Volvo's improved S60 saloon has the compact executive elite in its sights. What's helped its cause in recent times has been the gradual introduction of the brand's efficient Drive-E engine technology, now extended down to include lower-powered models. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Sportier and more stylish, this improved second generation S60 addresses the areas where previous Volvo executive cars have ultimately failed to deliver. Crucially, the brand has also extended use across the range of its latest generation 'Drive-E' diesel and petrol engines. As a result, being larger than the German models it will count as rivals and packing Volvo's usual plethora of safety kit, this S60 must be in with a chance.
Does life really begin at sixty? If you're a potential Volvo owner, the answer may well be yes. The Swedish maker's second generation S60 saloon is, we're told, the most dynamic Volvo ever, both to look at and to drive, something of a departure for a brand that has built its reputation on substance and safety rather than style and sportiness. But then something pretty radical was needed to break the German stranglehold on the BMW 3 Series-dominated compact executive market where this car must compete. This MK2 S60 has provided it and has now been improved with a carefully thought out package of improvements. If in buying a Volvo, you expect all the design flair of a chartered accountancy firm, then this car will come as quite a shock, with sharp styling that sets it apart, both inside and out. The promise is that this will be matched with a greater emphasis on driver involvement than any model the company has produced in more than eighty years of history - a much harder thing to deliver. Particularly if, as we're promised, all this has been achieved without sacrificing the substance and safety part of the brand value proposition. Does it all add up? And do the latest generation 'Drive-E' petrol and diesel engines this car can now offer cut the mustard beneath the bonnet? Let's put this car to the test.
Volvos have tended to feel like the safe cars they are when you get them out on the road but with this S60, more emphasis than ever before has been placed on instilling some excitement. Interestingly, there are three chassis set-ups available to buyers which govern how the car performs on the road. The Dynamic chassis is fitted as standard in the UK. Then there's a firmer, more sporting set-up offered with the R-Design Lowered Sport Chassis option. The final option is the Volvo FOUR-C (Continuously Controlled Chassis Concept), an active suspension that allows drivers to select their preferred settings when on the move. Volvo has at last developed its own range of 'Drive-E' engines after years of relying on Ford and PSA units. Pick of the line-up, we think, is the fastest of the three diesel engines on offer, the 190bhp D4. Rest to 62mph here takes 7.4s en route to 143mph. All the diesel units available are now from the brand's frugal 'Drive-E' family of engines, all 2.0-litre units. The D3 develops 150bhp, while the entry-level D2 manages 120bhp. Low mileage buyers need to factor in the possibility of petrol power too, especially if they don't like the rather clattery diesel noise you get on start-up. This option is particularly worth considering now that Volvo has extended its 'Drive-E' engine family in the S60 range to include a petrol model. The manual gearbox T4 variant uses this technology allied with 2.0-litre power, generating 190bhp. At the top of the range, there's the option of a 'Cross Country' model with either 2WD or AWD traction.
This is one of the best looking Volvos we've seen for a good few decades, so few aesthetic improvements have been necessary with this facelifted version. There are what Volvo describes as 'more focused and determined-looking headlamps', there to create what's intended to be an 'expressive' front end. The S60's horizontal lines have been emphasised at both the front and rear. Together with details such as a wider grille and daylight running lights, they give the car a striking, squat presence. The cabin features smart materials and silk metal frames around the air vents and light controls. You also get the Adaptive Digital Display we first saw in the smaller V40 hatch: this lets you change the look and feel of the instrument dials via three 'themes' - 'Elegance', 'Eco' and 'Performance'. Plus there's also the option of a 'Sensus' infotainment system that allows you to add connectivity and internet access into the car. This set-up turns the 7-inch infotainment display into a state-of-the-art infrared, beam-scanned touch screen that can be used even when wearing gloves - a world first in cars.The driver can go online either via a car-mounted 3G/4G dongle or a personal mobile phone and features include the industry's first in-dash, fully integrated, voice search Spotify application. The voice-activation system works on all music sources connected to the Connected Touch. It is also possible to share a WiFi network with everyone in the car.
Expect to pay from just over £20,000 for this S60, so it's much better value than comparable BMW 3 Series and Audi A4 compact executive models. Try the Drive-E 2.0-litre diesel D2 before moving on to the pokier diesel options: you may just find it's all you need and you can spend the money you'll save on one of the plusher trim levels - sporty 'R-Design' perhaps? If you need more space, Volvo's V60 is essentially the estate version of this car. Technology features available on the S60 include the ACC Adaptive Cruise Control system that can maintain a set gap to the vehicle in front, a parking assist camera with front and rear sensors and a further camera on the front grille to help the driver see out of blind junctions. The specially developed infotainment system brings the various functions together on a five or seven inch screen mounted high on the dashboard and the Sensus connectivity options now available on it are impressive. Further safety features include freshly developed Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection technology which scans the road ahead and, if necessary, helps you to brake when a person or a bike veers into your path. There's also an upgraded version of Volvo's City Safety system that automatically brakes at up to 31mph to avoid low speed traffic collisions. And Active High Beam Control to dip your lights for you at night.
The launch of 'Drive-E' technology across the S60 range makes things clearer here. Previously, there was a mix between this and the old-Ford-derived units. The entry-level 2.0-litre diesel D2 returns 99g/km of CO2 and manages 74.3mpg on the combined cycle. The same engine in 150 or 190bhp D3 or D4 guises delivers 102g/km and around 72mpg. Go for the D4 in AWD Cross Country form and your CO2 figures rises substantially to 149g/km. For the 152bhp T3 manual petrol model, the figures are 131g/km and 50.4 - or 135g/km and 48.7mpg for the 1.5-litre T3 automatic version with the same output. Insurance groups range mainly between 28 and 39.
Volvo executive cars have usually been safe, reliable and practical but sporty and stylish? In the past, buyers with those things as priorities may have felt inclined to look elsewhere. This second generation S60 has been changing that kind of thinking though, a process that'll be aided by this careful package of changes. It incorporates the vibrant design that's been creeping into other Volvo products for a while now and accentuates it in a sleek four-door package with a driver-focused chassis and a range of high-tech engine options highlighted by the latest-generation 'Drive-E' engines. There's a roomy cabin and the bundle of advanced safety equipment we've always expected from Volvo is also in evidence, setting the S60 up as an intriguing alternative to the compact executive mainstream.
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