June Neary tries Volvo's smart S60 compact executive saloon
Will It Suit Me?
If you still think of Volvo as a maker only of huge, rectangular estates, then think again. Things have changed and this is a manufacturer that has worked hard to smarten the look of its cars. As a result, the second generation S60 that I've been trying has the sort of flair and looks that many of its predecessors have lacked. What hasn't changed is Volvo's well-deserved reputation for putting safety first, which is why so many families opt for this Swedish brand. The car comes as front wheel drive but all-wheel drive is available if you want it, if only on the priciest version. As well as the raft of safety features, there's also a very clever active chassis system that adjusts the car's ride automatically to best cope with the road conditions, plus a system which automatically applies the brakes if the car detects you are approaching a parked or slow-moving vehicle too quickly. This S60 is based on the same underpinnings as the Ford Mondeo, which means there's plenty of space inside for adults, children and kit, plus you can choose from a range of engines. This is headed by a 3.0-litre six cylinder petrol unit with turbocharger that puts the lie to the idea that Volvos are dull as it offers a 0-62mph sprint time of 6.5s. Realistically though, most cars sold will be driven by five-cylinder diesel engines, which come with a choice of two power outputs.
The S60 is a good looking four door saloon with a coupe shape, striking double headlights and large rear brake light clusters. The good news continues inside, with styling drama especially upfront where you'll find sporty touches like supportive seats, ideal for that long drive to relatives or on the annual holiday, plus metallic trim. Most striking is the 'floating' centre stack, an innovative centre console. There's plenty of space inside for four adults and while from the outside, the sloping coupe styled roof makes it look as if backseat headroom would be compromised, I found it quite adequate. Indeed, in many respects, I reckon that this is one of the most spacious BMW 3 Series-class saloons on the market. However, while the boot will take 339-litres of luggage, this is not as impressive as the rival Mercedes C-Class which will take 475-litres. Possibly most important for the family buyer is that the interior is dressed in high quality materials that you know will last. Bigger inside than the previous S60, the cabin does not skimp on quality and there's a reassuringly sculpted feel to everything. The car may not share the breezeblock looks of its predecessors but it does inspire a similar big-Volvo confidence and the reassurance that after years of abuse as toddlers turn to teenagers, it will still be going strong.
Behind the Wheel
When the car was launched, Volvo claimed that it was their most dynamic model ever. It probably is. The steering is faster than the previous model, so feedback is better. This is helped by feedback which better tells you what is going on at the wheels and on the road. The suspension, which was in part developed in the UK to better create a car for our driving conditions, has been stiffened up so that taking the B-road shortcut on the school run should be a bit more comfortable. Standard across the range is clever 'active' chassis technology that instantaneously responds to your driving style and road conditions using an array of sensors. These monitor the car's behaviour and then adjust the dampers to match the road and how you're driving. You just select how you want to drive - via Comfort, Sport or Advanced buttons - and the car will do the rest. There is also the option on the top 3.0-litre variant of all-wheel-drive technology, very useful in wet or slippery conditions. The engine line-up is topped by that 3.0-litre straight six petrol engine complete with turbocharger and this 304bhp unit will take the S60 to 62mph in 6.5s. More realistic choices for the target S60 customers are a pair of five-cylinder diesels: the twin-turbo 2.4-litre D5 has 204bhp and the 2.0-litre D3 generates 163bhp for a 9.2second 0-62mph sprint.
Value For Money
The S60 range mainly sits in the same £25,000 to £35,000 bracket as rivals like BMW's 3 Series and Audi's A4, but look a little closer and specs and power outputs and you'll find that model for model, it could save you a significant amount on prestige German rivals. Standard equipment is good and includes front, side and curtain airbags, anti lock braking, and brake assist to give extra braking pressure in an emergency. You can also have the Adaptive Cruise Control system that will automatically ensure you're always at a safe and constant distance from the vehicle ahead. If you're worried about parking, there's an optional parking assist camera with front and rear sensors and a further camera on the front grille to help see out of bind junctions. The specially developed infotainment system brings all the car's various functions together on a five or seven inch screen mounted high on the dashboard. Running costs will vary depending on which model you go for as the 163bhp 2.0-litre diesel comes into insurance group 28, the 205bhp 2.5-litre diesel into insurance group 31 and the 304bhp 3.0-litre high performance petrol into insurance group 39. While the 2.4-litre diesel can return 48mpg, which is good considering a top speed of 146mph and a 0-62mph time of 7.4 seconds, the D3 2.0-litre diesel returns 54mpg combined.
Could I Live With One?
With the S60, Volvo have clearly upped their game. Sharper looking and sharper handling, it's an attractive car inside and out and, importantly for any family, offers plenty of space and legroom. There's a feeling of quality and robust construction, plus the reassurance that, as in other Volvos, the S60 is a very safe place to be. Quality is good and fuel economy, especially with the 2.0-litre diesel, is commendable. This may still not be the most exciting saloon to drive, but it is a car that has flair and which offers supremely capable motoring. You'll especially feel that if you need to take your family - or your business - over long distances on a regular basis, thanks to a roomy quiet cabin, high levels of equipment, extensive safety features and pleasant driving characteristics. Overall, a pretty positive scorecard then. The S60 changed my perceptions about Volvo. It may change yours too.