Volvo S60 S60 D3 SE Premium
Striking exterior head and shoulders above competition for visual appeal
- Bold styling is refreshing change from 'boxy' past
- Much evidence of high quality cabin materials and equally high fit and finish
- Electronic safety equipment is impressive - and works
- Welcome improvement in the driver enjoyment department
- Much of the clever safety kit isn't fitted as standard
- Smoother power delivery from the D3 diesel would be welcome, especially for urban driving
- Centre console switchgear layout requires some acclimatisation
- Steering could do with more weight and feel to please keen drivers
So long a maker of safe, conservative cars, Swedish company Volvo has in recent years taken bolder steps to better compete with the increasing popularity of its German rivals. The facelifted C30 and C70 models are obvious examples, but the all-new XC60 and now the S60 saloon show what this rejuvenated Volvo is capable of.
By promoting softer curves and more extrovert colour combinations, Volvo is keen to attract younger buyers to the brand. The compact executive market ripe for such a strategy, what with the stereotypical customer being male, mature and ultra-conservative. With this S60, Volvo hopes it can snatch more than a few sales away from the opposition.
Certainly, there's no mistaking this compact executive motor for anything else. Volvo's newfound boldness is evident from all four corners, although the Swedish firm's previous 'boxy' style is nowhere to be seen. Swooping curves are the order of the day, with the end result a more appealing and distinctive proposition.
Also worthy of note is Volvo's greater emphasis on cabin quality. This S60 is easily a match for its German rivals, and there's much evidence of high quality trim materials in Volvo's now familiar slightly left-field colours and textures. There's also plenty of room inside the S60 - an all-too familiar concern with cars in this sector.
It's on the road that the most obvious improvements can be felt, though. With a goal to please keen drivers who wouldn't ordinarily consider a Volvo, considerable effort was focused on ride and handling. And being a Volvo, you can't forget the safety angle. Along with a city safety feature first seen on the XC60, the S60 can be had with a system that detects pedestrians and brakes the car to a stop at low speeds.
Our verdict on the Volvo S60 S60 D3 SE Premium
Presenting a softer, more elegant face to the world, this S60 is a sign that Volvo is more comfortable with its corporate image. Boasting sizeable improvements over its predecessor in all the key areas, it's now more desirable as well as being more competent. The new safety kit - standard and optional - help matters, and the prospect of even lower CO2 emitting engines plus the fact the car is competitively priced is proof that Volvo is serious about meeting its German rivals head-on.
With diesel power the obvious choice for the cost-conscious motorist, the S60's economy and emissions numbers are similar to those of its main rivals - BMW is the standout performer in this class, however. Most S60's are well equipped, reducing the temptation to go mad with the options list.
Space and practicality
With plenty of oddment storage space plus genuinely useful door pockets, it shouldn't take long before a S60's cabin feels like an extension of your home or office. For occupants, there's enough head, leg and shoulder room fore and aft, with those in the back able to experience more room than the norm. And with a wide and flat load space, the S60's boot adds to its overall usefulness.
Controls and display
For some time now Volvo has excelled when it comes to cabin ergonomics and the clarity of its instrumentation. The S60 continues this trend, with easy to use switchgear, a bold and clear information display plus easy to read main dials. The manual gearshift could be more precise, but that's the only real criticism of an otherwise well thought out cabin.
Famous for its plush, supportive seats, Volvo has made the S60's cabin a welcoming environment. On the move road and tyre noise has been cleverly suppressed, although the slightly oddball five-cylinder diesel engine can clearly be heard from inside the cabin.
With keyless entry and keyless ignition on the menu, the S60 is comparable in terms of convenience functions to most of its rivals. The predictable immobiliser package is as you'd expect, although there's nothing like an aftermarket steering lock to provide a visible deterrent for the casual thief.
Volvo has upped the stakes here with some innovative technology. City-focused tech that warns of a possible impact when crawling through traffic and take action is standard o the S60. A more dynamic version, complete with the ability to differentiate pedestrians from roadside furniture, capable of braking the car to a stop from low speeds and assist greatly at higher speeds is a cost option. Factor in intelligent radar cruise control, stability control and a full compliment of airbags and it's difficult not to be impressed.
With ride and handling said to have been honed in Europe and, specifically, the UK, this S60 is a much-improved car over its predecessor. It's still not on par with the best from Germany, but it's more successful at balancing agility, ride comfort and refinement than the so-called performance saloons. Predictably diesel power is best, although the petrol motors are quieter.
Family car appeal
In principle the S60 is more than capable of accommodating a growing family. With plenty of safety kit, a good-size boot and a spacious cabin it shouldn't be discounted. Volvo's own XC60 sports utility vehicle is a better option, though. Improved cabin access and a more family-friendly cabin are just a few of its more appealing and practical attributes.
First car appeal
There's no question that the S60 is easy to drive. Thanks to its light steering, excellent cabin ergonomics, good visibility and many safety features it should prove attractive to the novice driver. However, like anything this size, it won't be a cheap car to run.
Quality and image
Having cultivated a strong, safety-centric image over recent decades, Volvo is now just as keen to promote its cars as an extension of your lifestyle. The unpretentious advertising and design language that is neither flash nor conservative appear to be succeeding. As is a noticeable improvement in the cars' build and material quality, which is now on par with German rivals.
With doors that open wide enough at the front to accommodate all shapes and sizes, access to the main part of the S60's cabin is straightforward. The seats aren't mounted too low either, which should help. It's good news at the rear too, with the rear door aperture large enough for those who are less than agile. A low load lip and an assisted spring action for the boot lid is also welcome.
Stereo and ICE (In car entertainment)
Critics will rejoice at the news that Volvo's old-style 'pop-up' sat-nav screen is missing from the top of the dashboard. A larger, easier to read version is located lower down and boasts better mapping graphics and more intuitive controls. It remains an option, though. Elsewhere, the audio unit performs well, as does Bluetooth telephone and iPod integration.
Colours and trim
Bold colours work well here and compliment the car's equally bold styling. Darker hues have the potential to mask any exterior details. Volvo has been no less adventurous inside, with the S60's cabin boasting tasteful, contrasting trim options and high quality upholstery.
The S60 isn't a large car by modern standards and, with its light steering and good visibility, shouldn't trouble competent drivers. There's no question that the car's parking sensors help matters, though.
Tyre inflation kit is fitted as standard.
Petrol engine options - 3.0-litre T6 (304bhp). Diesel engine options - 2.0-litre D3 (163bhp); 2.4-litre D5 (205bhp). Transmission options: six-speed manual and automatic gearboxes depending on model (T6 gains all-wheel drive). Trim levels: ES, SE, SE Premium, SE Lux.
Vauxhall Insignia High-spec Insignia matches S60 for kit and premium feel, lags behind on the safety front
Audi A4 Compact executive from Audi is popular and accomplished
Skoda Octavia Lower cost alternative does most things right but lacks excitement or the S60's safety features
BMW 3 Series The keen driver's choice and potentially the most frugal car here