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Volvo styling came a long way during the Peter Horbury era. So it was a bit of a surprise when on bringing home our test Volvo S60 D5 for the first time, that my six year old (car mad) son should exclaim "that has to be the ugliest car ever." Possibly more of a surprise (having been brought up on the Volvo 'tanks' of old) was that I started to defend the Volvo. It's certainly different to anything else on the road, and that can only be a good thing, while at the same time remaining stylish and not so avant-garde as to repel customers. Older members of the family thought it looked distinguished, prestigious, and expensive. I tried to explain this to my son but he went off to play with his Hot Wheels.
Trevor Nicosia - 20 Jan 2006
Sitting in the middle of a three model saloon car range, our Volvo S60 came in D5 SE specification, the SE denoting the luxury model, the D5 denoting the 2.4-litre, common-rail turbodiesel five-cylinder engine that produces 185bhp and a massive 295lb.ft torque, whilst promising excellent fuel economy. Volvo had also been kind enough to go mad on the options list, so our test car came with the Communications Pack (comprising satellite navigation, Volvo On Call and an integrated GSM car phone), the new Geartronic transmission (automatic with sequential manual change option to you and I), Bi-Xenon headlamps and a host of smaller items including water repellent side windows, rear park assist and an iPod adaptor. This little lot had the effect of raising the on-the-road price from £25,403 to £31,873, a whole different price area indeed.
Six year olds aside, first impressions were that the Volvo S60 D5 SE looked very smart, and every bit a £32k car. The SE models within the range sit on 17-inch alloy wheels as standard, but our car had been upgraded to polished alloy wheels (still 17-inch diameter), which looked great. The interior, in two-tone black and cream leather may have been a little garish for some tastes (i.e. mine), but there was no arguing that it looked very inviting; the quality of the materials and the blending of colours being both first rate. The optional satellite navigation system comprises of a colour screen that rises out of the top of the dashboard when the ignition is turned on, and sinks back out of vision so as to not attract the unwanted attention of miscreants. The satellite navigation can be operated via infra-red remote control, or by buttons on the steering wheel, which also control the stereo and cruise control. I found the remote easier to use when first loading up a destination (before setting out of course!). Once mobile and en route, the guidance system provided built-in traffic warning messages along the planned route. These needed to be accepted and a decision made as to whether to plan around any hold-ups or carry on. And while the traffic information could and should have been a boon, once you had accepted continuing with the route, there were no further updates. En route round the M25 I was warned of a problem at least an hour away, but as I got nearer I had no idea whether the problem was still there or had long since evaporated. I also found that if you didn't plan a route - most people wouldn't bother doing so for the daily commute they know so well - you didn't get the traffic alerts.
Enough of that. Driving the Volvo, that was what we came here for; and what a drive. There was a clue at the very start of this article; I found myself defending the Volvo to my son, not so much because I find it a "babe" amongst cars, but because driving the Volvo was such a pleasant experience that I liked it very much; it had become a friend. Like finding out that the fat kid at school has a father who runs a sweet shop; or gorgeous twin sisters.
I can say unequivocally that the combination of the D5 engine and the six-speed Geartronic transmission is simply the smoothest I have ever driven. While a lot of that is down to the gearbox, in all the time I drove the car I barely noticed a gearchange, so seamless were they, and even when I did it was only because I was concentrating hard to try and feel it. Once warm, the engine betrayed none of the usual diesel engine symptoms; it was quiet, free revving and as responsive as any decent petrol engine and the mountainous torque ensured rapid and instant acceleration. If I were to truly nitpick, I might suggest the kick-down erred on the side of too responsive, sometimes coming out of roundabouts in not too much of a hurry, it would still change down. But the only way I knew this was with a slight change in engine note. Even the engine produces more of a characteristic five-cylinder burble than characteristic diesel sounds. Truly excellent.
Volvo claims that the S60 D5 SE will do 0-62mph in 8.7 seconds (or 8.2 with the manual transmission) and while this doesn't seem very quick on paper, out on the road the Volvo never feels lacking in acceleration, either from standstill, or when overtaking traffic when all that 295lb.ft of torque makes itself felt. Despite standard fit traction control, it was possible to spin the wheels on take off, and even during a sudden lane change carried out at 10mph but with heavy application of the throttle. Commendably, torque steer is reasonably well controlled during this kind of behaviour.
Not very far behind the drivetrain in the honours stakes was the ride/handling balance. While the S60 D5 SE is no track day car, it did go where it was pointed with minimal fuss, and very little roll; no drama at all, while at the same time the ride was completely cosseting. It took me two days of driving over familiar roads before I even realised I should be thinking about how the car rode. It simply made no intrusion to getting on and driving; the bumps didn't make it through and neither did it feel too stiff as with many so-called luxury cars these days.
Pushing on, I felt that the steering, while weighted just right (and heavier than many power assisted systems), lacked in feel. It wasn't so obvious in the dry, but on a wet day it became apparent that although the steering responded immediately and faithfully to the driver's input, it gave no messages back whatsoever as regards grip levels. A bit of more spirited driving showed that the ride quality didn't change as the speed rose, the Volvo maintained just enough firmness to not wallow or float, displaying excellent body control, yet enough softness to ensure passengers (and the driver) remained completely undisturbed by road surface. Wind noise was commendably low at motorway speeds making this Volvo a very relaxed motorway mile-eater.
There is plenty of space all round the interior, both in front and in the back, where three passengers are provided for with proper seat belts, and the front seat comfort is exemplary, as we've become used to in Volvo cars. The rear seat squab looks at first glance to be at a steep angle, but rear seat passengers all commented that it was as comfortable as I told them the front seat was. Shame that Volvo fitted full electric adjustment (and three memory settings) to the driver's seat, but then left the passenger to adjust their seat manually. The boot is simply cavernous, and a release handle in the boot enables the rear seats to be folded down to enable longer loads to be carried. Oddment space is a little more limited; the armrest container is too full of iPod interface to actually carry anything else and somewhere more suited to storing the remote control would have been nice.
The integrated telephone worked very well, the stereo muted when on the phone, and even at motorway speeds the microphone picked up the driver's speech very well; the speaker to the base of the driver's headrest meaning listening to the other party was no problem. The only gripe here was that you either need to have a spare SIM card specifically when in your car, or transfer your SIM card from mobile phone to car (and back) every time you use the car to make proper use of the system. It would be very embarrassing having such a system and then being caught using your mobile in the car on those occasions you couldn't be bothered with swapping the card over.
One of the advantages of this job is that we get to drive all manner of cars; the variety keeps up the interest. However, the Volvo S60 D5 SE was one I was not so keen to give back. I can pay it no higher compliment.
2005 Volvo S60 specifications: (D5 SE Geartronic)
Price: £25,403 on-the-road (test car was fitted with lots of options, bringing the price to £31,873).
0-62mph: 8.7 seconds
Top speed: 143mph
Combined economy: 42.8mpg
Kerb weight: 1539kg
Full technical specifications