Volvo S60 (2000 - 2009) review

BY ANDY ENRIGHT

Introduction

The Volvo S60 marked a sea change for the Swedish company. Smaller Volvos had never really cut it in the eyes of British customers - being viewed with the same suspicion afforded large Italian saloons, peripatetic driveway layers, Eastern European bicycles and 99p all-you-can-eat Cantonese buffets. The S60 was the first compact Volvo to seriously threaten the German establishment - a tough nut to crack by any means. As a used proposition, the S60 looks to offer many of Volvo's traditionally sensible values whilst injecting a dash of Scandinavian style into the equation. Should a nearly-new Mercedes C-class, Audi A4 or BMW 3 Series fail to appeal, the S60 should most definitely be on your shortlist.

Models

Models Covered: (4dr saloon, 2.0, 2.3, 2.4, 2.5 petrol, 2.4 diesel 2.4 Bifuel [ S, SE])

History

The S60 arrived in the UK in October 2000 and to all intents and purposes replicated the success of its bigger sibling, the S80, only in a more compact form. The same rounded hips and the bluff grille hinted at a Volvo design theme that looked to have some legs, and the car was warmly, if not rapturously, received by most who sampled it. Certainly the lines suited the smaller car superbly and customers were drawn to a range that initially consisted of a base 180bhp 2.0-litre turbo, a 200bhp 2.4-litre turbo and the mighty 250bhp 2.3-litre turbocharged T5. The D5 diesel version of the 2.4-litre engine arrived in 2001 alongside a dual-fuel version of this engine, at a swoop making the S60 one of the most economical cars in the compact executive class. All models are available in either S or SE trim. In 2003 Volvo launched a 300bhp version, the S60 R. With all wheel drive and a turbocharged five cylinder 2.5-litre engine, the R was capable of hitting 60mph in 5.5 seconds and run onto a top speed of 155mph. Shortly thereafter, Volvo dropped the 200bhp 2.4T engine in favour of the 210bhp 2.5T and made a few minor detail changes to the car. The fascia were now finished in charcoal grey and there were some more aerodynamic mirrors that cut down on wind noise at speed. Changes brought in during the summer of 2006 aimed to make the S60 a sportier proposition. The suspension was heavily revised while alterations to the grille and bumpers gave a more aggressive look. Spot these cars by the indicators integrated into the wing mirrors. By this time, diesel buyers had a choice of the 163bhp 2.4D or the 185bhp D5 unit.

What You Get

This is an all-out sports saloon, aimed squarely at prestige compact executive rivals like BMW's 3 Series, Mercedes' C-class and the Lexus IS200. British designer Peter Horbury's brief was to create a saloon that looked like a Coupe front and rear - in his words "a Ferrari you could get in and out of" - and the result is one that should sit snugly in the boardroom carpark amongst the massed ranks of Mercedes', BMWs and Audis. It's unmistakably a Volvo: check the C70-style rear three-quarter view, the V70 front end and the distinctive S80 'catwalk' shoulders which run the entire length of the car. Yet somehow, there's a sense of style and spirit we've not seen from Gothenburg in the past. Much the same is also true inside, though the cabin draws heavily on the approach already used in the S80 and V70 models. Here however, there's a sportier feel, courtesy of the three-spoke leather-covered wheel, the bucket seats and, on T5 manual models, a 'spaceball' gearlever surround (an aluminium dome that pivots beneath the stick). Probably more significant than all that however, is the amount of space you'll find in the rear, thanks to a 'cab-forward' design which has freed up more space for those on the back seat. Three people will fit but Volvo expects many customers to opt for a special two-seater rear bench with more sculpted, supportive seating for a couple of adults. Safety of course, remained uppermost in the designers' minds throughout development: Volvo may have ditched many of its marque values in recent years but it can't afford to lose this one. Hence the inclusion on every model of dual-stage airbags for front driver and passenger, SIPS (the company's patented Side Impact Protections System) with side airbags, WHIPS (the Whiplash Protection System), an inflatable curtain to save your head from smashing against the side glass and five three-point seatbelts.

