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Car reviews - Volvo - S60 - T5 sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Styling, value, features, safety
Room for improvement
Performance, handling, stereo display

Volvo logo19 Apr 2001

DON'T get the wrong impression about the S60. It observes all the proprieties expected of a car from Volvo. It is comfortable, functional, practical, eco and family friendly. And safe.

But at long last, the Swedish marque has delivered a reason for the driving enthusiast and younger buyer to take notice.

At street corners and parking lots, we have seen people fitting this description become confused. A sports sedan, a stunning appearance, a promise to perform - not a Volvo, surely? Should they pluck up the courage to contact their local dealer, those captivated by the S60's appearance will find in the T5 version on-paper prowess and outstanding value for money.

The numbers catch the eye. Power of 184kW from the 2.3-litre turbo. A power-to-weight ratio of 113kW per tonne. A need of only 6.8 seconds to reach 100km/h from standstill. And a price starting from about $80,000 that includes a colossal amount of equipment.

Some of T5's obvious prestige rivals will have the full gamut of electric conveniences, airbags in all directions (front, side, head), leather seats, trip computer, cruise control, climate-control air-conditioning, four-wheel disc and anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control, 17-inch alloy wheels, front and rear foglamps, remote locking and a premium CD stereo.

But will they provide a telephone, sunroof and satellite navigation? The cockpit is a wonderful place to warm to the S60. The anti-whiplash pre-tensioning front seats offer superb reassurance, comfort, support, heat treatment, a driver memory function and an infinite amount of electric adjustment to enable a perfect position behind the three-spoke steering wheel, which itself is blessed with reach and height movement and controls for the (powerful) stereo, telephone and sat-nav.

Not only is the inaugural sat-nav system - like all S60 switchgear - within easy reach and quickly mastered, its monitor hides within the dash when idle and, when called for, rises to a position that requires little diversion away from the road.

The instruments are a basic, uncluttered affair, the stereo fully integrated (though impossible to read if sunlight hits the electronic display panel), the requisite woodgrain tastefully used and trim materials soft wherever the hand, arm or leg is likely to touch.

There are also clever storage facilities throughout the cabin - not all of them standard - and eco-friendly touches such as a 12-volt power outlet on the dash instead of a cigarette lighter.

Perhaps most surprising given the heavily curved roof is the rear passenger accommodation. The styling imperatives hinder driver rear visibility (even with the electric headrest flip-flop employed), however outboard rear occupants will appreciate the sculpted seats and acceptable headroom and space underneath the front pews.

That said, the marginal rear legroom only just avoids being diabolical thanks to 40mm whittled out behind the front seats.

All seating positions have a headrest and three-point seatbelt, while the centre-rear position doubles as an armrest, child booster seat and thoroughfare via the skiport. Comfortable? Nope.

The luggage compartment features non-obtrusive bootlid struts, luggage-tie downs, a usable width of 1160mm once through the restrictive boot aperture, good depth of 1080mm from tailgate to seatback and a 60/40 split-fold rear seat that can then cope with items up to 1750mm in length. Alas, a temporary spare wheel also makes it in.

Taking all of that in, and claims of first-rate handling through vastly increased body stiffness, the keen driver might find he'll simply swallow the stigma and take the T5.

But the driving experience does not live up to expectations.

Despite the squeal, the big tyres offer good grip up to a point although front wheel adhesion when pushed disappears too easily and the front-drive T5 will descend into rather crass understeer.

When the road becomes tight, the car relies heavily on its electronic aids - which can debilitate the engine - to prevent it ploughing on straight ahead in a corner.

The steering is light, devoid of feel and can send some vibration up through the column, but otherwise the rack and pinion system is direct and proficient at stamping out unwanted kickback.

In the ride department, the MacPherson strut/multilink suspension does an acceptable job ironing most road roughness but allows some suspension noise up into cabin. The car can also lose its poise if it hits a bump mid-corner.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment comes with the 2.3-litre five-cylinder turbo T5.

The engine is frugal on (premium unleaded) fuel and meets strict low-emission vehicle standards, though when mated with the five-speed automatic gearbox it does not feel anywhere near as quick as the figures suggest.

The T5 reveals its potential in the upper reaches of the rev range, but will torque-steer under hard acceleration on its way there and require frequent use of sequential manual gear selection to keep things humming along.

Left in drive, the auto generally shifts smoothly upon demand but on two occasions it got stuck in a gear and upshifted only when it hit the rev limiter.

Sadly, the drive exposes the beautiful S60 as another Volvo coodabeen champion.

But there is still hope - an ultra-quick four-wheel drive version due some time in 2002 might be icing this otherwise outstanding car, and its new-found devotees, deserves.

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