Volvo S60 review
The Volvo S60 is a likeable but left-field alternative to ubiquitous German compact-exec class rivals
The Volvo S60 brought a fresh-face to the compact exec class back in 2010, replacing a somewhat dowdy predecessor. A face-lift in 2013 improved the S60’s image further, and the car has plenty of showroom appeal thanks to premium-quality fit and finish, and an upmarket cabin ambience with attractive Swedish design features.
There’s a strong range of diesel engines offering good performance and great economy, but that’s where the positive news begins to peter out. The S60’s biggest problem is the unrefined ride and unsophisticated handling – failings almost guaranteed to put off those thrusting exec-types used to the more finely-honed responses of rival German driving machines.
The Volvo S60 saloon is Volvo's left-field answer to the somewhat ubiquitous Audi A4, Mercedes C-Class and BMW 3 Series in the compact executive class. That means it’s also in the firing line of the Jaguar XE, the Lexus IS and even the Volkswagen Passat, but the Volvo brand’s relative weakness means it’s priced between the more premium-badged rivals and the Skoda Octavia.
The Volvo S60 was the first car the Swedish firm produced after Chinese giant Geely took it over from Ford in 2010. Volvo claimed at the time that the S60 was the sportiest and sharpest-looking car to wear the Volvo badge yet, but its core brand values of safety and comfort weren’t forgotten in the push for driving dynamics and desirability.
The Volvo S60 range includes two petrols both badged T3 with the manual getting a 2.0-litre and the auto getting a 1.5-litre engine. There are also four diesel engines with five trim levels – buyers choose from the entry-level Business Edition, mid-range SE and SE Lux, plus the flagship R-Design (pictured) and R-Design Lux, and apart from the Business Edition all trim levels come with a standard and Nav model, too (which naturally adds sat nav).
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A pumped-up S60 Cross Country joined the line-up in 2015 and, as the only saloon-based ‘crossover’ for sale in the UK today, is carving itself a lonely niche. The V60 Cross Country estate - which inspired the S60 Cross Country - is a much more convincing canvas for the rugged, backwoodsy look.
Volvo facelifted the S60 for 2013 with a sharper new front end, and stylish R Design models have real charisma. Buyers of the R Design trim Volvo S60 can also opt for a performance pack from Volvo's motorsport division Polestar, which gives the car an even sportier appearance and improved driver engagement.
While the UK also gets a fully-fledged performance version of the estate called the V60 Polestar, the S60 saloon version is not being marketed in the UK – although you can buy an S60 Polestar on the Continent and in the Middle East.
Engines, performance and drive
Irrespective of engine size, the Volvo S60 responds sharply to driver inputs thanks to its direct steering - it also has strong front-end grip. However, there’s little feedback through the S60's controls and broken surfaces severely upset the ride. Furthermore, potholes and steady bumps send unpleasant jarring sensations through both the steering wheel and the seats into the cabin.
While the suspension never feels particularly settled at any speed, a relatively heavy kerbweight is also its undoing in corners and the Volvo can’t disguise its mass as it rolls in bends.
The steering itself needs a fair amount of effort and the Volvo has a large turning circle. What's more, its long brake pedal doesn’t feel overly responsive but it does deliver good braking performance. The Volvo S60's manual gearbox needs a firm hand to change ratios, and the heavy clutch takes some getting used to.
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However, the car is fairly refined at higher cruising speeds, so on the motorway, the Volvo S60 is relaxed and low noise levels make for chilled-out journeys.
Over recent years, the S60 engine range has been slimmed down and replaced with a brand new line-up that offers better fuel economy and is kinder to the environment – the 112bhp 1.6-litre diesel and thunderous 304bhp all-wheel drive T6 six-cylinder petrol being notable casualties.
There's now a range of four-cylinder petrols and diesels with only one five-cylinder option on the D4 AWD (all-wheel drive) model. All engines are smooth and economical with the exception being that 2.4-litre five-cylinder – it has a deep five-pot diesel bellow but isn't particularly economical.
