Sunday, September 04, 2016

TEST DRIVE: VOLVO SC60 T6 & T5 - These two are the SUVs for you to consider

XC60 T5

The Volvo XC60, launched in 2008, is a compact crossover SUV that has been selling extremely well globally since 2009. It is the first Volvo that brought out the styling philosophy you see in the current V40 and the S60/V60 cars. The newer XC90 SUV has moved the goalposts for premium to luxury SUVs slightly further afield but it is curious to see how the XC60 drives. I managed a few days in the XC60 T6 2.0 FWD and the T5 2.0 FWD, the two XC60 variants that are sold here in Malaysia.

XC60 T6

The XC60 sits in the compact SUV segment (C segment) and playmates in this category include SUVs like the Audi Q5, BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLC, Land Rover Discovery Sport, Range Rover Evoque to those like the Honda CRV and the slightly smaller Mazda CX-3. The segment the XC60 is placed is wide and varied. In terms of pricing, the XC60 T6 is priced at the premium end of things – RM299,088+ and the T5 at RM266,888+. This makes its direct competitors those sold by Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz to some extent.

For a SUV, the XC60 has a striking design which disguises its SUV-sized bulk pretty well. It has a very muscular and aggressive stance. A rising center-line with short overhangs front and rear makes the car look like it is ready for action. The 2014 facelift, whilst was a simple makeover instead of a major one, has made the car look neater front and rear as well as making the SUV look neater at the sides too. All the trademark Volvo characteristics are still there with the very curvy rear taillights that extend from the roof to the bumper and the front grille with the trademark Volvo logo. For a car that rolled out in 2008, the car looks very current. Especially on the slightly larger and wider 235/60/18 inch T6 wheels (the T5 rides on 235/65/17).

It would actually look even better on 19inch optional wheels, which you can buy. Those wheels would improve the looks of the XC60 and bring it up to date in terms of being a little sporty and being a little more 'in-your-face' or blinged out compared to its slightly understated looks with the smaller wheels. It still is a handsome car, but I do believe that at the prices offered, a lot of Malaysians want their cars to be slightly more showy than understated Scandinavian beauty. Its the way things are. RM266K ++ must shout out a little more sometimes.

Both are well equipped inside, the T6 obviously has more equipment but you actually notice the coloured TFT instrumentation display on the T6 compared to the analouge T5 instrument cluster, the additional active safety systems like the Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection with full auto brake, Driver Alert Control and Lane Departure Warning. You do get the BLIS (Blind Spot Information System) and still a lot of safety features which I think is good enough if you are paying attention to your surroundings. 

Both still get the same super high levels of practicality which a Volvo SUV has and other creature comforts. The built-in child booster seats (two of them) are superb as children under 12 years of age find them nifty. They allow proper seatbelt anchoring and allow the kids to sit taller so that they can actually look through the side windows without any issues. Volvo still have passenger safety in mind even in a very stylish looking SUV.

The Powertrain

Anyway, the XC60 T6 is powered by a 306hp 400Nm 2.0liter twincharged Volvo engine (above). The front wheels are driven via a 6 speed automatic gearbox and this makes life pretty fun when you floor it. The XC60 T5 gets a 2.0liter turbocharged engine that makes 245hp/350Nm torque also via a 6 speed automatic driving the front wheels. 

What differs in terms of setup are the larger 18 inch wheels on the T6 compared to the T5. Aside from the larger wheels, the T6 also gains a speed sensitive variable ratio steering wheel which adjusts the speed and rate of turn of the steering. The T5 gets a more linear powered steering but feels very weighty. But I actually like it more than the slightly artificial feeling variable ratio/assist wheel in the T6.

This is the T5...the engine picture above is the T6. Everything is underneath the plastic cover.

Driving the XC60 T6...AND the T5

When I got into the XC60 T6 to drive it for the first time the car felt familiar. It is just like the smaller V40 and similar to the S60 T6 I drove earlier and you get the same well thought out feel in the cabin. All the controls are properly laid out and I have no issues with the superb driver's position at all. The buttons and switches feel good to the touch with only one or two bits that feel like it came from the time where Volvo was part of Ford (things like the main headlight switch located to the right of the dashboard, feels a little bit plain and basic). This of course cannot be helped but luckily this is also history now. But the XC60 must soldier on with this interior until further notice. Not a bad interior, it is robust but as I stated, some touches feel like a Ford and a notch down from the current leaders in the premium SUV segment.

