Car designers have been deceiving you for years. Maybe it’s not entirely their fault, but it’s hard to look innocent in a turtleneck and pointy shoes. The money men are the likely culprits, although shifting blame won’t suddenly turn your faux wood trim into burr walnut.
Those are the obvious dupes, things like carbon fibre-look dashboards. In the Nineties it was plastic chrome that flooded the market. You could see the reflection of the salesman’s grin behind your shoulder. If you took a little bumper off some old car to a chromer he’d foot you with a thousand-dollar bill, so how did we fall for chromed-out Ford Fiestas?
Today there are so many culprits. Crossovers make witless off-roading convictions with tough, protective skid plates, made out of plastic, located under plastic bumpers.
Sportscars are the worst, with their fake exhaust tips and fake rear diffusers. I don’t have to get into the fake engine sounds. The Mercedes A 45 AMG springs to mind as the worst offender. None of its vents and grilles are functional, and those racing-style centrelock wheels are just five-lug wheels with a hubcap that looks like a big nut. It’s crazy to me, that you would go to such great lengths to fake a nut. Imagine being the designer, who was once a kid with dreams, that has to design a nut, that isn’t a nut. What a kick in the…
Back in the day things were no better. Just marketing men out to mug you. Early cars, like over a hundred years ago, had white tyres because after the production process the rubber came out white. Later on they developed stronger tyres with acetylene filler and they came out black, so tyres are black. In the Twenties however you’d had these big, expensive cars (because all cars were big and expensive) with white tyres and then cheap cars came along with their cheap black tyres, so manufacturers would just paint them white. It was like plastic chrome to those people. Whitewall tyres have since become a big thing.
You also had boat-tail cars back in those days with bodies designed to mimic stylish speedboats. Clearly these cars weren’t boats. People in the Twenties must’ve been real idiots.
Apart from being a competent crossover the Volvo XC60 is possibly the only, dare I say, discerning choice in the class...
Later on wire wheels were replaced by alloys, but the Yanks kept doing fake wire wheels into the Seventies because they were synonymous with luxury automobiles. The Americans had no shame — look at landau tops, fake vinyl roofs that made closed sedans look like convertibles to people who had never seen a convertible.
Long after they’d stopped making wood bodies for cars, the Americans persisted with fake wood panelling. How about speaker grilles in dashboards without any speakers behind? Yes, luxury.
We’re pretty dumb, us, consumers. We’ll completely look over a hole that isn’t a hole, on the new 2018 Volvo XC60.
In sportiest R-Line spec one of the defining elements of the car’s face is the bumper design exclusive to the line. It’s highlighted by two massive air intakes painted glossy black and located on the outer edges. These air intakes do nothing, they’re nontakes, just two large chunks of solid plastic, the R-Line’s signature motifs.
If you go for the classier XC60 Inscription trim, you also get two nontakes, except they’re shiny plastic. The faux skid plate is present too. I can dwell on this insecurity from carmakers for a long time, because it shows such lack of integrity in design — do you have so little confidence in your car that you need to decorate it with fake holes? That’s my deal breaker, but it doesn’t have to be for you. Behind the nontakes there is a decent crossover.
In Turkey to test the car, I shuttled form the airport towards the Aegean sea in an XC90, and then I stepped into the XC60 and couldn’t discern the two. Even size-wise, the new smaller crossover felt as spacious as Volvo’s flagship SUV, and the dash seems like a straight transplant from one to another. That is good. As the middle-ground in the range (the entry-level XC40 has just been revealed) the XC60 will take over the lead as the Chinese-owned brand’s top seller, and needs to be pretty competitive in the face of rivals like the BMX X3, Audi Q5, Mercedes-Benz GLC, Jaguar F-Pace, and maybe even the Land Rover Discovery Sport or Porsche Macan (theoretically, the Macan starts from Dh187,100).
Even though it’s a good foot shorter than the XC90 the two cars share Volvo’s one and only modular vehicle architecture (it is modular) and much of the rest. At launch in the UAE you’ll be able to pick from the T5 and T6, with the headlining plug-in hybrid XC60 T8 worth 407bhp available on order.
The all-wheel drive T6 will do for most, powered by Volvo’s two-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine to deliver 320bhp and 400Nm of torque. Mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission the T6 will do 0-100kph in under six seconds and top out at 230kph.
It’ll also give you a headache on the way, if you spec it with the optional 21in wheels. No matter how pointy the salesman’s shoes are, do not succumb and stay away from the twenty-ones. The roads in this part of Turkey are winding and fun, but also bumpy and those needlessly low-profile tyres gave nothing in the way of feel, except unwanted vibrations in the steering wheel and juddering pedals.
On the second leg of the drive in another car with 19in wheels things were much better, and you could even call the XC60 T6 fun to drive with its slight body roll giving just enough away and meatier tyres that let you have at least some feeling of the road. Even with the impressive performance figures the T6 is still more of a relaxed driver, with torque down low dismissing your right foot to rest. Anyway, if you do get aggressive with the throttle the four-cylinder engine gets thrashy at the top end which is something we found in the XC90 too. It’s just that kind of engine, highly boosted to develop those figures so you can’t expect it to be creamy at the 5,700rpm peak as it is at 1,700rpm.
On that note the Germans do better with the ubiquitous two-litre-turbo-four these days, as do the Japanese, but Volvo has a winner on its hands when you step inside.
Firstly it is the safest crossover on the market going by its maker, and in fact Volvo claims the second-generation XC60 is “one of the safest cars ever made”. The Steering Assist system is pretty intrusive, the seats are great (it’s a Volvo), there is lots of rear leg room, and try not to get everything in black because it looks a bit rental-spec and the tan leather and natural grain wood trim combination makes the cabin really pop. The intuitive infotainment system is vertically orientated and operates like any familiar tablet device, so once you familiarize yourself with the three main displays and many digital features of the XC60, it’s a doddle to use. Visibility from the driver’s seat is excellent and overall the XC60’s interior is one of its winning features, with loads of details like a metal-engraved Swedish flag, and pretty exquisite speaker grilles with actual speakers behind.
Very nice, and the interior (coupled to the fact you’re so safe in there) should make up for the XC60’s powertrain deficiencies — driven in the mountains we also saw disastrous fuel economy, nearly 18 liters per 100km under a heavy right foot.
Apart from being a competent crossover the Volvo XC60 is possibly the only, dare I say, discerning choice in the class, without connotations of obvious badge snobbery. It will stand out in the school run amongst all the white Audis and black BMWs, especially in, say, Fusion Red metallic or Bursting Blue…
Volvo Middle East reps tell us the company’s working hard on changing brand perception in the region, but they’re not complaining about sales. Volvo is up year-on-year by six per cent while the rest of the market lags by up to 40 per cent in places. Customers get a three-year warranty and a two-year maintenance package included, or you can lease a Volvo for 24 months. For the 2018 XC60 you’re looking at between Dh200,000 (T5) and Dh250,000 (T6), which is right on the money when it comes to rivals.