Volvo: 3 of the best for 2019/2020

Motoring correspondent Mark Gallivan looks at how Volvo is revving up for a younger audience.

Chances are if you’ve been swiping through your smartphone, turning it this way and that, at impossibly glossy photos of Volvos you’re probably married, have a degree education and are keen on driving a car that puts passenger safety as a fundamental first. Not anymore.

Volvo may have roots from 1927 when the company’s first car was produced. But primarily an SUV manufacturer with the excellent XC range, Volvo is targeting younger buyers these days. There are pop-up shops in shopping centres. A relentless green sustainability campaign through social media. One that plays very well with millennials. There’s its Vision 2020 statement saying they are aiming for zero fatalities in a Volvo. And let’s not forget the Care by Volvo subscription service for short-term car rental that bundles all the associated costs of car rental with the guarantee of a new Volvo at the other end.

2019 Volvo XC40 from €37,700

In 2019 the Volvo XC40 (pictured above) burst onto the Irish market and crowned the 2019 Irish Car of the Year. Seeing off the Volkswagen Tiguan, Audi Q3, BMW X1 and Range Rover Evoque took some work but the XC40’s combination of strengths rather than one or two class leading features put paid the Anglo-German assault for 2018. Having tested the XC40 last year I was confident that, yes, it would be a gallant Swedish effort trail the Germans – yet again. But of the three key rivals here it was the XC40 that impressed me the most. Driving more like a tall hatchback with good dynamics I was highly impressed and even back in the summer of 2018 shortlisted it for a finalist in the Irish Car of the Year Award.

Let’s be clear, the XC40 is a Crossover and needs to do all the sensible stuff like transporting families without drawing attention to itself – Audi’s Q3 with a dull ride and transmission and Land Rover with a sub-par interior quality.

On longer trips I found the little Volvo a splendid partner and when the road got interesting, fun to hustle in a spirited manner. And it’s miles more intriguing to own than Volkswagen’s dull Tiguan. It’s practical too with good use of the interior. If there is a downside the XC40 scorecard it’s the engine’s turbo-lag took away from the SUV’s clean sweep. There are so many things to praise the XC40 on. It was one of my favourite cars tested in 2018 and still makes recommended buy in 2019. This is a Volvo with a depth engineering that only the BMW X1 can hope to better and a Three of The Best winner.

You’ll like: 2019 Irish Car of the Year winner. Best packaged crossover SUV on sale. Fun to drive, everyday. Clever packaging. Looks expensive next the Audi Q3 or Range Rover Evoque.

You’ll grumble: Engine’s turbo lag. Little else, really.

2019 Volvo S60 from €46,495

Red saloon parked outside a garage.

New Volvo S60 R-design

The mid-size executive category is in fierce competition with BMW’s class-leading 3-Series breathing right down the Swedish firm’s neck. For Volvo to even hold a hope of upsetting the German grasp on the segment, let alone beat other rivals like the Audi A4, it needs to be very good. Built in America and on the same scalable platform as the bigger S90 and V90 the third iteration of the S60 takes the fight to rivals with its hands already tied behind its back. Want a diesel engine? Sorry, you can’t. The S60 is only available with petrol engines. Do you find a 2.0-litre engine too small or perhaps a bit too big? Again, you are limited. Volvo will only sell you an S60 with a 2.0-litre powerplant. But delve more into the S60’s range and there are some interesting engine choices.

There are two main S60 models to buy – Inscription (in petrol and hybrid) and R-Design (in petrol and hybrid) in T4, T5 and T8 configuration. Recently I tested the S60 T5 R Design with 250hp that starts at €49,495. The exterior styling managed to skirt the line between elegant and aggressive – in the mid-size exec segment the S60 is now the new king for kerb and showroom appeal. It loses out to the BMW 3-Series to tautness and sharp dynamics.

But the S60 greatest appeal is the excellent composure and top-notch suspension feedback. If you’ve ever owned a Saab and wished they still make them today, you must try the S60. All the similar but different Saab attributes exist here. I disliked the portrait infotainment screen in the XC60 by maybe through familiarity I got accustomed to the Smartphone swiping left to right and up and down to get access to all the car’s primary functions. As for the seats, no manufacturer in this class comes even close to their comfort. Again if you’ve liked Saabs, and have a bad back, stop looking any further. This is your ideal mid-size executive car. We really like the S60. Gone are the poor memories of the last one. This time Volvo has produced a refreshing new car. Now a proper choice for executive buyers and does very well carving a convincing path all of its own.

You’ll like: Great exterior styling, blissfully comfortable seats, more relaxing to own than any rival. Volvo’s intelligent image.

You’ll grumble: Limited to a four-cylinder engine in 2.0-litre only capacity. Lacks the BMW 3-Series driving sharpness. Petrol-only engines with no diesel option.

2019 Volvo XC60 €53,850

White SUV parked outside an office.

Volvo XC60

The Volvo XC60 has done the unthinkable. It has taken the core Volvo attributes of a family estate car that was honed down through the years with the Volvo 240 and 740 Estate and transported them skyward into the XC60.

This year Volvo managed just 44 new Irish sales of the V90 Estate versus 351 units of the XC60 SUV. Again, Volvo’s stubborn approach to only offering a four-cylinder 2.0-litre engine raises eyebrows when the SUV’s range tops out at €82,200 but it still offers a good selection of models to choose from. Starting with the Momentum and Momentum Pro the XC60 range includes R-Design and R-Design Pro, Polestar Engineered Plug-In Hybrid Diesel, Inscription and Inscription Pro. Within this confusing range, stick with the Inscription version – ideally the Mild-Hybrid with all-wheel drive. At the €63,764 it feels the best overall XC60. By all means, consider the plug-in hybrid petrol if you have a home EV charger installed. Otherwise, avoid it.

The Irish electric charging station network is an under-invested governmental failure. Little wonder that only 4 percent of Irish car buyers have bought an electric car. Bypass the R-Design Pro XC60 as well. The unnecessarily large wheels compromise the SUV’s ride. In summary, all the XC40 attributes exist in the XC60 – a striking cabin, excellent standard safety features and great refinement. Added to that tally is the feeling you get from driving a owning a premium Volvo – not exactly thrilling or exciting – just deeply satisfying and polite. We wholeheartedly approve.

You’ll like: Looks, cabin, practicality, comfort, safety. Now a cool choice.

You’ll grumble: No V6 option is a negative in this price bracket. Unless you need to sit that high up, choose the very lovely V90.

Written by Mark Gallivan

Published 16 October 2019