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Volvo's new SUV, but not quite

It is the last name in luxury as far as buses are concerned, but among cars, Volvo is not even an also-ran in India.

autos Updated: May 11, 2012 00:50 IST
Sumant Banerji

It is the last name in luxury as far as buses are concerned, but among cars, Volvo is not even an also-ran in India. The premium car maker from Sweden has been around for nearly 5 years - the same as BMW, Audi and Volkswagen - but thanks to a botched growth strategy, and trouble back home with ownership of its parent firm changing hands from Ford to China's Geely, Volvo cars have found few takers in India.

The company is trying to turn a fresh leaf, changing everything from top management team to its cars. Spearheading the menu would be compact sports utility vehicles, a huge draw in India. With the XC60, it has introduced a new smaller diesel engine as well - meaninga lower price. Will this do the trick?

Exterior

It is tough to stand out in a segment crowded with good looking cars. But there is something very likeable about all Volvos. The XC60 seems a compact, smart looking vehicle, neatly put together and very proportionate. There is a generous dash of chrome in the front, and is shorter and narrower than its competitors - which means it does not look too overbearing on the road. http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2012/5/11_05_biz5.jpg

The most striking feature is the tail lamp cluster, with its curvy vertical design that stretches from the middle to the roof. Overall, it is about understated elegance that blends into the environment rather than turning heads.

Interiors
A few things are taken for granted in a car that costs upwards of Rs. 30 lakh - sun roof, navigation system, hill descent controls. These are missing. These would have enhanced utility, but then, do you seriously need them? In India's climate, the sun roof is a joke. Navigation systems hardly work, and as for hill descent... even in cars that do have it, drivers don't even know. So let's move on. Fit and finish are par for the course, material is good - but there is no wood, nothing to really brag about. The mint beige colour scheme is fresh and inviting, but the seats are a let-down - too hard for long drives. Rear seat legroom is adequate, but Volvo may consider reclining seats - the cavernous 450-litre boot may not be fully utililsed. Also, it is strictly a four-seater, there is not even a fifth seat-belt. Nitpicking? Maybe.

Drive and handling
The XC-60 is powered by a 2-litre 5-cylinder diesel engine that belts out 163 horsepower and 400 Newton metres of torque. This is mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission and has 42 fewer horses than the bigger 2.4-litre engine that drives the XC-60 D5. The difference, though, is negligible in performance. Floor the throttle, and after the perceptible turbo lag, at 1,800 rpm, the car starts to pull away almost like a BMW, renowned for its in-your-seat aircraft-like acceleration. And the power stays with you till you cross 160 kph and lose your nerve. Ride quality is good, body-roll well controlled despite the height and ground clearance. It corners magnificently and sticks to its lane even when pushed around vicious curves.

From a standing start, it is much slower than the BMW X3, but then, this is an SUV, not a sportscar. Or is it? Here is the biggest surprise. The XC60 with the D3 engine does not have an all-wheel drive, which seriously hampers its off-road abilities. The X3 and Q5 are not true-blue terrain champions either, but XC falls quite flat, losing traction on any hint of sand or mud, the higher ground clearance notwithstanding. http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2012/5/11_05_biz4.jpg

Fuel economy
The bigger engine and greater power were sacrificed at the altar of mileage - and Volvo has succeded here. The ARAI figure stands at 14.7 kpl - much better than the X3 or Q5. But we never got any higher than 11 kpl, and when pushed hard, it guzzles even more, but that is the nature of these vehicles: BMW and Audi are equally eccentric.

Verdict
The biggest problem for the XC60 is not that it does not have cutting-edge technology like Audi or the speed of a BMW, or the off roading capabilities of a Freelander. Its problem is that it is a Volvo, a badge that is perceived, in India, as less premium than BMW, Audi or Land Rover. Ownership by Geely does not help either. There is nothing the XC60 will not do, but it does nothing extra either. It is much cheaper than the rest and gives good bang for your buck, but at that level, would you mind spending an extra Rs. 2-3 lakh for a BMW or an Audi?