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

Launch Story

Volvo logo10 Jun 2011

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

HOW ironic that the promise of a fine-driving Volvo has come to fruition only after dynamics expert and previous owner Ford has relinquished the marque to Geely.

Along with the closely related second-gen S60 launched late last year – but even more so with the newcomer – the V60 is the Swedish prestige contender that Germany, Italy and Japan should fear after a succession of flaccid false starts.

Consider the 850 of 1991 (the first BMW 3 Series-beating Volvo, they cried!) that still looked like a block of flats on wheels. Then came the first S60 a decade later – a muscular sculpture that drove like it was filled with wet clay.

Infuriatingly, every other Volvo developed since the Blue Oval’s unexpected 1999 acquisition has been an inferior steer to the Ford model that begat it. Witness how much more fun a Mondeo XR5 Turbo is to the V70 or S80.

No longer. Of course the V60 was developed completely under Ford’s stewardship, but it was as if the Swedes were no longer hampered by how good they could make their prestige sedans and wagons handle and ride.

Better late than never!

Aesthetically the V60 is a slave to fashion, with a high waistline, shallow glasshouse, taut surfaces and a tiny rear window. Nevertheless former design boss Steve Mattin created a striking and cohesive look that can hold its head high among the 3 Series Touring, Audi A4 Avant and Mercedes-Benz C-class Estate entourage. None are blessed with the Alfa 159’s timeless beauty, though.

Yet few rivals can touch the Swede’s unashamedly Scandinavian interior presentation. Despite yet another appearance of the samey ‘floating console’ that leaves the beholder struggling to figure out exactly which Volvo he or she is in, the ambience is first class, aided by gorgeously finished materials, lush leathers and a sense of exquisite solidness.

This time the engineers have managed to crack media connectivity, with a new audio/phone interface that is a million years ahead of the clunky old system available in the rest of the Volvo range. The resolution is brilliant, the options seemingly limitless and the overall usability well thought out (after a period of familiarisation, we should add).

A high level of other, mostly safety-related tech swathes the feel-good cabin with an up-to-the-minute modernity, but laid out in such a way that you don’t feel overwhelmed by it all.

Fab seats, a superb driving position and no lack of practicality round out a very persuasive cockpit scenario. Too bad side and rear vision is so rubbish (blame the slit-like glass area and thick pillars that help make this car one of the top crashers of all time).

Now a word about the wagon bit. Frankly the V60 is more like an extended five-door hatch, since the fastback tailgate eats into the lavishly crafted load area. As with most of its chi-chi rivals, you won’t be slotting that Smeg refrigerator out the back with the ease you could in an old 740 Estate.

But for what it provides, the cargo area is easy to access and in keeping with the luxury look and feel. Volvo recommends load luggers to look at the V70 Estate instead.

At the other end of the car is a brilliant forced-induction pair of petrol engine choices (along with a D5 twin-turbo diesel that sadly was unable to make it to the Australian launch in Victoria’s glorious Alpine region of Mount Beauty).

First up the T5 – a 177kW 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo that is also destined for a host of other Volvo and Ford products including the Falcon and Mondeo.

Mated to Getrag’s six-speed Powershift dual-clutch transmission (and co-developed with Ford), the T5 is a sweet treat, boasting terrific flexibility due to a well-judged kick right from the get-go.

Acceleration remains strong through the rev range, gear changes are imperceptibly smooth, and the whole drivetrain reeks of quality and class. Sampled on some of Australia’s most beautiful driving roads, the base V60 felt right at home. We can’t wait to assess this engine around town.

Better still – and at long last – this Volvo’s steering does not let the side down.

Weighty, measured and yet quick and full of feel, it telegraphs what’s going on under the front wheels like no recent Swede ever has. Whether you’re flying through flowing bends or roaring up a mountain pass (basically our only two choices of drive routes, actually), the T5 has a balance and poise hitherto foreign to the marque.

Surprised? We’re delighted. As a value package, the $55K V60 opener makes for a compelling alternative to, well, just about anything rivals (and even the in-house XC60) can pitch at it. Again, we eagerly await a drive on more familiar roads.

Meanwhile the 224kW 3.0-litre turbo in-line six-cylinder T6 – crucially with a regular torque-converter six-speed auto and a Haldex AWD all-wheel drive system – lifts the Volvo’s performance outputs to another plane.

Here is a real slingshot of an engine – powerful, silky and indecently fast – that turns the V60 from mini-GT in T5 guise to a locomotive. It can blitz past fast moving cars in the overtaking lane, roar up a mountain and then stop on a five-cent piece. The grip this vehicle offers is simply phenomenal. In the wet or snow we reckon it will shine.

Our test car was fitted with the automatic cruise control with full-stop capability that allowed the driver to ebb and flow with the pace of traffic with effortless ease.

Combined with a veritable cornucopia of other functionality and safety aids, the Volvo is a bit like a robot, forever scanning the road and conditions to facilitate a long journey. It is an extremely impressive display of real-world benefitting technologies.

But while we struggled to really criticise the base V60 on the lovely northern Victorian roads, we did find a few faults with the pacy T6 AWD that leads us to believe that maybe the T5 is all you need – unless of course you have the need for speed.

Barrelling up a winding road there seemed to be almost too much torque oscillating between the four wheels, corrupting the smooth flow a little the steering definitely feels heavier than in the regular front-drive car and the ride quality – though by no means harsh – lacks the pliancy of the T5. But only if you drive the two back-to-back like we did would the differences seem this obvious.

So here we have what is the best-driving Volvo of the modern era. You would have to be a bloody Volvo-phobe not to at least put the V60 on a 3 Series/C-class/A4/IS shortlist.

The fact that it was devised during the patchy Ford period makes us hope that this is only the first of many greats out of Gothenburg.

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