"The Volvo S60 could finally be the car that places Volvo properly among the premium German players."
Volvo has long worked hard to be seen as a credible alternative to the big-selling premium German firms. And the S60 might just be the car to take on Audi, Mercedes-Benz and BMW - it feels like a very high quality product indeed. Despite Volvo's sporting aims, the S60 is a more comfortable drive than such rivals. That's a good thing, given the poor state of the UK's roads. The S60 was introduced with a range of powerful engines, while top-of-the-range models come with four-wheel drive. The economy-focused 1.6 diesel DRIVe version offers sub-115g/km of CO2, meaning you’ll only have to pay £30 annually in Road Tax.
The S60 is fast. The powerful five-cylinder diesel engines are all responsive, with lots of low-down performance. It's hardly surprising to hear that Volvo anticipates around 85 per cent of customers will choose a diesel. The steering is well weighted, but the S60 doesn’t steer with quite the precision of its German rivals. The manual gearshift is similarly lacking in accuracy.
Comfort is where the S60 impresses most. Bumps are flattened by the suspension; wind and road noise are whisper quiet; and the engines only get noisy if you rev them hard. Volvo's seats are armchair like in their proportions, yet they offer great support and comfort. Volvo has two cars in the top five in the comfort category in the 2010 Driver Power survey, which goes to underline its achievements in this area.
There's lots of safety equipment in the S60. It's available with lane-change and blind spot warnings, a pedestrian detection system, plus collision warning technology with automatic braking. These are all grouped together in the optional Driver Support pack (£1,250), and while the technology is undoubtedly clever, it can also be a bit distracting. All cars get six airbags, electronic stability control and City Safe - which helps prevent low-speed knocks due to inattention. Quality is right up with the best in the premium category, while reliability shouldn’t be a worry.
The S60 is comfortable enough for four adults, while the middle portion of the rear bench makes the fifth seat only really suitable for occasional use. The boot is easily accessed, but its 339-litre size is significantly bettered by the 480-litre capacity of the Audi A4, or 475 litres of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class. That's the price to be paid for good legroom in the back seats - the Volvo feels more spacious in the rear than any of its rivals.
Value for money
The Volvo S60 looks like a competitive choice when considered alongside premium rivals from Audi and BMW, or an expensive one if placed alongside mainstream alternatives from Ford or Vauxhall. All versions come with climate control and alloy wheels, although you’ll need to opt for an SE model if you want Bluetooth telephone connection and rear parking sensors. SE Lux versions gain leather upholstery, while Premium specification adds more luxury equipment, including satellite navigation, to the standard list.
The previous S60 was an expensive ownership proposition, but the latest car should address this with improved economy and more tax-friendly emissions. Avoid the flagship four-wheel-drive T6 model if you want to keep things affordable, as it returns 28.5mpg. The D3 and D5 diesel versions both manage 53.3mpg and have emissions of 139g/km, which is respectable rather than outstanding. Economy-minded S60 customers will need to seek out the DRIVe model, which promises over 60mpg and sub-115g/km of CO2. Residual values won’t be as strong as BMW, Audi or Mercedes alternatives, but the S60 will retain more of its value than mainstream competitors.