Chic to sleek
Whether the ‘E’ in the S60’s Drive-E spec standards for ‘exciting’ or ‘economical’ depends on how you treat this highly capable performer.
Volvo’s medium-size premium sedan, the S60, continues to evolve through more efficient engines and a sophisticated 8spd automatic transmission.
The latest units to come out of Volvo’s own engine design works are two high-tech 2.0L turbo engines designated as Drive-E: a 180kW petrol version and a 133kW diesel. Replacing engines previously sourced from Ford, these Volvo units have been tuned to deliver increased power and torque along with better fuel efficiency and lower emissions.
As Volvo’s competitor for the 3 Series BMW, Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4, the S60 range starts from a relatively low $49,990 (plus on-road costs) for the base 1.6L T4 Kinetic model, through to the impressive race-bred V6 AWD Polestar version at $99,990. The T5 R-Design Drive-E petrol model we drove is an impressively equipped package for its starting price of $63,890. This includes Volvo’s excellent City Safe autonomous braking system, which at up to 50km/h will automatically apply the brakes if the driver fails to react in time when the vehicle in front slows down or stops. Like most European models, there are also plenty of highly desirable extra-cost options, including a host of other advance safety features, which can boost the purchase price rapidly. As tested, our car was $72,490 plus ORC.
Reacquainting ourselves with the S60, which has been through a couple of updates since it arrived in its current shape in late 2010, was a pleasant experience. It’s a practical sedan that comfortably seats four adults, or five at a squeeze. There is sufficient leg room for both front and rear passengers, however tall occupants may find the rear head room a touch tight.
The S60 has a solid feel thanks to Volvo’s high build quality but thick pillars create a few minor blind spots. The standard reversing camera and optional Blind Spot Information System with Cross Traffic Alert ($1275) help reduce the problem significantly.
The R-Design’s exterior body kit and twin chromed exhaust outlets give the S60’s curvy coupe-like lines a subtly sporty appearance. Inside the theme continues. Leather upholstery with R-Design aluminium trim inserts and sports pedals create a classy look, while the shapely, supportive and comfortable sports-style front seats help set up an excellent driving position. All the controls are well positioned but the function of a few features may require a little familiarisation. Volvo’s Road Sign Information system (part of the Driver Alert option pack) is an excellent idea but unfortunately the inconsistency of speed limit displays on some roads means it cannot be relied on all the time.
The new Drive-E petrol engine and 8spd automatic combination delivers an extremely good mix of performance and fuel economy. One of the car’s most appealing aspects is its excellent driveability in everyday use. The 4cyl direct-injection turbo engine punches out a healthy 180kW at 5500 rpm. The real strength, though, is the 350Nm of torque which is developed from 1500rpm through to 4800rpm, and the efficient way it is put to work by the slick-changing automatic.
On the test track, our S60 T5 test car was surprisingly quick, recording a similar acceleration time to those we recorded for 6cyl Falcon and Commodore models. Yet the average fuel consumption over a broad cross-section of city, suburban and country driving was still a pleasing 8.8L/100km, albeit against an official government figure of a low 6.4L/100km. Although Volvo’s fuel- saving stop/start technology works better than a lot of similar systems, you can still get the occasional abrupt start up and take-off.
The R-Design’s handling has an agile feel, with accurate steering and secure roadholding that sits very flat through the corners and is not unsettled by mid-corner bumps. Loading on the new electrically assisted steering, however, has a slight vagueness to it, which may not be to everyone’s liking. The sports chassis and firm suspension produce a taut ride that is satisfactory on smooth roads but can get a bit choppy on second-class surfaces. Optional 19-inch wheels and 40-series tyres add to the athletic look of the R-Design but unfortunately they also accentuate the firmness of the ride, and over bigger bumps it can be almost bordering on harsh.
In recent years, Volvo has made a massive effort to appeal to a younger audience with more vibrant styling and sportier dynamics. While the S60 R-Design generally embraces this philosophy, the firm ride misses the mark slightly and detracts from the sports-luxury image the car tries to portray.
There is a lot to like about Volvo S60. It is not going to knock the class leaders off their perch, but it has a distinct character and provides a viable alternative to the German models that dominate the premium end of the mid-size sedan class.
The introduction of Volvo’s Drive-E engine and an 8spd automatic transmission demonstrates that strong, flexible performance does not have to come at the expense of fuel efficiency.
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