Volvo's improved S60 saloon at last gets a fully Volvo-developed engine under the bonnet - and a very good one. Jonathan Crouch checks out the S60 D4 diesel.
Ten Second Review
If you can afford the asking price, there's an obvious engine choice to make in Volvo's compact executive saloon, the S60, and it's this one, the D4 diesel. This variant gets the company's latest 2.0-litre 'Drive-E' unit, a powerplant that's fully Volvo's own, marking an end to the years the Swedish maker has spent borrowing engines from Ford and PSA. Just as well then, that it's a very good one, with 190bhp and CO2 emissions of just 99g/km.
If you're thinking of buying a BMW 3 Series-sized compact executive saloon, you might have forgotten about Volvo's S60. Time perhaps to reconsider, for with the introduction of a class-leading 'Drive-E' 2.0-litre diesel engine in the D4 variant we're looking at here, it's been put right back into contention as an affordable but very clever choice in its class. Something pretty radical was needed to break the German stranglehold on the business segment in which 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 sharper 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? Let's put this car to the test.
With 190bhp under the bonnet, you know that the S60 D4 isn't going to hang about and so it proves, demolishing the 62mph sprint in 7.6s and running on to 143mph. So far so good, but it's really not that hard to ramp up the boost on a turbodiesel and make it feel quick. Where Volvo has excelled is in making this car both quick and clean. Quick, clean and refined, I should add. It's only at higher revs that it begins to sound a bit strained, but with the full quota of 400Nm arriving at a mere 1,750rpm, you'll rarely feel the need to hang onto a gear. The eight-speed transmission used on the automatic version has an 'EcoCoast' function to help save fuel. Changes are smoother and quicker than in the old Powershift box, and there's also the option of paying £150 for wheel mounted paddles. I wouldn't bother. You'll use them a couple of times and then probably come to the conclusion that the transmission's software is smart enough. Advanced Stability Control is standard, as is Corner Traction Control which acts like a limited slip differential to control understeer when cornering. The S60's body control is such that it feels happier being driven in a more relaxed fashion and it's this aspect more than any other which feels a little off the pace compared to some rivals. The suspension is firm-ish which sends some bumps and thuds into the cabin, but the same could be said for most equivalent VW or Audi products.
Design and Build
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. Changes made in recent years include what Volvo describes as 'more focused and determined-looking headlamps', added to create what's intended to be a more '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 more striking, squat presence. The cabin has also been lightly redesigned in recent times, with smarter materials and silk metal frames around the air vents and light controls. You now 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.
Market and Model
Expect to pay from around £30,000 for this S60 D4 in the volume 'SE Nav' guise most buyers choose, so it's much better value than comparable BMW 3 Series and Audi A4 compact executive models. A comparably-specified Audi A4 2.0 TDI 150PS would cost significantly more. A bigger rival may well be a BMW 320d SE which packs a 184bhp punch but also needs a much higher budget. 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.
Cost of Ownership
The efficiency figures of this D4 diesel variant make interesting reading. After all, the 99g/km CO2 figure of this 190bhp unit is the same as the return managed by the 120bhp entry-level D2 diesel model. The combined cycle fuel returns for both variants are pretty similar: for reference, the D4 manages 72.4mpg and the D2 manages 74.3mpg. Experts predict that this second generation S60 will retain its value more in line with the likes of BMW and Audi than Ford and Volkswagen. Insurance for the D4 is group 28.
This D4 engine offers a big step forward for the S60 in a segment where most buyers want exactly this kind of diesel powerplant. Currently, no German rival can match its fuel and CO2 returns and even when that changes - as it inevitably will - Volvo will continue to hold a substantial price advantage. It'll also help that this car 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. There's a roomy cabin and the bundle of advanced safety equipment we've always expected from this brand is also in evidence, setting the S60 up as an intriguing alternative to the compact executive mainstream.