The 2.0-litre D4 diesel is among the most efficient in its class and has a healthy power output of 187bhp. That’s sufficient for a top speed of 143mph and 0-62mph in 7.1 seconds for both the 6-speed manual and 8-speed auto variants, making it the quickest S60 in the line-up. The 119bhp diesel in the D2 does 0-60 in 10.5 seconds and 121mph, while the 148bhp diesel D3 improves that to 8.4 seconds and 134mph.
The two petrol engines in the T3 (2.0 manual or 1.5 auto) both offer 0-60mph in 8.1 seconds, and 130mph.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
The Volvo S60 gets an extensive range of engines, meaning there’s a sizeable price spread across the range, and both fuel economy and overall running costs can vary greatly depending on your choice of model.
The D2 is the greenest thanks to 99g/km CO2 emissions and a claimed 74.3mpg figure making it an attractive proposition for company and private buyers. If you have to have petrol the T3 variants are the only options. They emit 131g/km (135g/km auto) and return 50.4mpg (48.7mpg auto).
The engine range is topped off by the 187bhp 2.0-litre diesel in the two-wheel drive D4, which offers an impressive 72.8mpg and 103g/km in manual form, or 65.7mpg and 113g/km with auto – the latter putting it up a tax band.
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The five-cylinder 2.4-litre diesel in the D4 AWD returns a not particularly impressive 49.6mpg and emits 149g/km of CO2, taking it all the way up to tax band F.
Residuals on the Volvo S60 are strong, but 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 on speccing it up. That said, Volvo fits every S60 model with cruise and climate control as standard, along with a DAB radio, Bluetooth connectivity and auto wipers.
Servicing from main dealers is also quite pricy and Volvo is not known for doing fixed price offers like some of its main rivals.
Insurance groups aren’t too bad for the S60, ranging from group 17 for the least-powerful diesel – the D2 – up to group 28 for the strongest performing D4 models in higher specs.
If you want your Volvo S60 to look after your money, it pays to choose your model wisely. Industry experts CAP reckon the T3 petrol models will fare worst, returning just 29 or 30 percent of your investment after three years and 36,000 miles of motoring.
Best of the bunch should be the D2, D3 and D4 diesel models in Business Edition trim, each returning 41 or 42 percent. Everything else falls somewhere in-between.
Interior, design and technology
There's no doubt that the Volvo S60 was a breath of fresh air when launched, thanks to its sleek lines and bold detailing. Its three-box shape has been smoothed off to give it a coupe-like profile, with steeply raked front and rear windscreens, small side windows and a raised rear end. Boomerang-esque rear lights and square-edge exhaust pipes add to the charm.
The 2013 facelift saw Volvo add a wider grille and new headlights up front, although the pedestrian-friendly humped bonnet still looks a bit ungainly. At the rear, the tail-lamps have been extended on to the bootlid.
The Volvo S60 R-Design has a sporty edge thanks to its aggressive bodykit, rear lip spoiler, lowered suspension and 18-inch alloys, but the SE version still looks sharp with simpler lines and 17-inch wheels.
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Climb inside, and Volvo continues the upmarket feel with a minimalist and attractive cabin, which uses Volvo's familiar design cues. The light-coloured materials and clever design deliver a bright and airy feel.
Entry-level Business spec comes well-equipped with 16-inch alloys, rear parking sensors, Volvo's City Safe autonomous braking technology, sat-nav, climate control and Bluetooth. From the mid-range Volvo S60 SE upwards, the cabin gets aluminium trim and the SE Lux has leather-faced upholstery, an electric driver's seat and xenon lights that 'turn' with the front wheels. The range-topping Volvo S60 R-Design models add some muscle to the sleek looks thanks to 18-inch wheels, matt-silver mirrors and more aggressive detailing.
