David Motton
Tow Car Editor

See other tow car reviews written by David Motton

Competition is hot in this sector and with a host of multi-talented rivals, how does the Volvo XC60 compare? We hitch up to see what tow car ability it has

Overview

The second-generation Volvo XC60 promises to be even safer, better to drive and more fuel efficient than before.

As a tow car, it has big boots to fill – the original XC60 was an overall winner at the Tow Car Awards back in 2009.

There are two diesels, one petrol and one petrol-electric hybrid in the range – we’re driving the entry-level D4 diesel in Momentum specification.

We want to know how the Volvo stacks up as a tow car, in particular what tow car ability the least powerful engine in the line-up has – is it up to the job?

We also want to find out if it’s good enough to rival the likes of the Audi Q5 and Jaguar F-Pace, which set very high benchmarks for any upmarket SUV to match.

Towing

It’s a big, heavy car, the XC60.

Volvo publishes a MiRO of 1836kg (including the fluids necessary for the car to operate and 75kg for the driver).

This gives an 85% match figure of 1561kg – well within the 2400kg legal towing limit.

We’re pleased to see the maximum download on the towball is a hefty 110kg.

We matched the Volvo XC60 to a Bailey Unicorn Cabrera (MiRO 1377kg, MTPLM 1532kg).

Before heading out on the road, we wondered how the D4 engine would cope with towing and what tow car might it would have.

It has a reasonable 187bhp plus 295lb ft of torque, but would a Volvo-owning caravanner kick themselves for not choosing the more powerful D5, with 232bhp and 354lb ft torque?

Well, if you own a mid-sized caravan, the D4 is comfortably up to the job.

Foot to the floor, the D4 towed the Bailey from 30-60mph in a brisk 11 seconds, fast enough to suggest it could handle a heavier van.

Maximum pulling power arrives from as little as 1750rpm, and the automatic gearbox shifts promptly and smoothly to make the most of it.

The Volvo holds momentum when towing uphill and is strong enough to overtake slower traffic decisively.

However, the heavier the van you plan to tow, the more likely it is the D5 would be the better choice.

We haven’t towed with this engine, but having driven it back-to-back with the D4 in solo driving, it’s noticeably stronger.

Stability shouldn’t be an issue with either diesel Volvo XC60, judging from our time towing with the D4.

At speed, we had no nervous moments, even when towing beyond the legal limit at the test track.

We only noticed slight movement from the car and caravan on the motorway when overtaking high-sided vehicles.

The XC60 gave a good account of itself in the lane-change test, too. However hard we pushed, it was never pulled off course, even with the caravan sliding behind it.

However, if the steering were more feelsome and direct, it would have helped the driver place the car precisely, and the Volvo leans more than a Jaguar F-Pace when asked to change direction in a hurry.

The hill-start test was entirely straightforward. The electronic parking brake held car and caravan still, then released smoothly as we accelerated up the 1-in-10 slope. Only gentle throttle was needed.

The Volvo XC60’s brakes deserve a special mention. The emergency stop from 30mph produced one of the shortest stopping distances we’ve seen in over a decade of testing – just 9.4m.

Although extremely powerful when needed, in normal driving, the brakes were easy to apply, with no grabbiness.

Everyday driving

So now we know what tow car ability the Volvo XC60 has, but what is it like when not hitched up?

The XC60 is a solid everyday drive, but for similar money, you could buy a Jaguar F-Pace with a 178bhp diesel engine.

On a backroad the F-Pace is much more engaging than the XC60, with more feedback via the steering and a more agile feel.

The XC60 is competent on a country road, but tends to keep you at arm’s length.

In part that’s due to the steering, which feels rather remote. There’s also a fair amount of lean if you push on through corners.

It’s not the sportiest of SUVs, but it is comfortable. In the past, we’ve been critical of the ride quality of the XC60, having tried cars with sports suspension or large alloy wheels.

On standard suspension and 18-inch wheels with tall-sidewalled tyres, the ride is much easier to live with.

The car still thumps into sharp-edged bumps, but it’s a lot more tolerant of poor surfaces.

At motorway speeds, the ride feels settled, and other than some road noise, the cabin is quiet at the legal limit. However, the interior of the Audi Q5 is more hushed at 70mph.

Without a caravan to tow, performance is strong – Volvo claims a 0-60mph time of 7.9 seconds.

It’s worth putting the car in Dynamic mode, which sharpens the throttle response, makes the eight-speed gearbox quicker to change down and adds some weight to the steering.

