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Car reviews - Volvo - S60 - sedan range

Our Opinion

We like
Attractive exterior design, great interior, good value, excellent interior space, advanced safety technology
Room for improvement
Ordinary handling, no gearshift paddles on T6, no spare wheel, unsupportive seats, fidgety suspension in certain conditions

Volvo logo1 Dec 2010

By JAMES STANFORD

BMW and Mercedes-Benz will not quake in their boots, but the Volvo S60 is a competent and practical prestige sedan that is also value for money. Just don’t expect it to set new benchmarks in handling.

Volvo left behind its boxy designs long ago, and the new S60 has a shapely style that is kind on the eye. It isn’t all that bold, but the design is sleek and looks expensive.

The interior is also a high point. The dashboard layout with its floating centre console facing the driver, modern centre screen with high-resolution colour graphics and high-class surface materials, delivers a classy atmosphere.

Volvo has crammed a lot of controls on to the touch pad in the middle of the centre console , keeping the dash lay-out clean and well organised.

The soft leather trim used for the seats, and part of the doors looks and feels premium.

Chrome-look strips around dash sections and door trim also give the interior an upmarket edge, as does the standard leather trim.

Occupants will appreciate the considerable interior space too. The rear legroom appears to be considerably greater than any of its rivals, which are not known for rear-seat comfort. There’s more headroom too.

The rear seats are comfortable, even the centre rear pew, but provide virtually no side support in cornering, giving the impression that they were designed for the American market where seat squabs are big and flat.

The S60 has a relatively spacious boot with a flip-up divider to stop shopping sliding to the far corners of the cargo area.

Lift the floor to check for the spare wheel and … nothing, except for a blow-up goo kit for pneumatic emergencies. That could be an issue for some consumers, especially if they cop a flat far out in the country. Some motorists are still smarting that their cars now come with space savers, let alone these cans.

The engines we tested were adequate, not exceptional. We will have to wait a while to test the new four-cylinder turbo petrol model in the New Year before delivering a full verdict.

The torquey diesel D5 diesel powers off the line and doesn’t need to work hard to propel the Volvo at reasonable pace. More power for overtaking would be appreciated, but it does the job, if a little noisily compared with some of the latest diesels out of Europe.

The six-speed automatic is competent, and while changes are not as quick as those dished up by dual-clutch units, shifts are smooth.

Next up, we had a crack in the six-cylinder turbo – a more exciting proposition, as you might imagine. Strong, sonorous and fun to rev-out past 6000rpm, this powerplant is sporty without being overwhelming.

Mated to the same six-speed auto as the D5, the six does its job without fuss. Steering-wheel-mounted gear-shift paddles are a startling omission from this sporty number.

In manual mode, the transmission has the annoying habit of changing up of its own accord – a problem when preparing to brake for a corner.

Speaking of corners, the S60 can hold good speed in the bends, but its body roll does not inspire the driver to press on. Tipped into a corner, the S60 leans until it settles, making direction changes quite an event.

An optional R Design sports suspension and other active dampers are optional, but the standard cars should handle better. After all, this car has to compete against the brilliantly nimble BMW 3 Series. At first taste, it does not appear to come close.

The soft suspension is generally comfortable, absorbing most of the big bumps and undulations. However, it can also pick up some surface imperfections and transfer these to the occupants. We felt some small niggling vibrations on a few surfaces on our drive on some roads near Launceston during this week’s national launch.

The all-wheel-drive system grabs the road out of bends, while the steering delivers reasonable feel.

It is reassuring that Volvo has loaded such a wide array of safety gear on to the S60, much of it standard.

The S60 gets a roll-over sensor – normally fitted to high-riding SUVs – ready to deploy the curtain airbags and pre-tension the seatbelts before the car has rotated. Mercifully, we didn’t get to test that technology, but we did get a demonstration in a controlled environment of the City Safe and pedestrian avoidance systems.

The excellent City Safe feature, introduced on the XC60 and standard here – takes over when the car senses a low-speed crash (up to 30km/h), hitting the brakes while flashing a horizontal red light on the windscreen to alert the driver.

We didn’t get to try it in traffic, as there were no towns on the drive route, but we hope the S60’s version has improved on the XC60’s distracting and constant flashing lights and blinging noises in hectic city traffic.

We will simply have to wait and see if the pedestrian detection and avoidance system works in the real world. Volvo admits that it never tested the system on human pedestrians (although some magazines have done so and found it to work).

The adaptive cruise control, which maintains a constant gap between the car and the one in front, including when that car stops completely, is not new but it is affordable in the option pack than can be ordered on the S60.

All up, the S60 is an enjoyable car that is good value for money, with a high level of safety. It is off the pace when it comes to handling, but is attractive, practical and generally comfortable.

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