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Car reviews - Volvo - V60 - T5 5-dr wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Design, safety, comfort, performance/economy balance, dynamics, Swedishness
Room for improvement
Poor rear vision, ride could be a smidge suppler, steering a tad heavy at lower speed for some

Volvo logo10 Jun 2011

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

VOLVO needs to loosen up and embrace its inner geek.

The recent ‘Naughty’ campaign for the S60 is a perfect example of what the Swedes shouldn’t be communicating because every car-maker seems hell-bent on being BMW-like. Racy. Adrenaline. Athletic. Cliché.

Listen up, Gustav: That’s not what Volvo is about. It’s like Kate Bush attempting to boost album sales by emulating Lady Gaga. Incongruous barely begins to describe it.

A week behind the wheel of the V60 wagon version of the S60 further hammers that fact home.

Rather than being the automotive equivalent of a jock, the newest Ovlov ought to don a cardie and glasses and be cool in its own skin… let the peeps and punters out there discover its unique charms for themselves, we say! Just like back in the day of the 120, 240 and 740 heyday.

In fact, we’ll go one better by saying that lesser is better.

Take the ‘base’ T5 – if you could call basic a 177kW direct-injection turbo tearaway, six-speed dual-clutch trannie, and advanced City Safety radar that can actually stop you from hitting things at low speed as part of an embarrassment of active and passive safety gear.

At $54,950 (plus on-roads of course), the poverty pack V60 has everything you could need in a (premium) Euro – except for the laughably extortionate $1550 metallic paint.

Check the specs: all the aforementioned safety plus climate-control, rear parking radar, rain-sensing wipers, auto-on headlights, cruise control, inbuilt outboard rear booster seats, Bluetooth connectivity with audio streaming, and leather upholstery.

You can also spend over $40K on niceties like switchable suspension, radar-guided cruising and a fancy body kit – but the essence of this car is, refreshingly, all yours for well under $60K driveaway.

So what is the V60 T5 like to drive then?

Fitted with Ford’s impressive 2.0-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder petrol engine, the Volvo provides the sort of power that C-class buyers need $85K to improve upon – or $155K if a more powerful wagon version of this Merc (C63 AMG) is needed!

Plant your foot and after a nano-second’s delay the (98 RON premium unleaded-fed, though 95 is perfectly acceptable) T5 whooshes forward with heady zeal, scooting up (and down) the ratios with unfettered ease. Note that even in manual sequential mode the Powershift will upshift before hitting the 6500rpm redline.

Oddly, the T5 doesn’t actually feel particularly quick. Volvo quotes a believable 8.7-second 0-100km/h time. Before no time passes, though, you’re practically flying – yet you may not even realise it. Not helping matters is the lack of a digital speedo. You could be in licence-losing territory and blissfully unaware at the same time.

Only the distant, sporty exhaust note during impressively quick overtaking manoeuvres gives the fact away that this is a speedier device than it seems – that and the fact that you’re always passing slower traffic. You’re cocooned away from the outside world in a rapid little rocket.

Load the V60 up as most Volvo wagons are destined to be and performance isn’t really hampered, except for slightly tardier take-off acceleration.

Conversely, we regularly dipped well below 9.5L/100km – and averaged 10.1 – on our varied driving route, so dipsomaniacal tendencies are not part of the Euro-V emissions-rated T5’s repertoire despite its spirited powertrain. Without having driven the diesels yet, we suspect this is the sweet spot in the V60 range.

So far so good, but previous front-drive Volvos (bar the Ford Focus-based S40/V50) tended to fall in a sorry feedback-free, leaning and lumbering heap when the first corner came. No more.

Granted, this is no BMW 3 Series, as the V60 is steered and geared towards comfort and security rather than Olympiad ability – that’s why the ESC kicks in early (though seamlessly) once traction begins to break.

Plus there is precious little feedback for keen drivers to connect with, while on our standard 17-inch rubber the T5 would progressively lean more and more the faster we chucked it through a corner.

