For evidence of the sheer competition there now is in the mid-sized, premium-branded SUV market, consider this: you can take what amounts to an engine and gearbox from the larger and more expensive XC90 – albeit in detuned form – drop it into a smaller, lighter car, and still fall short of the class standard on performance and drivability.

The XC60’s diesel engine and standard eight-speed automatic gearbox allow it to hit an acceptable standard on acceleration and responsiveness, but it’s impressive in neither respect.

Matt Saunders Autocar

Matt Saunders

Road test editor
Stability and traction control systems remain fairly unintrusive in ‘Dynamic’ mode

You can see that represented in our recorded acceleration numbers – a like-for-like Audi Q5 is more than half-a-second quicker from rest to 60mph and almost half-a-second quicker from 30mph to 70mph through the gears. You can also quite plainly appreciate it from the driver’s seat.

The eight-speed gearbox feels slightly hesitant both away from a standstill and when swapping ratios under load, and the engine is less free-revving than some comparable diesels.

Where both hit back is under lighter throttle applications and in a more laidback mode of usage, an area in which the XC60 surprised more than one of our testers with its mechanical refinement in particular.

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There’s an elastic feel to the way the transmission slips before fully engaging as you apply middling amounts of power; it can be bothersome when you’re in a hurry or looking for any meaningful driver engagement in manual mode, but somehow it seems to make more of the engine’s torque when you’re just punting around with the transmission in 'Drive' mode.

There’s plenty of low- and mid-range torque to go on and so fairly brisk but relaxed progress is easily made, and the XC60 motivates its mass without making hard work of it until faster overtakes are required. Those planning on towing with the car might be well advised to opt for the more powerful diesel engine, though.

Volvo matches the XC60’s good mechanical refinement with equally good cabin isolation, keeping the car’s interior laudably muted on the motorway and preventing wind noise from becoming intrusive as it sometimes can in more upright cars.

So it’s true to observe that drivers who’ll rarely use more than a not-so-arbitrarily-selected 60% of the car’s performance – who’ll activate Volvo’s ‘Pilot Assist’ semi-autonomous auto-steering radar cruise control at every motorway opportunity, for example – may consider their car the match of any rival.

Volvo’s long-standing preference for slightly over-assisted, isolated-feeling controls makes for a light and slightly spongy-feeling brake pedal which, combined with the iffy body control of our air-sprung test car (which we’ll come on to), also made hard stops less precise and smooth than they might have been.

That’s as part of the bargain struck in order to make the more gentle stops less physically demanding, of course – which, you’d imagine, many Volvo drivers would value.

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