In Comfort mode, the steering is light, which helps when slotting into a tight parking space.

Over-shoulder visibility is hindered by the thick rear pillars, but the surround-view camera system overcomes this by giving an overhead view of the car and its surroundings while reversing – this is part of the £2000 Xenium pack.

Space

Volvo knows a thing or two about making well-appointed interiors and has applied that knowledge well in the XC60.

The front seats are extremely comfortable. You sit fairly low to the floor by SUV standards, but with enough adjustment to the seat and wheel for people of most shapes and sizes to find a suitable driving position.

In fact, we’ve rarely tested a car with so much front legroom, although the optional full-length sunroof does eat into headroom slightly.

There’s a quality feel to the cabin, with a minimal look and attractive brushed metal trim.

There’s nothing about the cabin to suggest Momentum is the most affordable specification level – it feels luxurious.

Those in the back are almost as well catered for as those in the front.

There’s enough legroom for a 6ft tall passenger to sit behind a driver of similar height, and air vents in the door pillars direct conditioned air at face height.

The only negative is the size of the transmission tunnel, which robs footspace for anyone sat in the middle of the bench.

The Volvo’s boot capacity with the rear seats upright is 505 litres – not bad, but far from class-leading.

However, in practice, the boot is very usable, with a good square shape and a low load height, by SUV standards.

There’s no load lip to lift items over and with the back seats lowered, the capacity rises to 1432 litres.

With them down, the floor is all but flat. Ideally, though, we’d like to see levers to release the seat backs by the tailgate, as well as catches in the seats themselves.

Running costs

We tested the entry-level Volvo XC60, priced at £37,205 – that compares well with £38,025 for the most affordable Audi Q5 diesel.

You should be able to shave a bit off that price; according to What Car?, any discount is likely to be in the region of £250-£300.

Despite being the starting point of the range, Momentum specification cars are very well equipped.

Dual-zone climate control, the Sensus sat-nav and infotainment system, voice control, LED headlights, leather upholstery, heated front seats and a power-operated tailgate are standard.

It also has a long list of safety kit, including autonomous emergency braking and Steer Assist, which can turn the car away from danger.

For a big car, fuel bills and running costs are relatively low. The official combined figure is 55.4mpg, and we achieved 28.7mpg towing.

What Car? predicts that after three years and 36,000 miles, the car will be at 49% of its original price.

That’s an excellent return, although slightly behind the equivalent Audi Q5’s 52%.

Technical specs

Engine size1969 cc
Kerbweight1836 kg
85% KW1561 kg
Towball limit110 kg
Maximum towing limit2400 kg
Power187.0 bhp
Torque295.0 lb ft
Official MPG55.4 mpg
Towing MPG28.7 mpg
CO2133 g/km
30-60mph11 seconds
30-0mph9.4 m

Verdict

The more we drive this XC60, the more we like it. The Volvo also shows how specification-sensitive modern cars can be.

In solo driving, we found the high-spec R-Design model, with its sports suspension, too firm for comfort.

It’s unforgiving of rough roads without being as satisfying to drive as its best rivals.

Our lower-cost Momentum test car shows less can be more.

It feels luxurious and comes packed with technology, but on standard suspension and relatively small alloy wheels, it’s a lot easier to live with.

Despite what Volvo might claim to the contrary, it’s not an especially sporty SUV, but the XC60 has other qualities.

In this specification, the XC60 makes an able tow car. The D4 engine is economical when towing, but punchy enough to keep up with the ebb and flow of traffic.

If you own a big twin-axle tourer, we expect the D5 would prove a better bet, although the more powerful diesel isn’t available in the two most affordable specifications, so D5 prices start from £43,205.

We’re quite content with the D4’s performance and found the Volvo XC60 stable at speed.

It also performed an emergency stop as well as any car we’ve tested.

The XC60 is practical as well as stable, with a roomy and well-appointed cabin.

There’s lots of room, whether travelling in the front or the back of the car. Some rivals have more luggage space, but the Volvo’s boot is big enough for most needs.

In this specification, the Volvo XC60 is a car we’d be very happy to live with and tow with.

Conclusion

Pros

  • The XC60 proved to be a stable, strong tow car
  • It excelled in our braking test
  • Legroom in the front is impressive

Cons

  • Driven solo, it's not especially sporty – the steering isn't very direct and rivals are more engaging
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