a giggle because it does 7.1 but that’s a story for another day.

Back to why we brought up the ripping S60 T6 at all: this T5-equipped XC60 has hydraulically-assisted steering. Which means, if you can ignore the fact that there’s significantly lower grunt, you can — somewhat — feel the bumps and cracks you drive over coming through the wheel and, more importantly, what that means for the front axle through a bend.

volvo_xc60_2016_006Interestingly, Volvo seems to be right on board with maximizing cornering communication and abilities; a trick torque-vectoring system called Corner Traction Control works to combat understeer and directs twist to the outside wheel to slingshot you when you straighten out.

The result of all this is, again, surprising. In the not too distant future, people will stop being shocked by decent performance from vanilla Volvos, no matter the steering angle. “That Volvo is fast.” “Well yeah obviously, Volvo Drive-E bro.” Once upon a time, this exchange would have been right up there with “Look at that front-wheel drive BMW.” Everything is possible.

Should you overcook it however, Volvo’s Roll Stability Control will assess the lean angle and thus the rollover risk before coming to a conclusion about your bravery/lack of skill and cutting power or braking individual wheels to restore balance. There is the usual pot of Volvo alphabet soup acronyms to go through but we’ll save you some time and assure you that yes, the XC60 T5 is one of if not the safest car in its class. One thing Volvo doesn’t do when you step down the variant hierarchy is to remove lifesaving features, and for this we commend them.

volvo_xc60_2016_013 volvo_xc60_2016_015On the inside, nothing much to report besides the fact that the metallic paddle shifters we love so much are still at flicking distance. The thick-rimmed wheel is great to hold while the somber cabin ambiance is all business and no nonsense, very Swedish and thus very endearing. Okay, yes. Boring. Spicing up the cave somewhat however are the cool-touch metallic switchgear and detailing, scoring a point for being smudge-proof. Rear passengers did note that the seats are a little too upright, but not irritatingly so.

The proposition here is not clear until you inspect the T5’s strengths individually and realize that it ticks a few important boxes, especially if you have children. Does it have exemplary safety features for its price? Check. Is it a torquey small-capacity turbo petrol? Check. Does it have decent steering feel? Check. Is it European, unique and premium in feel? Check, check, check. It is now almost RM20k cheaper than before too, at RM266,888 – or really, about a driving-school spec Axia worth of difference, thanks to EEV incentives.

Will people expect it to be so quick? Hell no. We like.

volvo_xc60_2016_002And should you still find it too mundane, Volvo Car Malaysia now offers Polestar performance parts packages for the V40 T5, XC60 (T5 and T6), and S60 T6. These upgrades are broken down individually for chassis, intake & exhaust, wheels, interior & exterior, and optimization (which is said to better throttle response, gearshift speed and behavior, and throttle response).

However, these packages do not come cheap, and complete makeover for a Polestar XC60 will cost you a snip under RM90k. We’d suggest you go for just the map (or optimization package) – a RM5,665 option that brings output gains of 8hp/50Nm, then surprise all the drivers you pass out on the roads. Ahem.

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