Volvo S60 D3 SE Premium

Can the Stylish Swede offer a classy alternative to its German rivals in this highly competitive sector?

It’s one of the most important new Volvos ever. The latest S60 is the first model to appear since the firm was taken over by Chinese giant Geely earlier this year, and has been charged with taking top honours in the closely fought compact executive class.

Bosses claim it’s the sportiest and sharpest-looking car to wear the Volvo badge, and are targeting the BMW 3-Series and Audi A4. However, they are also keen to point out that core values of safety and comfort haven’t been forgotten in the push for driving dynamics and desirability.

Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the Volvo S60

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On the face of it, the designers have succeeded in their attempts to make the S60 stand out from the crowd. Sleek, coupé-like lines and bold detailing give it strong kerbside appeal. Neat additions include the boomerang-style tail-lights and square-edged exhaust.

However, the silver-finished, SUV-like bumper extensions on our top-of-the-range SE Premium test model are at odds with the slick executive image. There are fewer complaints about the attractive cabin. The use of light-coloured materials gives it a bright and airy feel, while occupants in the back get slightly more space than those in either the A4 or 3-Series.

The high-set driving position means the car doesn’t seem as sporty from behind the wheel as either rival, but the heated and leather-trimmed seats are extremely comfortable. Our SE Premium also had bags of kit. While you expect climate control and sat-nav, the powerful xenon lights and Bluetooth connection give real showroom appeal.

Switchgear on the centre console is less impressive – it’s confusingly laid out. It gives access to the sat-nav, stereo and vehicle set-up functions through the large colour screen located above, and is slow to react. Buyers get the option of a remote control unit, but this is fiddly to use.

Matters don’t improve when you open the tailgate, as the load bay is awkwardly shaped and cramped. Its 339-litre capacity trails the Audi’s by a massive 141 litres, although a standard split-fold rear bench does help to enhance practicality.

The S60 couldn’t match its rivals at the test track. It has the least powerful engine – the 2.0-litre five-cylinder D3 delivers 161bhp – and took a disappointing 9.8 seconds to cover 0-60mph. That’s nearly two seconds slower than the BMW.

However, in the real world, the Volvo feels stronger than our figures suggest. With 400Nm of torque, the smooth and characterful diesel offers strong in-gear pace. Power fades at 3,000rpm, meaning you have to change up early and rely on the car’s mighty mid-range muscle.

Turn into a corner, and the S60 responds sharply thanks to its direct steering, while front end grip is strong. But there’s precious little feedback through the controls, and broken surfaces upset the car’s composure.

The ride doesn’t live up to Volvo’s tradition for comfort, either. Small bumps cause the car to fidget, while the 17-inch alloys can crash into potholes and send a shudder through the cabin. It’s better on the motorway, where the low noise levels make for relaxing high-speed progress.

Safety is as strong as you’d expect from the brand. Not only do you get electronic stability control and a full complement of airbags, there’s 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.

In addition, buyers can fork out £450 and £515 for blind spot and lane departure warning systems respectively. A cutting-edge pedestrian detection package is also available for a hefty £1,350. If you don’t specify these options, the S60 works out as the cheapest car in this test, at £27,295. So it’s good value, as well as stylish, comfortable and generously equipped. The question is whether it’s good enough to win this test.

Details

Chart position: 3WHY: Bosses at Volvo have made some bold claims about the sporty and stylish new S60. Can the car break the German stranglehold on this lucrative market sector?

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