If there is a fault in how the interior is as a driver (or a passenger) would perceive these days is the small size of the infotainment screen in the XC60. I suppose back in 2008 this size was considered as large enough, but these days, especially since Volvo themselves have a super duper large touchscreen on the new XC90, it looks a bit tiny these days. But that being said, visibility is still great. As is the TFT display in the T6's instrumentation cluster – which you can change the mood from Eco, Sport or the usual. The Sport or “race” mode does not alter anything except the display. You get red bits and the rev counter goes to the middle. If you are in normal everyday mode, it is still quite unique as the backlit digitally animated display would only highlight the speedometer numbers in the range you are in. Not the rest of the numerals which disappears into the background.

The performance from the supercharged and turbocharged engine is very good for a 2.0liter engine. It makes the T6 feel like what it's name stands for. In the olden days...well, actually not that long ago, actually sometime when the XC60 was born back in 2008, a Volvo T4 would be a four cylinder engined Volvo, a T5 would be a five cylinder Volvo and a T6 would be, obviously, a six cylinder Volvo. Now since Volvo has decided to make their Drive-E engines and have perfected their long term plan of using engines with the capacity of under 2.0liters with or without electric motors, everything is different. The T4, T5, T6 and T8 usually means different states of tune coming from either 1.6liter or 2.0liter engines with or without electric motors.

The T6 is actually reserved for the more powerful Volvos with the T8 for those exceptional ones with over 400hp or thereabouts. This T6 has over 300hp and 400Nm to play with and it feels powerful enough. It may be a large SUV lugging slightly over 1800kg of its own weight, but it is nimble on its feet as the engine feels potent enough to lug it along at most speeds. Give it full throttle from say, 2000rpm and the engine gets a little gravelly in terms of the noise it makes (the supercharger makes it like that) and it will squirm a little in your hands with the steering wheel tugging a little. Especially if you've just given it everything mid-corner. 0-100kmh is easily despatched in slightly under 7 seconds. 200Kmh comes easily if you have the nuggets for it. Stability isn't much of an issue as it feels planted in a straight line.

In the corners the XC60 T6 holds the line you want it to follow pretty well for an SUV that has its power going to the front wheels. There is some wheel scrabbling as it tries hard to break traction but all of the traction control systems work to make sure things are quite safe for the driver. The car is quiet at most speeds. It also rides well on the 60 series 18 inch wheels and tyres. It doesn't have an outright sporty setup which is a very good thing since it is actually marketed as something for the family and not for rallycross or the Dakar Rally. It handles just enough to keep people entertained yet keep its occupants cossetted throughout the ride. Which actually makes more sense. It is after all a Volvo SUV made to carry families in comfort. But with the T6 FWD, be warned that it loves chomping up its front tyres with all of the scrabbling going on at the front wheels.

The only thing I did not like about the T6 is the variable ratio steering. It takes out the feeling of weight you would find in the XC60 T5's steering, but it adds an artificial feel when you punt it around corners. It isn't linear in terms of the input you put in. It changes according to speed so you end up adjusting and readjusting if you take corners at different speeds. Of course, this would happen only if you're taking it on a road where the condition changes dramatically if there is traffic or no traffic. It isn't anything major, it's just that the steering feel in the less potent T5 seems better. Heavier, but better.

The XC60 T5 shines brightly
Speaking of the XC60 T5, it actually got me thinking whether I am getting old. I actually liked driving it more than the T6. Somehow 250hp and 350Nm torque drives better than 300hp and 400Nm torque. So I thought to myself that I must be getting old.

Actually it wasn't. The car isn't that slow of its feet. 0-100kmh was still dispatched in under 7.5 seconds and it could try (the key word here is 'try') keeping up with a 543hp 700Nm or thereabouts Rolls Royce Ghost that was being driven very enthusiastically by its owner. Handling is also as competent as the T6 with only slightly less grip. The T5 had obviously better comfort than the larger tyred T6.

