We all know Volvo's reputation of old – safe but boxy. The Swedish manufacturer has been working hard over the past few years to establish itself as a credible alternative to the premium German brands, to crack the compact executive class. The S60 is therefore Volvo's answer to the Audi A4, Mercedes C-Class and BMW 3 Series, and it really does feel like a very high-quality product indeed. Yet Volvo is keen to stress that it is not divorcing the S60 from its pedigree of safety and comfort in its quest to raise their performance and desirability profile. Smaller in dimensions, the S60 is more comfortable than its rivals, which is a good thing given the ever-worsening condition of UK roads. The S60's engine range includes four petrol and three diesel engines, with top-of-the-range models coming fitted with four-wheel drive. The 1.6-litre diesel DRIVe model is more focused on economy and emits less than 115g/km of CO2, which works out at around £30 in annual road tax. The S60 is offered in Business Edition (which replaced the old ES specification in 2012), SE, SE Lux and R-Design models.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
The previous S60 wasn't the cheapest car to run, but the latest model is much improved with better economy and lower CO2 emissions. There's a wide range of engines on offer, from small diesels to a thirsty petrol – so running costs can vary quite a bit. Give the top-of-the-range T6 model a wide berth if you want to keep costs affordable, thanks to its meagre 28.5mpg in fuel economy. The D3 and D6 diesels both return 53.3mpg and have CO2 emissions of 139g/km, which is respectable but not outstanding. For the best economy, customers will need to seek out the D2 DRIVe model, which promises to return more than 60mpg and emit only 114g/km of CO2.
Interior & comfort
Volvo doesn’t disappoint on comfort, and this is where the S60 impresses the most. The suspension flattens out most big bumps, even though the ride is unsettled somewhat by consistently rough roads. Road and wind noise are reduced to a whisper inside the car and the engines only get noisy if you rev them really hard. The seats are almost like armchairs in their size, offering great support, loads of adjustment and lots of comfort. It certainly is a relaxing car to drive and a calm place to be, with more space in the rear to make sure passengers are having a nice time, too.
Practicality & boot space
There's more than enough room for four adults to get comfy in the S60, but the middle section of the back seat is only really suitable for another full-size person on short journeys. Even so, rear passengers do get more legroom in the back than in the old model and it's more spacious than its rivals. Headroom is about average, in other words, slouchers will be more comfortable. That extra leg space comes at a price, though – the 339-litre boot is significantly smaller than the 480 litres of space found in the Audi A4 or the 475 litres in the Mercedes C-Class. Also, the boot opening is awkward, making it hard to negotiate bulky items into. Perhaps more frustrating, though, is the 60:40 split-fold back seats don’t even fold down completely flat.
Reliability & safety
Let's not be shocked to see Volvo in the top 10 manufacturers in the latest 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, landing at eighth overall. It's predecessor, the first generation S60, ranked 55th out of the top 100 cars, so expect the new car to do even better in subsequent customer surveys. And we haven’t even got onto its class-leading safety yet. The current S60 hasn’t been put through the Euro NCAP crash safety tests yet, but seeing as the Volvo V40 scored the highest ever recorded result, its likely to secure the maximum five stars. Six airbags, anti-skid control and a radar-based collision detection system all come as standard. If you opt for the Driver Support Pack you can add lane-change and blind spot warnings, and a pedestrian detection system to the list – but it is expensive. All this technology is undoubtedly clever, it can also be a bit distracting. Quality is on a par with the rest of the premium category, and while Volvo isn’t quite as strong on reliability as it is on safety, there really should be no cause for worry.
Engines, drive & performance
So, first goal achieved – the S60 is fast. The range extends from a 113bhp diesel up to a 304bhp petrol, so there should be an S60 to suit all tastes. All of the diesel engines are powerful and responsive, with lots of acceleration in low revs. Naturally, Volvo expects more than 85 per cent of its customers to go for a diesel, with the 115bhp DRIVe model the most economical of the lot. The steering is well weighted but lacks the precision of its BMW and Audi rivals, with the manual gearbox similarly lacking in accuracy. Things do get a bumpy over rough surfaces, but grip is good, especially when cornering. It's still good to drive, but a keen driver would probably still prefer a BMW 3 Series.
Price, value for money & options
Placed alongside premium rivals from Audi, BMW or Mercedes, the S60 looks like quite the steal in comparison. That's until you line up against more common mainstream alternatives from Ford or Vauxhall, whose top-spec models do edge close the Volvo's levels of comfort and equipment. All models come with climate control, 16-inch alloy wheels, daytime running lights, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity for your mobile phone and an integrated sat-nav with a seven-inch display. The SE gets a better stereo, better upholstery, 17-inch alloy wheels, electrically folding wing mirrors, automatic windscreen wipers and headlights, and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror. The SE Lux adds xenon headlights, electric rear headrests, electric driver's seat adjustment and leather upholstery. The top-of-the-range R-Design also comes equipped with an even better sound system and R-Design-branded interior touches, plus sports seats and a sportier drive. Resale values in the used car market should be about as strong as the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series, so expect some reasonable deals when it does come time to sell.