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New car review

Volvo S60 review

Is the latest Volvo S60 a premium saloon to fight off the likes of Audi and BMW?

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Design
8.0
Comfort
8.0
Driving experience
7.0
Value for money
8.0
Safety
9.0

Summary

The Volvo S60 maintains the Swedish brand’s recent record of top-quality build and plenty of tech in a striking visual package. While it can’t quite match some rivals for its on-the-road dynamics, it’s a pretty efficient all-round alternative to the traditional premium rivals.

Summary

The Volvo S60 maintains the Swedish brand’s recent record of top-quality build and plenty of tech in a striking visual package. While it can’t quite match some rivals for its on-the-road dynamics, it’s a pretty efficient all-round alternative to the traditional premium rivals.
 

60-second summary

What is it?
The Volvo S60 is the Swedish brand’s latest mid-sized saloon, competing against premium-badged heavyweights.

Key features
Two plug-in hybrids in range, front or all-wheel drive, striking looks.

Our view
The Volvo S60 maintains the Swedish brand’s recent record of top-quality build and plenty of tech in a striking visual package.

While it can’t quite match some rivals for its on-the-road dynamics, it’s a pretty efficient all-round alternative to the traditional premium rivals. 

Similar cars
Alfa Romeo Giulia | Audi A4 | BMW 3 Series | Jaguar XE | Lexus IS | Mercedes-Benz C-Class | Peugeot 508

Full review

Introduction

On the face of it, there is not a lot to write about the all-new Volvo S60 – because to Volvo fans, most of this car will already be familiar.

The arrival of the S60 completes the renewal of the Swedish brand’s mid-sized model line and the two other members – the V60 estate and off-road themed V60 Cross-Country, have been with us for some time. This car is effectively the V60 in four-door saloon form, save for one major difference, under the bonnet.

This is the first modern Volvo to come to market without the option of a diesel engine – Volvo delivering on its promise to move away from oil burners. And that fact is far more important than this being the first Volvo to be built in the brand’s state-of-the-art new factory in Charleston, South Carolina, USA.

Why? Because the Volvo S60 is the car that the brand expects to take on the biggest hitters in the most competitive part of the premium sector. Volvo wants to steal sales from the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, as well as the likes of Jaguar’s XE and Alfa Romeo’s Giulia.

Such cars are all dominant players in the fleet sector where until now diesel’s benefit-in-kind tax advantages have kept it the preferred choice. Yes the picture is changing but Volvo clearly hopes to accelerate that change – not through the T5 petrol engine in the launch cars, but a choice of not one but two plug-in hybrid variants that will soon join the range. Is the brand focusing on electric too early? Time will tell…

Visually the new S60 paints a rather more distinctive picture in the company car park than do its over numerous and oh so conventional rivals such as the 3 Series. This Volvo boasts the same sculpted panels as its V60 sister, the same clever details cascading down from the 90 Series cars, such as the concave grilles and ‘Thor’s Hammer’ headlamp signature. The rear works well too, the strong curves along the flanks meeting at the top of the boot to produce a slightly nose-down, purposeful appearance. 

Buying and owning the Volvo S60

As mentioned, the S60 does not get the two diesel options that are expected to take the majority of sales in its V60 estate sister. In fact, the launch choice is very simple – one petrol engine through a front-wheel-drive transmission.

 
 

The engine in question is the 2.0-litre ‘Drive-E’ unit and it puts out 250hp. Combined with 350Nm of torque, the result is a 6.5-second sprint to 62mph, fuel economy between 35 and 40mpg and CO2 emissions between 152 and 155g/km (WLTP measuring method). 

Even when the two plug-in hybrids join the range Volvo still expects 85% of UK buyers to go for the straight petrol option, so the S60 is clearly not being pitched as an entry to premium saloon ownership.

The 2.0-litre petrol engine will also be the basis of the two plug-in hybrid variants, both of which will be all-wheel-drive. The T8 Twin Engine will offer a total of 390hp and a 4.6-second 0-62mph time, while expected to return official emissions figures of 39g/km – fuel economy is yet to be revealed.

This drivetrain will also be offered as a version ‘breathed upon’ by Volvo’s Polestar performance sub-brand, adding another 15 horses and an extra 30Nm of torque and cutting the 0-62mph time to 4.4 seconds.

All this will cause company car buyers to crunch numbers – the BIK tax rate on the petrol S60 is 34-35% but the T8 plug-in version cuts this to just 16%. There could, however, be an argument for holding on as Volvo is hinting at range expansion – a T6 petrol engine in both normal and traditional hybrid variants.    

S60 trim levels number four, sort of, and curiously they don’t match those of the V60. Entry is the R-Design Plus, but for the launch this is being offered as ‘R-Design Edition’ boasting extra useful tech. This includes a rear-view camera, adaptive cruise control with the pilot-assist semi-autonomous steering aid, blindspot information system and that vital bit of software in today’s connected market, smartphone integration with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The £37,935 price tag also provides 19-inch wheels, a 14-speaker premium sound system and heated steering wheel.

When the mainstream range goes on sale, at the same starting price of £37,935, all of the above will be extra-cost options best bought as part of a ‘Value Pack’ – the Smartphone integration for example, disappointing to see on an options list, will cost £300 to add. 