What made the T5 nicer to drive was the more directly proportional steering feel (albeit heavier in terms of weight) and the fact that you could easily apply full throttle without babying it too much. The thing about having too much power going through the front wheels is that is corrupts and compromises handling. Less is more sometimes. Of course, less in this case still means a whole lot of torque. These days I need at least 250Nm to feel happy in cars of this size. The T5 has a better balance than the T6 because of this. Maybe if you opted for the larger 19 or 20 inch optional wheels that Volvo can sell you and the T6 may feel less aggressive due to more traction (with the expense of some ride comfort but making the XC60 look like something that could take on a Range Rover Evoque in terms of looks and style). 

Of course, this is the option to go with as the all-wheel drive versions aren't sold here in Malaysia – which does make sense as AWD is useful in the snow, going off-road (which no Volvo owner will often do) and for attacking Sepang (which no SUV owner will often do also). A front wheel drive crossover SUV for the city and occasional countryside is more than enough for the average driver and his or her family.

So the T5 is the better it the better buy?

Now whilst I liked driving the T5 more than the more powerful T6, the better buy is actually the newer and larger XC90 T8 obviously. That is a stupendously superb SUV which I have fallen in love with. But if the answer requires me to choose between the two, if it were for me, it'll be the slightly more basic and more affordable T5. I liked its more simple approach to driving as well as its neater on the limit behaviour. I however suggest the T6 for everyday driving if one can afford it as the driver aids really work. Twice the XC60's Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection with full auto brake function worked when those usually crazed Malaysian motorcyclists suddenly crossed into the lane too closely in front of me. 

So I believe this would greatly help drivers who somehow have short attention spans or those that are easily distracted. One could also play Pokemon Go and not get killed as easily if one were driving something without such an auto brake function. So if you or your spouse or your partner happens to be a total buffoon behind the wheel, the T6, with all of its active safety systems would be the one you should choose.

I liked my experience with both of the XC60 T5 and T6. It may not have the desired 'bling' or a badge (which I think is on the rise once again) that some other premium European SUVs have, but it is good looking, practical, performance filled (still on the Volvo side of things), refined, well thought out and safe as heck. Now with the special EEV tax break pricing, both of these decently fast and stylish (in a Scandinavian sort of way) SUVs are more affordable to buy and own. It seems to be reliable too as the Volvo 2.0liter engines seem to be quite complaint free. 

The XC60 is a value filled proposition which I think more should buy. Choose either one. You cannot go wrong....unless you want an XC90 T8 that is.

Volvo XC60 T6 & T5 FWD
T6 (above) & T5 (below) - note that the only major differences are the wheel design and size

Pros: Very well thought out interior, ride comfort, quiet,

Cons: T6 a little bit too unruly (which could be a good thing if you like it). Some interior parts came from the Ford days. Variable steering of the T6 feels unnatural compared to the T5

Conclusion: Very good urban SUV for the family. Practical, safe and surefooted if not ultimately thrilling. Would make a good long term ownership proposition. T6 is power packed and filled with active safety equipment that may come in handy. T5 is the better one in terms of overall driving pleasure and whilst it may have less active safety equipment, is still very good compared to others.

Test Results:
Economy: 12.3liters/100km mixed urban and highway (another journalist told me he did 9.3liters/100km – It seems I am very very very, heavy footed)
0-100kmh (tested):
T6 – 6.8seconds

T5 – 7.3 seconds

Price: (see below)
Warranty: 5 years 

Volvo XC60 T6

 Note the only visible numbers on the speedometer are close to the speed you are driving in the XC60 T6. The TFT instrumentation only lights up what your current speed is.
 BLIS - Blind Spot Alert works fine here with the orange light informing the driver that there is a car on the right side

Note the raised child booster seat in the background of the picture. There are two at the rear seats so two kids can enjoy a raised seating position and make them able to wear the seatbelt at the correct height. The car is spacious for 5 adults too.

Volvo XC60 T5
 A more basic instrument cluster on the T5 - everything is analog except for the middle part of the speedometer

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