Volvo S60 review
The stylish Volvo S60 is a classy alternative to German models in the highly competitive compact executive saloon sector
The Volvo S60 is the Swedish maker's offering in the big selling compact executive class. It faces very tough competition from the Audi A4, Mercedes C-Class and the driver-orientated BMW 3 Series. The first model to appear since the firm was taken over by Chinese giant Geely, bosses claim it’s the sportiest and sharpest-looking car to wear the Volvo badge, yet the core brand values of safety and comfort haven’t been forgotten in the push for driving dynamics and desirability. The line-up includes four petrol and three diesel engines - with four trim levels. Facelifted for 2013 the sharp new front end and stylish 'R Design' models have real charisma, and the S60 is among the first models in the range to benefit from the brand's new Drive-E engines - which all share the same 2.0-litre capacity but thanks to turbocharging technology can either emit less than 99g/km or produce over 300bhp depending which version you choose.
Our choice: S60 2.0 D4 R Design
Video: Watch CarBuyer's video review of the S60
With svelte, coupe-like lines and bold detailing, the Volvo S60 is a good-looking car. The boomerang-style rear lights and square-edged exhaust are neat touches. This upmarket feel continues inside where the minimalist and attractive cabin uses light-coloured materials and clever design to deliver a bright and airy feel. From SE models upward the cabin gets aluminium trim, while the SE Lux has leather-faced upholstery. Racy R-Design models top the line up and add some muscle to the sleek design with 18-inch wheels, matt-silver mirrors and more aggressive detailing. The recent facelift bought in even smarter materials and the optional TFT digital dials from the smaller Volvo V40 - which help give the cabin a more modern feel in keeping with its upmarket image.
With a model line-up that extends from a 113bhp four-cylinder diesel to a 304bhp all-wheel drive six-cylinder petrol, there’s a huge range of performance on offer. The pair of five-cylinder - 2.0 and 2.4-litre - diesels, are smooth and characterful, and offer strong in-gear pace. Alternatively, the 1.6-litre 112bhp DRIVe diesel is the cleanest choice. Whatever engine you choose the S60 responds sharply to driver inputs thanks to its direct steering, while front-end grip is strong. But there’s little feedback through the controls, and broken surfaces severely upset the ride with potholes and steady bumps sending unpleasant jarring through the steering wheel and the seats into the cabin. On the motorway, low noise levels make for relaxed long-distance journeys. The new 2.0-litre D4 diesel is the most effcient in its class - with CO2 emissions of just 99g/km and a healthy power output of 181bhp. However while its a strong performer considering the power available this engine is also rather noisy and inflexible when compared with the best powerplants from German rivals like BMW and Audi.
Acknowledged as a class leader in safety, the Volvo S60 is packed with gadgetry. There’s electronic stability control and a full complement of airbags, plus the City Safety feature, too. This aims to prevent low-speed collisions by applying the brakes automatically if the on-board computer senses an impact is imminent. On the options list are further hi-tech safety features such as pedestrian detection, which promises to automatically stop the car from speeds under 20mph, in the event of a pedestrian obstructing the car's path. You can also choose lane departure warning; blind spot warning, adaptive cruise control and driver alert warning.
Some of the switchgear in the Volvo S60 is confusingly laid out, but comfortable seats and an airy driving environment give a sense of space up front. Better still, passengers in the back get slightly less space than in either an Audi A4 or BMW 3 Series. Unfortunately, matters take a turn for the worse when you open the tailgate, as the load bay is awkwardly shaped and cramped. Its 339-litre capacity trails the Audi A4 by a massive 141 litres, although a standard split-fold rear bench and forward folding front passenger seat helps to enhance practicality a little. Even so cheaper cars from the class below like the Ford Mondeo and Skoda Octavia offer significantly more practicality as family transport.
With such a wide range of engines, there’s a sizeable price spread across the range. So running costs vary wildly - especially when it comes to fuel consumption. All manual cars except the 237bhp T5 petrol get stop/start, but it’s the groundbreaking DRIVe models that offer the best in value motoring. Available in ES, SE and SE Lux trim, the 113bhp diesel emits 114g/km and has a combined economy of 65.7mpg - making it an attractive proposition for company and private buyers. Residuals are closely matched to key rivals like the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4 however there are so many different trims and options available that it's actually quite easy to get carried away and spend more than you planned to. Servicing from main dealers is also quite pricy and Volvo is not known for doing fixed price offers like some of its main rivals.