Yet the (unexpectedly for some) weighty and slow-ratioed steering is perhaps more direct than you might expect, tipping instantly into a turn as required, and faithful to your chosen line around a curve.

Backed up by guardian angel levels of braking prowess, the Volvo just clings to the road and is not too readily bumped off line when the bitumen starts breaking up, so it feels secure and planted. The same applies also on loose gravel and dirt roads.

Fuss free and forgiving, the V60 flatters an inexperienced handler.

When the going gets wet or slippery, the front wheels do scrabble for traction if you’re determined enough with the go-pedal, but you would hardly call it terminal torque-steer.

The only fly in the ointment is ride quality – not uncomfortable or harsh at all on the 215/50R17 rubber, and better than an equivalent Audi or BMW, but the sharper driving Mercedec C-class does it with more suppleness and control on our crappy urban surfaces.

A ‘B+’ effort all-round then for the way the T5 behaves – after an ‘A’ level drivetrain experience.

The latter also applies once you get in and shut the hefty door. Built (extremely well) in Sweden, the V60 insulates you as well as any German rival – and without the usual road/tyre droning that some are infamous for.

Is this the most inviting dash for the dosh? An evolution of the ‘floating console’ theme first sighted in this car’s S40/V50 predecessor of 2003, the look is fresh, interesting and appealing all the same, with a solid, quality feel that takes the fight right up to Audi and Lexus as far as sumptuous interiors are concerned.

Even in this base model the soft, smooth plastics, smart ‘Shimmer Graphite’ metallic trim and sumptuous hide inlays help create a believably premium ambience. Our test car’s optional two-tone light/dark leather presentation only served to enhance that.

And how cosseting are the Volvo’s front seats? You sink into each one as if nestling into a giant baseball mitt, with the double stitching adding to the sensation. Needless to say, both buckets support a wide frame range in real comfort, while the anti-whiplash head restraints are second-to-none. Those Swedes are masters in such matters.

Quibbles are few, but rear vision is atrocious. No wonder the rear sensors are included. Spending $795 for a reversing camera might be worthwhile. Some might find the dash and instrument design also a bit Spartan. And… that’s about it really. Volvo’s really thought things through here.

Out back the V60 is as spacious as you might expect – and comfier than most would hope – a medium-sized wagon to be unless you are jumping from a Ford Mondeo. Scalloped front seat backs, space for feet under the front seats and a low-set rear cushion collude to help create an area that can accommodate most feet, knees, shoulders and heads.

Volvo has included almost everything you need – map pockets, face vents, armrests, cupholders, mobile phone slots and overhead grab handles – along with stuff you might like, such as rear head restraints that fall away completely for improved reversing vision, a (shallow) hidden storage compartment and the company’s brilliant inbuilt child booster seats.

It is worth noting that the entry-level V60 is rare in making second-row occupants not feel as if they’re travelling second-class.

Indeed, your luggage is also pampered. No spare – just goo – and a highish load space means that the V60’s cargo carrying capabilities are not world-beating at 430 litres seats up and 1241 litres with the 40/20/40 rear backrest folded flat.

That’s the price you pay for the Volvo’s fastback roof styling that really does turn heads and elicit positive comment. But at least your bits and bobs will be ensconced back there in thick-pile carpet cosiness. Plus all the usual handy accoutrements – roller blind, floor hooks and 12-volt outlets – are included for the money.

Which neatly brings us back to why the V60 T5 has everything you could ever need in an upmarket family runabout – quality, performance, dynamism, safety and considered, attractive design inside and out.

Sure, the cheaper Alfa 159 1750 TBi is more beautiful and costs less, but it’s a manual-only prop for now, while the A4 1.8T Avant, 320i Touring and C200 BlueEfficiency Estate all cost more and offer less power.

You’d be doing yourself a disservice not to check out the V60 T5 before buying any of the above first.

Sportwagon? No, Volvo! You ought to call it the HowSwedeItIsWagon instead, because that is the V60’s greatest asset.

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