Think of a premium-badged mid-sized compact SUV and you probably think of something German - an Audi Q5 perhaps, or maybe a Mercedes GLC or BMW X3. We'd also suggest though, that you should be looking at the car we're going to test here, Volvo's second generation XC60. It's a rejuvenated proposition.
Volvo is offers a choice of three conventional 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engines - the 190bhp D4 and 235bhp D5 diesels, and the 254bhp T5 petrol. Plus there's a T8 Twin Engine petrol-electric plug-in hybrid. Every XC60 comes with all-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic gearbox as standard.
We'd favour the mid-range D5 variant that many will choose. Here, an ingenious system called 'PowerPulse' is used to overcome turbo lag - that momentary delay in response you sometimes experience with powerful turbocharged diesel engines. It uses compressed air which is stored in a small tank in the engine bay and automatically replenished to spool up the turbocharger so that the car responds as soon as you press the accelerator.
Even cleverer is the T8 TwinEngine model. In fact this variant actually has three engines if you're going to be pedantic about it and count the 25bhp starter motor/generator that pitches in from time to time to smooth any gaps in torque delivery between the two main power sources. One of these is the 320bhp turbocharged/supercharged petrol unit borrowed from the conventional T6 petrol model that Volvo won't import here.
This second generation XC60 features a more upmarket, cohesive look. It shares the same Scalable Product Architecture platform as we've seen in most of Volvo's recent models, including its larger XC90 sibling. This mid-sized premium SUV is 62mm longer, 12mm wider and 14mm lower than its predecessor and the 91mm-longer wheelbase means there's more legroom in the rear.
At the wheel, you sit lower in the XC60 than you would in an XC90 and the muscular-looking door creases, extended 'Thor's Hammer' headlights and new grille give this model a sportier look. There's a longer bonnet than a rival Audi Q5 - and a longer roofline too. As you'd expect, there are plenty of family resemblances to the XC90, especially inside. The dashboard, seats and upholstery will all be familiar to recent Volvo buyers; the same 9.0-inch touchscreen and 12.3-inch digital dial displays feature.
It's not just under the bonnet that the new XC60 delivers healthy performance. The new CleanZone four-zone climate control system removes harmful pollutants and particles from outside the cabin to deliver Scandinavian-fresh air on the inside. As in the 90 series cars, smartphone integration with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is also available.
So, what do we think overall? It's certainly true that other rivals will offer a sharper driving experience than is on offer from this Volvo. And of course this XC60 won't suit if you're going to be regularly venturing off the beaten track. But neither of these issues will bother many potential buyers, people more likely to value the cruising comfort, solid build quality and standard-setting safety that this car offers.
Our advice would be to get yourself a potent D5 diesel model with the clever engine and smile smugly every time you see a Q5, an X3 or a GLC drive past. In this form, this XC60 is probably the best kept secret in this segment. Probably best to keep it to yourself.Click here to find out more about our Volvo XC60 range
This GLC is a RAV4 or Honda CR-V-sized vehicle, but obviously one with a premium badge. In the Mercedes-Benz SUV hierarchy, it slots in just above the smaller GLA but below the brand's really luxurious and pricey 4x4s - the GLE (aimed at BMW's X5), the big 7-seat GLS and the really hard-core go-absolutely-anywhere G model. Yes, the GLC is late to the party in this segment, but it's smart, efficient and very desirable.
How the GLC gets down the road is heavily dependent on what boxes you tick when you're ordering. In total, there are three distinct suspension options available, with standard cars getting a normal comfort-orientated steel coil spring set-up. If you want something more dynamic, there's a sports suspension option, while for those prioritising an ultimately absorbent ride, air suspension can also be added at extra cost. The latter option is the most desirable. 'AIR BODY CONTROL', as Mercedes call it, promises a cosseting ride when you want luxury or flat, sportscar-like handling when you're in a hurry. With an optional 'Off Road Engineering Package', you can even manually adjust ride heights through the infotainment system.
Under the bonnet, the buying focus is on the 2.1-litre diesel units used in the GLC 220d and GLC 250d models. The differences between these two variants are down to engine tune, with the 220d offering 170PS and the 250d churning out 204PS. The 0-62mph times are 8.3 and 7.6 seconds respectively. All models are equipped with 4MATIC 4WD and an AGILITY SELCT vehicle dynamics system that works ith variabe damping on 'SE' and 'Sport' variants. Whatever your choice of derivatives, drive will be supplied through a standard 9-speed automatic gearbox. At the top of the line-up, there are two performance-orientated Mercedes-AMG variants. The Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 4MATIC is powered by a 3.0-litre V6 biturbo petrol engine putting out 367bhp. The Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 4MATIC+ is powered by a 4.0-litre V8 biturbo petrol engine putting out 476bhp in standard form or 510bhp in 'S' guise.
Design-wise, first impressions are that the GLC is most definitely related to the C-Class compact executive model it's based upon. There's the same long nose and gently sloping roofline we've come to recognise, along with similar contouring down the flanks. Naturally the GLC is more upright and comes with subtle plastic wheelarch extensions and skidplate-style detailing around the bumpers to show its off road credentials. Overall, it's a far cry from the boxy old GLK-Class model this car replaced in Europe - and all the better for it.