The S60's flat-fronted centre console has a bank of buttons and features a central keypad, which is flanked by four rotary controls. Lower down is Volvo’s usual air distribution pictogram that allows you to select which air vents to open.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
Volvo’s TFT instrument pod is crystal clear and adds to the upmarket feel of the car. However, it's not the easiest system in the world to operate and the controls do take some getting used to. It's also easy to reach for the wrong dial – you can end up retuning the radio instead of adjusting the temperature.
The standard infotainment set-up includes DAB radio/cd, Bluetooth hands-free system, a 5-inch TFT screen and 4x45-Watt speakers.
Business models include an upgrade to Sensus connect with a 7-inch colour display, internet browser and access to web apps, plus sat-nav and HDD music storage – but you can buy the package as an option on other models. There’s an optional 12-speaker Harman Kardon version too, with DVD player, surround sound and 650 Watts.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
While the cabin of the Volvo S60 is a pleasant place to be thanks to its comfortable seats and airy driving environment, some of the switchgear on the dash is confusingly laid out.
Some drivers will find it tricky to find a natural driving position in the S60 too as, bizarrely, the seat tilts when it raises and lowers. The centre armrest also obstructs gearchanges, which is annoying and seems ill-considered.
The cabin is pretty good for storage though, with a spacious glovebox and well-sized door bins. That annoying armrest conceals another cubbyhole, and there’s a tray for loose change and other small items behind the centre console.
The S60 only comes in the regular four-door format, and with five seats.
At 4,635mm x 1,899mm x 1,484mm the Volvo S60 is very similar to the BMW 3 Series saloon in size.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
Sadly, despite its pleasant atmosphere, the Volvo S60 isn't the most practical car in the compact executive class - passengers in the back get slightly less space than in an Audi A4 or BMW 3 Series, and headroom could be a problem for taller passengers.
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The middle seat is pretty cramped too, so really only of use to children.
On the plus side, access to the rear is easy thanks to the S60’s long back doors, and seat comfort is excellent. Isofix child seat mounts are a standard feature too.
The S60's 380-litre load capacity is pretty small, and the wheelarches and bootlid hinges also cut into the load bay, leaving an awkward shape to work around. In comparison the Audi A4 offers 480 litres, and the Mercedes C-Class 475-litres.
However, the Volvo S60 does get seat release levers in the boot, and a flip-up divider is also useful touch although underfloor storage is limited. Fixed and detachable towbars are optional, as is a 400-litre roof box.
Towing weights of up to 1,900kgs are possible with the highest-rated D4 AWD model, although the lowest-rated T3 petrol auto can only manage 1,500kgs.
Reliability and Safety
Volvo has a historic reputation for building cars that will run and run. However, while the gadget-laden S60 is unlikely to stand the test of time quite as well as simpler models of the past, it’s been in production long enough for most niggles and faults to have been resolved.
Volvo was rated 17th overall out of 30-odd manufacturers in our 2015 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey. The ranking dropped to 20th when Volvo was measured on reliability alone, but the brand scored an impressive 6th place for build quality.
One area where Volvo can’t be faulted is safety. There is a raft of passive and active systems on board, including a full set of airbags, side impact protection, anti-whiplash headrests and Volvo’s innovative City Safety low-speed collision prevention system.
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Euro NCAP hasn’t independently tested the S60 saloon, but its engineering and body structure is identical to the V60 estate from the windscreen forward. The V60 attained a five-star rating and a 100 per cent score for safety assistance systems in 2012. Adult occupant safety in the V60 was rated at 94 per cent, child occupant safety at 82 per cent, and pedestrian safety at 64 per cent.
On the S60 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.
The Volvo S60’s standard warranty offer is three years with a 60,000-mile cap. BMW offers the same warranty length, but with unlimited mileage.
Volvo offers a flexible service plan that covers routine maintenance and allows the costs to be spread over monthly instalments. You can check your vehicle details on the Volvo website, but the three-year 54,000 mile option on a D4 S60 should cost around £350.