IT IS coming around to that time of the year when all the many and varied Car Of The Year prized are given out globally — and locally.
It goes of course without saying that the single most important of these is the Irish Examiner Motoring Car Of The Year award which is currently being fulminated upon.
There are, as ever, a variety of contenders for this hugely longed-for gong and car manufacturers should note that the cash-filled brown envelope, along with their pitch (no more than 150 words please) should be sent to the usual address before their vehicle can be properly included on the shortlist for consideration by the expert judging committee (ie, me).
Bribery aside, I can reveal now that the little brother of the car which actually won the prize two years ago, is one of the frontrunners for the 2107 prize. But — and it is a big but — the test car in question has one or two issues hanging over it.
The winner of the Irish Examiner Motoring COTY prize two years ago was the astonishing Volvo XC90 and the one which is contending this year is its lesser sibling the XC60. Both cars are solid, concrete evidence that Volvo has done a Lazarus and risen from the almost-dead to restore itself as a truly serious contender in the premium automotive segment.
We tested the D4 version of the XC60 earlier this year and found it to be a winning addition to an SUV market which includes the BMW X3, the Audi Q5, Mercedes GLC, the Jaguar F-Pace and the new Land Rover Velar. Much like its big brother, the XC60 is an exceptional addition to the class and, even in its most basic form, is a pretty impressive motor car and one I would recommend unstintingly.
Curiously, however, having recently tested the more upmarket — about 10 grand more upmarket — XC60 D5 AWD R Design Geartronic model, I would be lying if I were to tell you it was the better option of the two models.
Sure the D5 has a bigger and more powerful engine, bigger alloys, bigger tech., contoured sports seats, paddle shifters, four-wheel-drive and a whole host of stuff such as — get this — silk metal window surrounds or a high gloss black mesh grille.
A lot of the additional gear on the D5 we tested, then, is mechanically sound, but a lot of it is window-dressing. Pretty window-dressing, it has to be said, but window-dressing nonetheless. But was it enough to persuade me to lash out an extra 10 grand of my hard-earned for the privilege? Erm, no.
I am not dissing the XC60 in any shape or form here, but merely making the point that just because one vehicle is more expensive than another, that does not necessarily make it an intrinsically better driving proposition.
I mean, the fact that the D5 is more powerful and more road-capable than the D4 is something any driver worth their salt would applaud, but I would suggest that the more shifty ride and the more shaky handling of the D5 make the supposedly lesser vehicle a better overall driving prospect.
Certainly, those who do a certain type of driving — heavy motorway mileage, mainly, which largely ignores lesser B roads — might make an argument for this car.
But for those of us for whom non-motorway driving is the order of every day and for whom driving comfort and simple practicality is at the premium end of the wish list, the lesser car may actually be the way to go here. It may not have the correct number of signposts to its supposed greatness, but it does the job, even in that dull green colour some people like.
To more practical matters, the ride on the D4 is less excitable than on the D5 we tried and the handling more predictable. Certainly, the more powerful engine has more grunt with 235 bhp on tap and will be preferable for many.
It is not a slouch by any standard, what with a 7.2 second 0-100km/h time and a top speed of 220km/h and, allied as it with an eight speed auto ’box, is really nice to live with. But when you pair all that with handling that’s vague — even by SUV standards — and a ride quality that does not like poor surfaces, the whole dynamic shifts.
But then, many people will be able to forgive all of this in the face of an interior cabin that Volvo’s compatriots over at Ikea would be proud of. A mix of Nappa and buffed Nubuck leathers cover most of the surfaces and is ever so tasteful. The infotainment system and centrally mounted screen are intuitive and fantastically easy to live with and utilise.
Boot space is OK — but no more than that, so golfers beware — but the passenger accommodation is excellent and you will find few complaints about seating support and comfort or head and leg room coming from the stalls.
There won’t be any guff either about the exterior look of the XC60 which is altogether pleasing and given the design has something XC90-lite about it, that is hardly a surprise.
The long bonnet and crisp lines — as well as stuff like the ‘Thor’s Hammer’ headlight design and the endearing rear light treatments — mean that few styling marks are lost here and indicate just how on-the-money the Volvo design department is right now.
No doubt then that this is a car of both style and substance and a genuine contender for any self-respecting Car Of The Year award. However, this particular XC60 model is not as good in many respects as some of its lesser siblings and that, to be honest, was something of a shock. You don’t generally expect lesser-order models to out-shine the more expensive ones.
That, however, is the conclusion we have arrived at here and so the advice to everyone is to keep your money in your pocket — apart of course from Volvo, who can send the well-stuffed brown envelope to the usual address.
Cash aside — although I must alert all other manufacturers that my Cayman Island account is still active and welcoming — I suspect this car may be a PR triumph because it clearly says to punters to get the D4 version of the XC60 and don’t bother with this overwrought beauty, unless you’re totally, like, in San Moritz ’til Cheltenham and need something for the dog-minder to drive.
Ordinary is just fine as you will enjoy a hugely capable car which manages bigly without some of the expensive fripperies that car companies would like you to believe will make your life more fulfilled.
The cost: Base model from €53,995; this one clocks in at €70,062
The engine: An excellent diesel
The specification: Good, but pricey
The overall verdict: Lovely and terrible at the same time; get the 2WD version
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved