► Volvo's executive saloon driven
► Petrol and hybrid power only
► Topped by Polestar Engineered version
The Volvo S60 goes on sale in the UK at a particularly exciting time. Not only for Volvo, which really is on a roll right now, but also for the executive car sector as a whole, which is awash with interesting and talented cars. For Volvo, the S60 arrives pretty much at the end of a particularly busy period of renewal – it's the seventh new model in a little over four years.
In common with its XC90, S90, V90, XC60 and V60 siblings, the new saloon utilises Volvo's Scalable Product Architecture (SPA). Volvo's executive saloon might be the last of the SPA-model line-up to hit the market, which reflects how important the SUV is to company as a whole. But don't thnk for a moment that it's not taking this BMW 3-Series/Audi A4 challenger seriously. Quite the contrary.
Want a diesel S60? Tough luck…
Volvo's S60 range is pared back to the bone in the UK right now. At launch, the 247bhp T5 petrol is the only version you'll find in showrooms, with the T8 available to order for delivery 'within three months'. No diesel versions will leave the US factory the S60's rolling out of, but as Volvo executives tell us, it's a retail proposition, and private buyers are moving away from the black pump far more rapidly than their company-expensed counterparts.
Despite its small model range, Volvo is bullish about the new S60's prospects in the UK. The previous model sold around 1000 per year here, and given the new one is much more stylish and on trend, joining the company's most successful ever line-up, it's difficult not to imagine this one doing better. The problem for Volvo is that it's up against some talented rivals – not least the left-field choices up against the big-selling class leaders, such as the Alfa Romeo Giulia, Jaguar XE and Lexus ES.
Let's see how this one plays out.
What other engines can we get?
Volvo says that the S60 T5 will be joined later by 187bhp T4, as well as the T6 Twin Engine. The T8 is available in 385bhp R-Design form, as well as the 405bhp Polestar Engineered version.
Volvo S60: looking good…
Although, there’s much design commonality with the rest of the Volvo range, the S60’s flowing flanks and almost Jaguar-like haunches are a real departure for the company that’s nailed its SUV and estate car styling so effectively. These curves might be un-Volvo like, but the headlight signatures, grille and rear lights bring it all back into line – so as not too scare the traditionalists too much. It’s a well-judged effort.
We’ve driven the T5 R-Design Edition in the UK and the T8 Polestar Engineered in the USA. The latter car will become the S60’s halo model, and once on stream, the Polestar Engineered model franchise will be rolled out to its V60 and XC60 sister cars.
Driving Impressions: Volvo S60 T5 R-Design Edition
For anyone familiar with Volvo's current line-up, there are absolutely no surprises inside. Cool use of wood, light interior shades, and that polarising 9.0-inch all-encompassing portrait-format Sensus infotainment and command system lock the S60 into Volvo’s current school of design. It looks good, and once you’re up to speed with operating the screen, it’s a comfortable and restful place to spend time in.
On the road, it’s reassuringly familiar. From the console mounted twist starter to the TFT display, Volvo knows its customers and has built a car to meet their needs. The seats are big and supportive, the driving position spot on, and there's an all-pervading sense of calm.
Performance is where you’d expect it to be with 247bhp: quick but doesn't really feel it. A 0-62mph time of 6.3 seconds and a maximum speed of 145mph are competitive for its class, as is the WLTP combind fuel consumption figure of 35.3-39.8mpg. Shame the CO2 output is on the high side compared with the BMW 330i, too.
But performance isn’t all about numbers. It's an effortless drive, with the engine remaining tremendously muted at cruising speeds, adding to the all-round sense of calm. But, even in the most sporting drive mode, the gearchange can be slow to respond, leaving keen drivers almost obliged to use paddleshifters when overtaking. The T5 unit also sounds strained when it finally pierces through the soundproofing at high revs, too.
In terms of ride and handling, the S60 is up there with the best in its class, because it’s genuinely capable. Volvo is keen to play up to the saloon’s differences from the V60 and XC60. The car’s SPA platform comes with a sophisticated suspension set-up, incorporating double wishbones at the front, and an integral link rear axle, which promises much.
In the UK and in sporty R-Design Edition trim, the firmer suspension setup is just that: firm. Particularly at low speeds, the S60 never really settles down over concurrent bumps. Happily though, the ride improves the faster you go, meaning motorway stints are arguably just as comfy as the competition and refined, too. Body roll is kept reasonably in check, although like the V60 it’s so closely related too, it doesn’t corner as flatly as a 3-Series or an A4, and the steering isn't as talkative as a Jaguar XE or Alfa Romeo Giulia. We'd advise you wait until the expanded trim range that'll include Momentum and Inscription trims with softer springs if ride quality is high on your priority list.
If you’re running it in series with the Pilot Assist semi-autonomous drive system, you’ll find it corrupted by the car’s need to sit in the centre of your lane. The latest updates to this system introduced in the S60 have toned down the system’s tendency to nibble its way through long sweeping bends, and it feels more natural than before.
As for handling balance, most of the time it remains neutral, only suggesting understeer when you’re really pushing in tight bends. So, although it’ll do the B-road thing without disgracing itself, the S60 is more suited to sweeping A-road and motorway cruising, where it feels flat, planted and very comfortable.
Driving Impressions: Volvo S60 T8 Polestar Engineered
The main interest in the S60 for performance car fans is the T8 Polestar Engineered version, which continues the tradition of offering low key, but menacing looks, great performance, and an under-the-radar image. Volvo says it’s not trying to build an M3-baiting fast saloon, but with 405bhp to play with, those inevitable comparisons are going to be made anyway.
It’s based on the T8 Twin Engine plug-in hybrid, but it’s the upgrades that make this performance version a most interesting proposition. The biggest deal, aside from the stealthy visual updates, are to the suspension – the include Öhlins adjustable dampers (which have 22 user-adjustable settings), under-bonnet strut brace, 12mm drop in ride height (compared with non-R-Design models) and 5-10% increase in spring rate.
There are other upgrades, too, such as a the 14bhp jump in power, and a recalibrated ‘Power’ driving mode, which gives you sharper throttle response, a quicker gear shift, and more driver-focused gearchange settings. Do these small changes add up to create a desirable sports saloon worth what’s anticipated to be around £52,000 when it hits the UK?
Performance is more than adequate, with a 0-62mph time of 4.4 seconds, and a maximum speed limited to 155mph. Although it disguises its acceleration a little too well, never feeling electrifyingly fast. Nor does it have an interesting soundtrack, again sounding like an – albeit muted – undistinguished hybrid four-pot.
The plug-in hybrid might pack give the Polestar 21 miles of EV-only power, but its main benefit it to give this 1979kg saloon, instant and devastating throttle response in the mid-range. And that helps make it an excellent means of covering ground quickly and without fuss.
But the biggest gains are reserved for the way this car handles. The ride is firm, but thanks to those sublime dampers, it seldom gets ruffled by what rough roads throw at it. Yes, it can pitter-patter on motorway expansion joints, but such is the excellence of its damping and body control, all major irregularities are rounded off impressively.
When you start driving it hard as the roads get twistier, it hangs together so much more effectively than the standard S60, giving the driver real confidence to push on and lean on it. Turn-in is progressive, and understeer is tamed to an impressive degree, and it’s very difficult to get things out of shape without severe and unnatural provocation. It still feels a heavy car, with some inertia issues, but far less leaden than the standard S60.
The six-pot Brembos are worth a mention, as they have great stopping power when you’re driving hard, and a curiously inconsistent feel when you’re not. When slowing to a stop, you’ll sometimes be surprised by a grabbiness, which really should have been calibrated out. But the transmission’s ‘B’ mode is a nice addition, offering limited EV-style regenerative braking.
Overall, an interesting and characterful performance saloon, and one that’s a little bit confusing. On the one hand it’s not fast or focused enough to seriously challenge the BMW M3, nor is it as charismatic to drive as the six-cylinder Mercedes-AMG C43. It’s probably not as accomplished all-rounder as an Audi S5 either. But what the S60 Polestar Engineered does do well is cover ground quickly, quietly and without fuss. It’s also good beyond expectations, carving out an interesting new niche for itself, which is good news for fast car buyers looking for a left-field alterative.
Volvo S60: verdict
The saloon as a format might be in the shadow of the zeitgeisty SUV, but the continued success of the 3-Series, A4 and C-Class proves that buyers still lap them up if there’s a premium badge nailed to them. But they also need to be very, very good. Volvo is keen to crash that particular party, and it has found success with the S60’s platform sisters, but is this car good enough to complete the story in this particularly hard-fought market sector?
In short: mostly. It’s there-or-thereabouts, and can sit in the premium saloon sector with its head held pretty high. It’s a lovely looking thing, with a particularly well-judged interior, and we can see many people choosing it over a 3-Series, A4 or C-Class on looks alone. We suspect the real opposition to this car will be from the Jaguar XE and Alfa Romeo Giulia, and – lack of diesel aside – it beats these two cars, particularly when it comes to refinement and interior quality.
The T5 R-Design car we drove in the UK was a tale of two halves; it arguably looks like the best out of the available variants and has an interior so solid it would even worry Audi, but the uncharismatic engine and lumpy low-speed ride in particular mean it isn't perfect.
The T8 Polestar Engineered brings something new and a little different to the fast car party, and we admire it for that. It suffers from the brilliance of its rivals, but we love the throttle response and sheer majesty of its damping, as well as those stealthy, bad-ass, looks.
Throw in impressive crash-avoidance technology, which will help it move on significantly from the old one, and we can see the S60 moving on Volvo’s game – and premium market ambitions – significantly. But the lack of that last degree of dynamic brilliance expected at this level will ultimately stop it from disrupting this market despite Volvo’s ambitions to the contrary. For now.
Specs below are for S60 T5 R-Design Edition