The other two trim levels, still to come at the time of writing, are the performance-pitched ‘Polestar Engineered’ cars primarily featuring uprated engine, transmission, suspension and brakes, and the range-topping Inscription Plus. The latter gets Nappa leather, ventilated front seats, driftwood interior inlays… but you still have to pay £300 more to plug in your Smartphone…

We should add that the general equipment levels on the entry models are quite impressive – you don’t expect to find such niceties as a head-up display and hands-free boot opening on a base car.

Finally as one would expect from a Volvo, the S60 really scores on safety. The blind-spot warning might be an option (also including a rear cross-traffic alert) but the standard kit is extensive, including an autonomous emergency braking system that monitors the behaviour of oncoming traffic as well as that moving in the same direction as the car. A five-star Euro NCAP crash-test rating was no surprise, the car scoring maximum possible points in some areas.

Inside the Volvo S60

When we reviewed the V60 around nine months ago, we argued that the interiors of current Volvos could beat the exteriors for the most visible evidence of the brand’s transformation. Of course, we are dealing with a basically identical interior here, and it still impresses with its immediate feeling of premium quality when one steps inside. This is thanks to the quality of the surfaces, their fit and detailing.

Like most recent Volvos, the new S60 is built on the brand’s latest SPA modular platform, and what that means for buyers coming out of the previous car is a wheelbase stretched by 10cm and more interior space as a result.

The car certainly feels roomy whether seated in front or back. Luggage space is reasonable – the 442 litres is slightly bigger than that in a C-Class but a little less than in a 3 Series or an A4. It is easily accessed – the loading space is wide, the loading lip low and hands-free opening standard on all variants.    

The driver’s environment remains efficient and functional, dominated by the portrait-format Sensus touchscreen infotainment screen on the centre console. We stand by our previous comments on this – you need a day or so to get used to the tablet-style swipe operation and it could benefit from one or two of the most basic car functions moving onto separate buttons.

Driving the Volvo S60

As mentioned, at this early stage we only get to drive S60s fitted with the 2.0-litre T5 petrol engine – quite a powerful unit for an everyday premium saloon.

Over a launch test route that takes in many miles of reasonably challenging roads in the Scottish Highlands it does not disappoint, wafting along in supreme comfort but with no shortage of poke when needed – for example dispatching another car in a rapid overtaking move.  

Part of the recipe for this latest S60 model is all-new suspension front and rear, the leading end benefiting from a double-wishbone setup. Additionally, the launch cars (and all R-Design Plus versions) come as standard with a sports suspension setup, which means stiffer springs, faster-reacting dampers, thicker roll bars and a ride height shaved by just over a centimetre.

These mods do not affect the general comfort of the Volvo, and one gets the impression that the company car staple of munching hundreds of motorway miles will hold no qualms for an S60 driver.

Having said that, the launch R-Design Edition spec does include 20-inch, rather than 19-inch, wheels and these do add a slight harshness to the ride, with the bumps of less than quality road surfaces not completely filtered out before reaching the cabin occupants.

The sports suspension mods do add a certain confidence when one wants to enjoy the car through a series of challenging high-speed bends (of which the Scottish Highlands boast plenty). As such, the S60 becomes quite fun to drive – but not to the finely-honed standards of a rear-wheel-drive BMW 3 Series…

Summary

The S60 is another quality car from Volvo, but it’s also a slightly curious thing. It boasts elements of comfortable cruiser and elements of sporty plaything, but not enough to be principally one or the other. 

There are some rational reasons to choose the Audi or the BMW over Volvo’s latest – but in the S60 you do get quite a lot of high quality car for your £38,000 outlay. And with this car not boasting a confusing line-up of lots of different engines, you will be guaranteed to be driving something a little more exclusive than the general herd. 

Good points

  • Strong safety package
  • Interior space
  • Tech surprises in entry-level spec

Bad points

  • Some rivals offer bigger boot
  • Touchscreen needs some getting used to
  • After launch, tech such as Apple CarPlay option only


Key specifications

Make & ModelVolvo S60Jaguar XEAlfa Romeo Giulia
SpecificationT5 R Design PlusSE P250 Auto RWD2.0 Veloce
Price (on-road)£37,935£35,385£39,690
Engine2.0-litre petrol2.0-litre petrol2.0-litre petrol
Transmission8-speed auto8-speed auto8-speed auto
Power250 hp250 hp280 hp
Torque350 Nm365 Nm400 Nm
0-62mph6.5 sec6.5 sec5.7 sec
Top speed145 mph155 mph149 mph
Fuel economy (combined)35.3-39.3 mpg (WLTP)39.2 mpg (NEDC)46.3 mpg (NEDC)
CO2 emissions152 g/km (WLTP159 g/km (NEDC)158 g/km (NEDC)
Insurance GroupTBC30E34E
Euro NCAP rating5 stars (2018)5 stars (2015)5 stars (2016)
Design
8.0
Comfort
8.0
Driving experience
7.0
Value for money
8.0
Safety
9.0

Summary

The Volvo S60 maintains the Swedish brand’s recent record of top-quality build and plenty of tech in a striking visual package. While it can’t quite match some rivals for its on-the-road dynamics, it’s a pretty efficient all-round alternative to the traditional premium rivals.
Andrew Charman
Andrew Charman
Andrew is the News and Road Test Editor for The Car Expert. He is a member of the Guild of Motoring Writers, and has been testing and writing about new cars for more than 20 years. Today he is well known to senior personnel at the major car manufacturers and attends many new model launches each year.

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