New Volvo S60 T5 Inscription Plus 2019 review

Volvo's S60 is a strong challenger in the executive car class. Can the comfort-oriented Inscription Plus model take it to the top?

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

The Volvo S60 T5 Inscription may not be perfect, but it’s a credible alternative for buyers after a comfort-focussed compact executive saloon. More interesting than an Audi A4, more relaxing than a Jaguar XE and better-built than an Alfa Romeo Giulia, the S60 is handsome, refined, and makes far more sense in plush Inscription Plus trim than it does as a sporty R-Design Edition. While niggles remain, the S60’s biggest problem is that it’s chasing dwindling customer numbers in a market dominated by the best-in-class BMW 3 Series, a car that - unlike the S60 - is also available with diesel engines.

Buyers in this executive saloon segment have never had it so good. Keen drivers can pick from the BMW 3 Series, Alfa Romeo Giulia and Jaguar XE, while those who would prefer to arrive at the office unruffled rather than thrilled can choose between the Mercedes C-Class, Audi A4, or this, the Volvo S60.

We previously tested the S60 T5 in R-Design Edition guise and, when fitted the lowered sports chassis, sports seats, paddle shifters, and optional 20-inch alloy wheels, we came away slightly underwhelmed - most notably with the ride quality, but also by the sluggishness with which the gearbox responded to manual inputs.

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But in comfort-focussed Inscription Plus trim, the S60 makes far more sense. Gone are the dynamic pretences, the sports chassis and those paddle shifters. Instead, you’ll find sumptuous, comfort-focussed Nappa leather seats, a softer chassis, and a transmission that is clearly intended to get on with the hard work of changing gear itself. These aspects play to the S60’s strengths, emphasising its relaxed, cosseting nature, rather than trying to make it something it’s not.

Take the ride, for example. On 18-inch wheels the S60 is pliant around town, absorbing ruts and bumps far better than more sporting models. It’s a similar story on the motorway, where the Inscription car makes such smooth, refined progress that you’ll have to keep a close eye on the speedometer.

Unless you want the (fast but expensive) T8 plug-in hybrid, the 247bhp petrol T5 is your only option; for better or worse, there’s no diesel engine for the S60. Company car buyers may be put off here, as a BMW 320d gets a Benefit-in-Kind tax rate of 30 per cent, while the T5’s 152g/km CO2 emissions attract a 34 per cent grouping. 

When dressed up as a sporting R-Design Edition saloon, the half-second the T5 gives away to the similarly powerful BMW 330i on the 0-62mph sprint was keenly felt. But if you view the S60 Inscription Plus as more of a junior luxury cruiser, that 247bhp engine offers brisk acceleration that is pleasantly juxtaposed with its comfort-oriented philosophy.

Things still fall down if you ask the S60 to do an impression of a sporting saloon on a winding B-road. Sticking the £750 adaptive dampers into their firmer setting by selecting Dynamic mode reveals a secondary ride that can best be described as jiggly, and at worst unresolved. And the steering, while nicely weighted, is almost entirely devoid of feel, discouraging involvement further. Far better to leave things in Comfort and let the S60 be itself.

Cabin quality is almost unimpeachable, with a soft-touch dashboard (even the door pockets are high-quality), a luxurious-feeling steering wheel, supremely impressive leather, and tight trim gaps. The ‘driftwood’ dashboard inlays are nicer to behold than the ‘metal mesh’ items found in the S60 R-Design, too.

But those qualities make some niggles stand out all the more. The sun visors, for example, feel so cheap they could come from a supermini, and the grab handles from a city car; plus the central transmission tunnel is surrounded by a swathe of plastic that has no place in a £25,000 car, let alone one costing £45,000. We’d also like to see a 360-degree parking camera and adaptive cruise control thrown in for this sort of money. Sadly, both are optional.

And, while we’re griping, the S60 isn’t a car that shrinks around you like a BMW 3 Series, feeling slightly less wieldy in tight spots than its junior exec format should make it. It’s 6cm longer and 3cm wider than a 3 Series, but at least the trade off is a set of rear seats that offer generous legroom for this class. Space is good in the front too, but an extra couple of inches on the left-hand side of the pedal box would make for a more comfortable driving position.

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Those niggles may make it sound as if the S60 is hard to recommend, but that’s far from the case. In fact, what issues there are stand out mainly because this is, in the main, an extremely well-resolved car, and a pleasurable one in which to spend long periods of time. No, it’s not as dynamic to drive as an XE, Giulia or 3 Series - but the S60 is at its best when it’s not trying to be. 

If you’re in the market for an executive saloon with some of the most comfortable seats in the business, one of the nicest-looking dashboards around, and a driving experience that seems to make every journey feel shorter, put the S60 near the top of your list.

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