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First drive: Volvo S60. Image by Volvo UK.

First drive: Volvo S60
Volvo’s mid-sized compact saloon driven in the UK in T5 R-Design spec. Guess what? It’s another stunner.

 



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Volvo S60 T5 R-Design

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Volvo's brave new era is embodied by the striking S60 saloon, the sister car to the equally lovely V60 estate. The latest four-door 60-series machine will be built at a new plant in Charleston, South Carolina, US, and it will not be offered with any diesel engine at all during its life - making it the first production Volvo in decades to shun the black fuel and heralding a shift to electrified cars that will see no more diesels issuing forth from Gothenburg from this point on. From launch, the S60 will only have one engine and one trim, but this narrowness of choice shouldn't put you off - because it's another marvellous Geely-era/SPA-based Volvo that is battling for overall class honours.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Volvo S60 T5 R-Design
Pricing: S60 from £37,935, car as tested £40,810
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol
Transmission: front-wheel drive, eight-speed automatic
Body style: four-door saloon
CO2 emissions: 155g/km (VED Band 151-170: £530 first 12 months, then £465 years two-six of ownership, then £145 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 35.3-39.8mpg*
Top speed: 145mph
0-62mph: 6.5 seconds
Power: 250hp at 5,500rpm
Torque: 350Nm at 1,800-4,800rpm
Boot space: 442 litres

* = worst and best combined consumption figures gleaned from WLTP testing.

What's this?

The Volvo S60, a totally expected piece of the SPA/CMA-chassis jigsaw if you've been following Volvo's product launches since the XC90 Mk2 arrived in 2015. First up, the Swedish bunch fleshed out the largest 90-series array, bringing in the S90 saloon and V90 estate to complement the grand XC seven-seat SUV, before adding to the V90 family with the glorious Cross Country. Once this was done, attention turned to the midsized 60-series, so the beautiful XC60 hoved into view, before we gained the V60 wagon, possibly one of the finest-looking estate cars ever committed to sheet metal. However, a slightly staggered product approach saw the V60 gain its Cross Country spin-off before we got to the final 60-series shaped bit of the puzzle: which is this, the S60.

It is a traditional, executive saloon in the compact mould, designed to fight in the ferocious premium heartland against vehicles like the Audi A4, Jaguar XE and Mercedes C-Class, and also - naturally - the vehicle which has defined this market segment for so many decades, BMW's all-conquering 3 Series. To that end, Volvo's 'no diesels' policy looks a bit risky. All of the above continue to offer derv-drinkers, despite a consumer shift away from the fuel in the wake of 'Dieselgate', because CO2 emissions still define road tax laws and a model's attractiveness (or otherwise) to fleet managers. So Volvo proffering up the S60 in the UK with just one 2.0-litre turbocharged four-pot petrol (at first), delivering 250hp and badged T5, might seem blinkered.

Is it, though? Or is it simply Volvo running ahead of the pack and not conforming to the tired, tested norms? The brand wants one million of its electrified cars on the roads of the planet by 2025, which will mean mild hybrids (MHEVs), plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) and full electrics (EVs) will make up 50 per cent of its sales as such. No point persevering with a dying fuel source if you're going to abandon it further up the road anyway. What's weird about it, though, is that the V60 sibling does come with turbodiesels, while the V60 Cross Country is, at the time of writing, only available as a D4.

Not to worry, though. For starters, if you're even remotely au fait with Volvo's history - and specifically, the 1990s - you'll know how evocative a front-wheel-drive saloon from this company with a T5 badge and 250hp is; shame it doesn't have the five-pot warble of the old 850s, mind, but we suppose we can't have everything. And just look at the S60! What a stunner. Proportionally, it's absolutely corking and it's a more successful take on the three-box, four-door formula than the bigger S90, principally because - at the back - Volvo has shifted the number plate up from the rear bumper onto the bootlid. This seems to make more sense of the bracket-shaped frame formed by the distinctive lamp clusters, and it gives the S60 real presence and stance when you're following it on the road. Further details, like muscular rear haunches, the Thor hammer daytime running lamps, the R-Design styling (particularly wonderful in Fusion Red, £675) and a set of optional (£850) 20-inch, diamond-cut, matte-black alloys mean the S60 is so damnably good-looking, it might even make a mockery of the oft-held old adage that no saloon can possibly outshine its estate sibling in the styling department. This or a V60? It's a really, really tough call...

Of course, if you're considering the 60-series Volvos, practicality might force you into either the estate or SUV, which have bigger boots, but the S60's 442-litre cargo bay remains pretty respectable for this class. As is rear space, which is generous enough for six-footers to be comfortable back there. Otherwise, the cabin is familiar Volvo stuff - you could accuse the Swedes of getting a bit repetitious with the interior design, given we've once again got the 12.3-inch TFT instrument cluster, the large portrait centre touchscreen for Sensus Connect nav and infotainment, the same transmission tunnel with the squared-off rotary knob for starting/stopping the engine and (in the R-Design, at least) a very black ambience that is only lifted by the gorgeous sport front seats and a silver sliver of trim running through the beltline. However, as everything works beautifully, is screwed together so well and just looks so thoroughly nice, we wonder how anyone could complain about the S60's fabulous passenger compartment.

A final note of warning, though, before we continue: the solitary S60 launch model, this T5 R-Design, retails at £37,935. Just a few choice options, like the paint and the bigger rims and a panoramic opening sunroof (£1,200), pushed our test car ever so slightly beyond the £40,000 mark - which would result in an additional £1,600 of 'rich tax' VED across years two to six of ownership. So choose carefully what you want to add, if you pick the S60.