Underneath the skin, Mercedes have used more aluminium and high strength steel to help remove weight wherever possible. Those C-Class underpinnings have been lengthened to improve interior space and make sure that entry for rear passengers is easy. Once you do climb inside, you're greeted by a dashboard that's smoothly co-ordinated in every way save for the rather unusual positioning of the infotainment screen. As usual with Merc-brand models, that's perched on top of the fascia.
As usual, there's a wide range of options to make your GLC look either sporty or very luxurious, both inside and out. Go to town in the cabin and it really will feel luxurious. Boot space is up to 580-litres seats up - nearly 100-litres more than the C-Class - while seats down, this becomes a cavernous 1600-litres.
Image is everything when it comes to premium compact SUVs and on that basis, the GLC is a very desirable package. In terms of styling, technology and efficiency, it borrows hugely from other Mercedes models - to very good effect. Plus options like air suspension offer the kind of luxury that used to be limited to much larger luxury SUVs, enabling this car to cross ravines one minute and carve through a set of bends at speed the next.
Some may feel that there are still more dynamic choices to make in this segment: the trendier-looking Range Rover Evoque for example. Or the more sharply-handling BMW X3. As an all-rounder though, combining many of the qualities you'll find in both those cars, the GLC is a tempting package. It's arrived late to the party, but it's come well equipped to make a few waves.Click here to find out more about our Mercedes-Benz GLC range
Audi's understated Q5 continues its subtle conquest of the premium compact SUV sector. This second generation model gets a range of more efficient engines and even more car-like driving dynamics that are great on tarmac and are even pretty effective for light off road use. There's loads of advanced technology and a beautifully practical interior crafted in Audi's own inimitable style. In short, if you can afford it, you'd like one.
Most Q5 customers will want the 190PS 2.0 TDI diesel engine, but low mileage owners shouldn't discount the much improved 252PS 2.0 TFSI petrol unit. You can also talk to your Audi Centre about a 286PS 3.0 TDI six cylinder diesel too. And at the top of the range, the sporting SQ5 variant now switches to petrol power, offering a potent 354PS 3.0 V6 TFSI unit.
The drivetrain of the second generation Q5 has been redeveloped from the ground up - take the revised six-speed manual transmission and the more efficient seven-speed S tronic auto 'box for example. The standard quattro 4WD system is improved too, using Audi's 'ultra' technology to always disengage the rear-axle drive whenever it isn't needed: if necessary, the system can then proactively re-engage it.
The most poweeful variants can be ordered with an optional sport differential at the rear axle which distributes torque between the wheels for sharper handling. And all models get Torque vectoring for extra cornering precision. Dynamically, Audi has tried to make this Q5 feel sporty yet extremely comfortable. Creating the basis for this are the newly developed five-link suspension set-ups and also the new electromechanical power steering system. Choose a model with adaptive damping and you'll be able to tailor the ride quality via the various settings of the standard 'Audi drive select' vehicle dynamics system. You can do the same thing with the even more sophisticated adaptive air suspension package that's available as an option. Those venturing 'off piste' will be interested in the two new settings added to the 'drive select' set-up - 'lift/offroad' and 'allroad'.
Compared to the previous model, this second generation Q5 has grown in nearly all of its dimensions and takes a defined and taut stance on the road. A sculpturally flared Singleframe grille with a solid frame dominates its aerodynamically flat front end. This feature is flanked by headlights that use either xenon or full-LED technology - or buyers can order Audi's advanced adaptable Matrix LED system as an option. A distinctively curved and strongly undercut shoulder line gives structure to the side view. The strongly emphasised wheel arches are a reference to the quattro permanent all-wheel drive system, and the low greenhouse tapers back down early. Just as at the front, horizontal lines at the rear aim to convey an image of width and presence. The tailgate wraps around the C-pillars - a typical feature of Audi Q models.
At the wheel, a three-dimensional trim strip runs across the entire width of the instrument panel and here's a re-designed three-spoke multifunction steering wheel. This remains a five-seat model and the rear seat is split into three segments. Longitudinal and seat back angle adjustment are optional. Depending on the rear seat position, the basic volume of the luggage compartment ranges from 550 to 610-litres, 10-litres more than in the previous Q5. When the rear bench is folded down, this volume grows to 1,550-litres.
Whether your destination is Sainsburys or the annual family skiing trip to Crans Montana, you'll feel better about doing it in an Audi Q5. In between, in contrast to larger, plusher and thirstier 4x4s, you won't get that nagging feeling of using a sledgehammer to crash a nut when it comes to meeting your real motoring needs. Nor, when you're alone on a twisty B road, should you need to wish you'd bought something sportier.
Of course, this second generation model now faces much tougher competition, but the well considered package of changes made to this smarter, better equipped and higher-tech mid-sized premium SUV should keep it very competitive with cars like Mercedes' GLC and BMW's X3 in the chasing pack. Certainly it's not cheap - but then neither is anything else in this segment and at least you'll get a decent part of your money back at resale time. True, it doesn't have the showiness of a Range Rover Evoque or the ultimate handling feedback of a BMW X3, but many will still find this Audi a perfect balance between these two extremes. Resolutely hi-tech and resolutely real world, the Q5 remains resolutely right.Click here to find out more about our Audi Q5 range