Car reviews - Volvo - S60 - range
Very keen pricing, loaded with standard equipment, smart exterior styling, high-quality and comfortable cabin, two solid powertrain options
Room for improvement
T8 plug-in hybrid lacks aural drama and brake-pedal feel, jittery ride with Four-C Chassis, not the first word in dynamics, intrusive lane-keep assist
Volvo gets serious with sharply priced, feature-packed and visually attractive S60
11 Sep 2019
IT’S no secret that mid-size sedans are falling out of fashion. Thankfully for Volvo, this is truer at the mainstream end of the market and not the premium segment it plays in. Either way, it’s tough going out there as buyers continue to get behind SUVs instead.
So, what better time to launch an all-new mid-sizer than now? Well, Volvo has thrown caution into the wind and brought the S60 to market with hopes to succeed where others are starting to fail in what is undoubtedly a bold move.
But considering that Volvo is on a bit of a hot streak at the moment, with the XC40 and XC60 launching to critical acclaim, is it onto another winner with the S60, which rides on the same SPA platform? Read on to find out.
First drive impressions
When you want to make a splash, you have to make sure it’s a big one. It’s no surprise, then, that Volvo has thrown the kitchen sink at the S60.
Priced from a scarcely believable $54,990 plus on-road costs, the S60’s entry-level variant is about $15,000 cheaper than equivalent versions of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, BMW 3 Series and Audi A4. $15,000 – that’s some fairly aggressive positioning.
You’d think that this pricing would be enabled by a short list of standard equipment, but that’s certainly not the case. The range-opening Momentum grade is absolutely loaded.
Key features include LED headlights, satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, DAB+ digital radio, keyless entry and start, leather-accented upholstery, autonomous emergency braking, lane-keep and steering assist (seriously intrusive, even when between road markings), blind-spot monitoring, cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control… you get the idea.
If value for money is your only consideration, then we should end this review here. The S60 is the undisputed champion when it comes to mid-size premium sedans.
But, of course, there’s more to the S60 story than that. Firstly, just look at it. Doesn’t it look smart? Volvo has knocked the exterior styling out the park. Each to their own, naturally.
If you’re not taken by what’s outside, jump inside and the S60 is sure to surprise and delight. Simply put, there isn’t another model in this segment that feels this luxurious without boxes being ticked.
Case in point: soft-touch materials are found nearly everywhere, even on the door bins, which are often neglected. In fact, the only hard plastics we could find frame the centre stack and console, but even they look premium.
If you’re familiar with the mechanically related XC60, then the S60’s interior design won’t come as much of a surprise. It’s simple but effective, with most controls integrated into the Sensus infotainment that is projected onto a 9.0-inch touchscreen in this instance.
As always, we would prefer physical climate controls, as they and many other basic functions require too much faffing about when on a move.
The complementing digital instrument cluster is one of the better ones on the market today, with plenty of information on offer. We just wish a higher-resolution display was used. The windshield-projected head-up display is well-executed, too.
As for the rest of the cabin, there are some quirks. For example, if you opt for the T8 variant, you lose the otherwise-standard central rear air vents due to the positioning of its battery. What? At least you get ventilation from the B-pillars.
Speaking of the second row, the transmission tunnel is unusually tall (and covered by a strange black plastic cover), making three adults abreast even more challenging.
That said, legroom behind our 184cm driving position is generous, while about an inch of headroom is on offer. However, toe room is tight with the supportive front seats set to their lowest positions.
The boot is also pretty useful, with a wide aperture leading to 442L of cargo capacity. Plenty of bag hooks are on offer, too. However, the load lip is on the higher side, so be sure to pull bulkier items up.
At the S60’s national media launch, we spent most of our time in its flagship version, the $85,990 T8 R-Design, which is a plug-in hybrid.
While some would assume its green credentials mean it’s an unworthy halo variant, they’d be wrong.
Bolting a turbocharger and a supercharger onto a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine results in a healthy 246kW of power and 430Nm of torque, but throw a 65kW/240Nm electric motor into the equation and outputs rise to a heady 311kW/680Nm – that’s BMW M3 territory.
How does zero to 100km/h in 4.3 seconds sound? Pretty good on paper, right? In reality, though, the T8 doesn’t feel quite as brisk.
Don’t get us wrong, straight-line performance is pretty damn good, particularly the rush of torque that makes overtaking a cinch, but you can tell it’s held back by its 2006kg weight.
There’s also the issue of noise. While whether it’s an M3 or M340i rival is up for debate, what isn’t is the fact that the T8 doesn’t serve up aural pleasure like the BMWs do. In fact, it offers very little. Make no mistake, emotion is an important part of any performance car.
The other powertrain option is the 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine used by all of the S60’s T5 variants. In the R-Design version we tested, it produces an encouraging 192kW/400Nm.
While it lacks the T8’s ability to travel up to 50km with zero tailpipe emissions, the T5 is arguably the pick of the two. It is at least $21,000 more affordable, weighs 239kg less and serves up performance that won’t leave you wanting (zero to 100km/h in 6.3s in R-Design form).
Like the T8, the T5 is matched to a smooth-shifting eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission and a reassuring all-wheel-drive system, so you’re not missing out on much.
And while we spent much less time in the T5, on first impressions it appears to be a better handler than the T8, which counts understeer as a constant threat.
Either way, the S60 is not on the same dynamic level as the class-leading BMW 3 Series. It’s far from it, actually. Although well-weighted and relatively direct, the steering lacks feel, while body control isn’t as strong as it should be, especially in the T8.
The two powertrain options are also chalk and cheese when it comes to brake-pedal feel, with the T8 just wooden, while the T5 feels much more progressive.
The most disappointing aspect of the S60, though, is its chassis. While three versions are available, we have only tested the sportiest version, Four-C, that is standard on the R-Design grade and it’s a real surprise.
Simply put, the ride quality it serves up is lacklustre, with all road imperfections noticeably felt. It just never feels tied down. Granted, Australia’s roads are of a much lower quality than those found in Europe, but this set-up does not translate well.
Thankfully for the T5 R-Design, the softer Sport Chassis is available as an option – one that we would be ticking without doubt. The T8 R-Design, however, doesn’t offer such a choice.
That said, the S60 is brilliant for the most part. We suspect the value-packed Momentum and Inscription variants of the T5 are the pick of the bunch, mainly because they come with the Dynamic Chassis as standard, which is likely the most comfortable of the three.
The S60 doesn’t compete with the 3 Series dynamically, but it offers a hell of a lot of bang for your buck and arguably the best exterior/interior combination in its segment. We just hope buyers do their due diligence and give it a look.
Model release date: 1 September 2019
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