How does it drive?

R-Design Volvos haven't lit our fire as much as their plusher Inscription cousins so far, due to three things: one, while we adore all the Swedish company's output since the 2015 quality watershed, none of them are what you'd call thrilling in the handling stakes; two, the sportier, larger-dimension rubber fitted to the bigger wheels seems to ramp up the tyre roar in the Volvos' cabins; and three, tougher, lower suspension provides a hard-edged, unresolved ride.

It remains hard to choose with specification to go with, though, because R-Design Volvos look so bloody handsome outside and in (those seats... those wonderful front seats...) - so good news on the S60 front, as we're here to tell you that this might be the first SPA Volvo we reckon that should be an R-Design first and foremost. Volvo says it is the most dynamic car it has ever launched and, despite the fact it shares almost all of its underpinnings and chassis settings with the V60 R-Design models (a car which we last drove as a matching T5 and which we weren't that fussed about), the S60 is definitely the most engaging Geely-era Volvo yet. This might be to do with the fact it has an extra bulkhead behind the passenger cabin that the V60 does not, making it better for torsional rigidity. Or it might just be because we had the S60 T5 on some of the most glorious roads the UK has to offer (Scotland, natch). But whatever the mysterious reasons, this is the most fun we've had in a 2015-on Volvo yet.

It's not 3 Series-toppling, of course, as front-wheel drive will always have its limitations, but there's terrific weight to the consistent and accurate (if largely feel-free) steering, an abundance of grip, a decent level of mid-bend adjustability and a notable dearth of scruffy, push-on understeer. Couple in the superb T5 drivetrain (we've not sampled it in a better application than right here in the S60) with the silken yet responsive eight-speed gearbox - operated by tactile and pleasant paddle shifts on the wheel - and what you get is a car that's very quick across ground, without ever becoming unruly. You can employ the full 250hp and 350Nm of the blown-four, without battling with the colossal and borderline terrifying torque-steer that you'd have grappled with in an old 850 T5, and the S60 just gets on with the task of putting its power down tidily and then barrelling forward. All told, this means you can dissect any road that takes your fancy in a clean, engaging fashion; oh, the body control also deserves top marks here, because there's precious little to report in the way of pitch, dive or roll when the Volvo is moving quickly along a sinuous route.

There's not even the same sort of uncomfortable ride and tyre noise pay-off we've found in other R-Designs, although we will admit that both are still present. In terms of the damping and suspension, maybe the S60's occasional lumpiness when dealing with big vertical inputs and background jitters while traversing washboard tarmac were more down to the whopping 20s stuffed in each corner, but there's no doubting the Volvo's ride is on the tauter side of comfortable. It's not unbearable, however, and there are times where the S60 lopes along with a relaxed, steady gait that's most acceptable; this is usually on newer sections of motorway and big A-road, when the Volvo is cruising at higher speeds. Same goes for the tyre noise, which - conversely (but obviously) - is more noticeable in the back of the cabin at motorway pace, yet it never reaches a level that becomes obtrusive.

And, in all other respects, the S60 is fantastic to drive. Its controls are all weighted perfectly, so it's a cinch to manoeuvre it elegantly and smoothly at very low car park speeds and also around town, while the visibility out of it in all directions is excellent. Volvo's dedication to safety, which has already seen the S60 pick up a five-star Euro NCAP rating with some enormous individual scores, means a wealth of kit that takes the stress out of the more monotonous miles; things like BLIS (blind spot warning), adaptive cruise (or Pilot Assist, if you like the car to steer for you) and a head-up display all imbue the driver with the feeling that they're definitely in something premium and well-sorted. Yep, it's another new Volvo for which we have a serious amount of 'want', already.

Verdict

Class-leading exterior looks and cabin finishing/design already get the new Volvo S60 off to a flyer, but the fact that it drives sweetly only strengthens its case. The refinement is good, albeit we accept the ride is going to be a touch too brittle for some - and there are question marks about the strong pricing of the T5 R-Design and also the narrowness of the range. However, as more models filter into the showrooms in the coming months - including a T8 Twin Engine PHEV later this year, and possibly 'B'-badged mild-hybrid petrols in 2020 - then the Volvo S60 will only become even more impressive than it already is. It's one of the best things in its class and one of the best products of the new Volvo crop.

5 5 5 5 5 Exterior Design

5 5 5 5 5 Interior Ambience

4 4 4 4 4 Passenger Space

4 4 4 4 4 Luggage Space

5 5 5 5 5 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

4 4 4 4 4 Driving Dynamics

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 30 Apr 2019









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2019 Volvo S60 T5 R-Design. Image by Volvo UK.2019 Volvo S60 T5 R-Design. Image by Volvo UK.2019 Volvo S60 T5 R-Design. Image by Volvo UK.2019 Volvo S60 T5 R-Design. Image by Volvo UK.2019 Volvo S60 T5 R-Design. Image by Volvo UK.

2019 Volvo S60 T5 R-Design. Image by Volvo UK.2019 Volvo S60 T5 R-Design. Image by Volvo UK.2019 Volvo S60 T5 R-Design. Image by Volvo UK.2019 Volvo S60 T5 R-Design. Image by Volvo UK.2019 Volvo S60 T5 R-Design. Image by Volvo UK.








 

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