What You Pay

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What to Look For

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Replacement Parts

(approx based on a 2000 T5) Middle of the road prices for this compact executive flier. A clutch assembly is around £190, whilst an exhaust system is in the region of £400. Thin front brake pads will require the thick end of £60, whilst rears are £40 a pair. A new alternator will require alternate plans for £180, but a new starter motor is a fairly reasonable £120. A replacement headlamp is £180.

On the Road

As part of Ford's Premier Auto Group, Volvo has a responsibility to not only offer class-leading safety and environmental performance - the S60 had to be a winner on the road. In certain respects, most notably when considering £ per bhp, it succeeds admirably. Take the entry-level 2.0-litre turbo model, with 180bhp. Faster and generally better equipped than all of its direct rivals, it's also much cheaper than rival German marques: cars like the 163bhp Mercedes C200K or the 170bhp BMW 320i. In fact, you could probably afford to step up to the S60 2.4T and still save money. Here, there's 200bhp on tap, enabling the rest to sixty sprint to be dispatched in just 7.6s on the way to 143mph: that's a useful improvement on the already rapid 2.0-litre version (8.8s and 140mph). The 2.5T that replaced it is even more impressive. Next up is the 250bhp T5 SE, capable of sixty in just 7.0s on the way to 155mph. To rival this kind of performance, you'll need either a BMW 330i or a Mercedes C320: either way, expect to spend between £6,000 more on a dealer's forecourt. And just to drive home this advantage, a 300bhp T5R is available for those who really like their Volvos quick. If you'd like to cut your fuel bills you can even opt for an LPG or CNG powered Bi-Fuel model that's dramatically more cost effective and is even greener to boot. The 163bhp S60 D5 diesel version acquits itself superbly, especially as its Volvo's first in-house stab at a diesel engine. Capable of hitting 60mph in 9.2 seconds on the way to 130mph, it will still return an average of 47mpg. This unit was demoted in the range hierarchy and rechristened the 2.4D with the 185bhp D5 introduced to take its place as the oil-burning range-topper. But then, we've seen powerful Volvos before. Cars that floundered when it came to the twisty stuff. The old S70, for example, never really qualified as a true sports saloon, even in its most bespoilered forms. Is this car different? Handling has much to do with body stiffness - as anyone who tried to make an S70 change direction at speed will testify. Without it, you can make the springs as stiff as you like: it won't make much difference. Hence the need for a completely new approach, aided by the use of the impressive platform already developed for the larger S80 saloon and the new V70 estate. In the case of the S60, this has allowed for a 70% improvement in torsional rigidity. The provision of such a strong foundation enabled much else to be achieved. Take the suspension, tuned to deliver progressive movement, rather than lurching forward or back during heavy acceleration or braking. Over and above this, two ride set-ups are available, tuned for either comfort or handling response. There's also a 'wheel-at-each-corner' design with reduced overhangs that lower the polar movement of inertia, enabling sharper steering responses and a crisper turn-in. Plus there are the usual electronic aids. All models get Volvo's STC Stability and Traction Control system, plus there's the (sadly optional) DSTC active anti-skid programme: enter a corner too fast and it automatically cuts in, reducing the throttle and selectively applying the brakes. If you're thinking of trading a four-wheel drive Audi in for a Volvo S60, finding a model with DSTC could well ease the acclimatisation process, especially in the wet.

Overall

Like countrymen Saab, Volvo offer a beguiling blend of big horsepower and sound practicality. If you're the sort who understands the subtler nuances of left-foot braking, lift-off oversteer and heel and toe gearchanging, the S60 probably won't be your thing. If you're after solidly built and effortlessly quick transport that makes everything else look a little contrived, the S60 comes up trumps. A basic 2.0t looks to be the pick of the range, at least until the D5 model starts fetching sensible money.