Volvo S60 review
The stylish Volvo S60 is a likeable left-field alternative to its ubiquitous German executive compact rivals
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 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). A pumped up S60 Cross Country appears later in 2015.
Volvo facelifted the S60 for 2013 and the sharp 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.
Our choice: S60 D4 R-Design Nav
Video: Watch CarBuyer's video review of the S60
There's no doubt that the Volvo S60 is a breath of fresh air thanks to its sleek coupe-like profile and bold detailing. Its boomerang-esque rear lights and square-edge exhaust pipes also add to the charm of the Volvo S60. 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.
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.
Climb inside, and Volvo continues the upmarket feel inside the S60 thanks to 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 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 traditional air distribution pictogram that allows you to select which air vents to open.
Overall, the cabin looks smart and Volvo’s TFT instrument pod is crystal clear. Plus, it 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.
Over recent years, the S60 engine range has been slimmed down and replaced with a brand new line-up that offer better fuel economy and are kinder to the environment – the 112bhp 1.6-litre diesel and thunderous 304bhp all-wheel drive T6 six-cylinder petrol being notable casualities. There's now a four-cylinder range of petrols and diesels with only one five-cylinder option on the all-wheel drive D4 AWD model. All engines are smooth and economical with the exception being the 2.4-litre five-cylinder – it has a deep five-pot diesel bellow but isn't particularly economical.
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 in the S60's controls and broken surfaces severely upset the ride. Furthermore, potholes and steady bumps send unpleasant jarring sensations through the steering wheel and the seats into the cabin.
On the motorway, the Volvo S60 is relaxed and low noise levels make for chilled-out long-distance journeys. The 2.0-litre D4 diesel is among the most efficient in its class – with CO2 emissions of just 102g/km and a healthy power output of 187bhp. It's a strong performer but for the greenest engine you'll have to look at the 118bhp 2.0-litre diesel (badged D2) – it emits just 99g/km and returns a claimed 74.3mpg.
The Volvo S60's gearbox needs a firm hand to change ratios, and the heavy clutch takes some getting used to. Its heavy kerbweight is also its undoing in corners and the Volvo can’t disguise its greater kerbweight as it rolls in bends. The suspension bumps over rough surfaces, too, and never feels particularly settled at any speed. However, the car is fairly refined at motorway cruising speeds.
The steering 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.
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.
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. The S60 hasn’t been tested by Euro NCAP, but it’s mechanically identical to the V60 estate, which has a five-star rating and a 100 per cent score.
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.
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.
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 the boot loading bay is awkwardly shaped and cramped.
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.
The Volvo S60 gets seat release levers in the boot and a flip-up divider is also useful touch. However, underfloor storage is limited. Thanks to its long back doors, access to the rear is easy and seat comfort is excellent.
In the front, it’s tricky to find a natural driving position in the S60 as bizzarely, the seat tilts when it raises and lowers. The centre armrest also obstructs gearchanges.
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 there's just the T3 (a 2.0-litre for manual and a 1.5 for the auto) which emits 131g/km (135g/km auto) and returns 50.4mpg (48.7mpg auto). The engine range is topped off by the 187bhp 2.4-litre five-cylinder diesel – it's only available with all-wheel drive and returns a not particularly impressive 49.6mpg and emits 149g/km of CO2.
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. Servicing from main dealers is also quite pricy and Volvo is not known for doing fixed price offers like some of its main rivals.
What's more, Volvo fits every S60 model with cruise and climate control as standard, along with a DAB radio, Bluetooth connectivity and auto wipers.