In production since April 2017, XC60 has become Volvos number one model

In production since April 2017, XC60 has become Volvo's number one model

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Volvo Cars has an XL sized hit on its hands with the new XC60. In the first three months of 2018, deliveries reached 38,241 units, making this the company's best seller ahead of the XC90 and helping VCC to set a fresh record for worldwide sales in Q1.

Any doubt that Volvo could make the leap to being a true luxury car brand has finally been erased. Not just sales figures, but profits too, underline that. In CY2017, sales reached 571,577 cars compared to 534,332 units in the prior year. Even better, net income shot up by 37 per cent to SEK10,225m (US$1.217bn) compared to SEK7,460m for CY2016. No wonder Li Shufu is usually wearing a boyish grin whenever he is photographed.

Buying into VCC was an astute move by Li but his real genius has been to press the company's executives to take bold decisions. That was never the case during the final years of Ford control as back then, Volvo had to take its place in line and wait patiently for the attentions of a heavily indebted parent company. Long term planning and investments were, understandably, not high on Ford's to-do list. Fresh platforms, a new engine family and major spending on existing factories were simply not possible back then.

VCC is now getting closer to having a full range of models which have been developed in the post-Ford era. There are still certain legacy cars such as the V60 and V40. These though are due to be replaced within the next 12 months. V431, the next S60, will share much with V426, the latest XC60, including the Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) which the V526 XC90 introduced three years ago. The next S60, which will be made in Sweden, China and the USA, will be revealed at an event in South Carolina soon. That will take place at the nascent Ridgeville plant near Charleston in Berkeley County.

Given that the XC60 is based on SPA, and that probably around 25,000 units of the model will find buyers there this year if Q1 numbers are an accurate guide, it seems strange that it won't be manufactured in the USA. VCC says yes, Ridgeville will make SPA models, but the second model for the facility will be the next XC90. For now then, manufacture of the new XC60 is in Sweden and China with the Torslanda and Chengdu plants having more than enough capacity to satisfy global demand. Additional build in South Carolina may well be added at some point, though. 

Series production of the second generation XC60 commenced at Volvo's main plant in suburban Gothenburg last April, a few weeks after the model's public premiere at the Geneva motor show. An XC60 L had been expected for the Chinese market, and this may yet come but for the moment, the XC60 which is manufactured in Sichuan province is the same length as the Swedish-built original. The Chengdu factory added output of the D segment SUV to its mix in December. There is also some knocked-down assembly in Malaysia, while Volvo Cars is said to be investigating the potential of erecting an SKD or CKD plant in Russia, with the XC60 likely to be its first vehicle.

V426 is 45mm longer, 100mm wider and 55mm lower than the first generation model so it's of a similar size to the GLC-Class, X3 and Q5 which Volvo developed it to compete with. A key difference between the XC60 and its two non-Audi German rivals is the lack of V6 engine availability. Soon, Jaguar will be offering a supercharged V8 in the F-Pace and VCC will have nothing with which to challenge that derivative either.

As per Volvo's announcement a few years ago that it would eventually stop offering engines with more than four cylinders, all powertrains in this SUV have a capacity of 2.0-litres. That applies for petrol and diesel, while there is also a PHEV alternative.

D5, which used to mean five cylinders in various Volvos of recent memory, now instead signifies a higher output from the same 1,969cc engines than the cheaper D4 (190hp and 400Nm) variants. The as-tested model, priced from GBP43,205, was a D5 PowerPulse with all-wheel drive and in sports R-Design spec. The more expensive diesel's outputs are 235hp and 480Nm, drive being sent to both axles via a standard eight-speed torque converter automatic gearbox. Buyers need not pay this much for an AWD diesel XC60 - prices start at GBP35,655 (D4 in Momentum trim). Top speed for the D4 is 127mph but the D5 adds 10mph to that, while dropping the 0-62mph time from 8.4 to 7.2 seconds. Those figures are for automatic versus automatic but a manual gearbox is also available with the D4 engine.

A new and especially handy feature for the XC60 compared to the original model is pneumatic suspension. As in the larger Land Rover Discovery, this allows the body to be raised for off-roading and keeps the rear end at a constant ride height for those who tow. Roadholding is as strong as it has always been in any AWD Volvo but this time around, VCC has allowed the enthusiasts within the company to hone the chassis settings. It's quite an improvement over the old model, which, it should be remembered, first went on sale almost a decade ago. Although still selling well even at the end of its production run, the V413 XC60 could never be called state of the art when compared to the segment's other big sellers worldwide, the first generation Audi Q5 and F25 BMW X3.

Things have changed a lot in the segment for D-premium SUVs, to such an extent that even Groupe PSA now has a high-priced hopeful, in the form of the DS 7 Crossback. The Porsche Macan, BMW X3 and Jaguar F-Pace all just about tie for the honour of best in class when it comes to dynamics, but the Mercedes-Benz GLC isn't too far behind. There should also be an honourable mention for the Volkswagen Tiguan & Allspace plus the Alfa Romeo Stelvio as well as Lexus' NX and RX.

As for a remaining quartet of other potential rivals, the Infiniti QX50 is only just going on sale in the USA and not yet available in European countries, the Cadillac XT4 is also some months away from manufacture, the 2019 Acura RDX's production ramp-up doesn't start until May and the facelifted Lincoln MKC won't be available until August.

The XC90 took a bit of time to convince many that it had the looks and prestige to match its steep pricing hike over the first generation model. Now though, sales are strong. Some small changes will probably take place from the third quarter of 2018 as the mid-point of a seven-year manufacturing run approaches. Which also helps explain why the XC60 is gathering strong momentum in almost every country where it's available: some who thought they wanted the biggest of the brand's SUVs may instead be choosing the newer vehicle. I can well understand why, if going on first impressions matters. Is this the best looking crossover or SUV from Volvo yet?

The interior is very similar to that of the XC90, with the obvious exception of the third row of seats. If you need to carry up to six passengers, it has to be the older, larger model, as the XC60 is strictly a five-seater. One advantage that gives is an especially commodious luggage compartment (645l but only 598 for PHEV versions), complete with room below it for an optional (GBP150) space saver spare tyre.

Space for occupants is also very good and the lack of an overly intrusive transmission tunnel in the back also worth noting. That might give the Volvo extra points compared to the X3 but the BMW is a step ahead in other ways. The XC60's steering, while better in terms of responsiveness when you think back to the previous model, will be too light and over-assisted for some drivers.

How to sum up Volvo's best seller? Really, you need only look at how well it is performing in the market to see that the Swedish company, for so long a maker of nearly-there vehicles, has got this model right in most ways. It may not have the sharpest chassis or the most luxurious interior ambience but neither is there anything which will make anyone new to the brand feel that this is a second-best proposition compared to the Germans or Jaguar. If VCC manages to sell in excess of 600,000 cars this year for the first time in its history, the appeal of the XC60 will be one of the main reasons why.