Volvo S60 saloon - Engines, drive & performance
S60 is quick and secure but can't beat rivals for driving pleasure
The Volvo S60 T8 Twin Engine versions offer, on paper, more than just a rivalry with plug-in hybrid versions of the Mercedes C-Class and BMW 3 Series saloon when it comes to performance; in terms of sheer acceleration, the T8 is up there with the most powerful models in each range.
The rear-wheel BMW 3 Series is broadly regarded as the enthusiasts' choice in its class, thanks to its sharp, responsive feel. By contrast, the S60 T5 and plug-in hybrids are nominally front-wheel-drive (like an Audi A4), with the electric motor providing additional power to the rear wheels when necessary in the hybrids. However, the rear wheels never receive as much power as those at the front.
When we drove a North American-spec S60 T8 Twin Engine, we found that its setup doesn’t achieve quite the same sense of balance and poise as the BMW – or to a lesser extent, the Mercedes C Class. The steering is accurate and confidence-inspiring, and the suspension does a good job of keeping the car flat, but push it hard enough and the S60 is prone to understeer.
Lifting off the accelerator allows the car to regain its composure, and doing this doesn’t cause oversteer in corners like it might in a rear-wheel drive car. That's partially thanks to the impressive amount of grip the S60's big tyres have to offer and partly thanks to the traction provided by the electric motor on the rear axle.
The plug-in hybrid's batteries and electric motor add an extra 200kg of weight compared to a petrol S60, which necessitates a firm suspension setup to keep body lean at bay. The petrol S60 T5 rides more softly but doesn’t corner any worse.
For those who want the sportiest S60 plug-in hybrid possible, there's a Polestar Engineered version. Not only does it have an extra 14bhp but it has an even stiffer ride thanks to dampers from Swedish performance experts Ohlins, of motorsport fame. There's more stopping power, too, thanks to Brembo brakes.
Changes for the Polestar version don't quite gel with the Twin Engine setup like you might hope – it's incredibly fast (0-62mph takes just 4.2 seconds), but the engine doesn't sound particularly good or have the exciting character of the BMW or Mercedes. The suspension is also too stiff in its factory setup, and while you can adjust it manually, doing so requires lifting the bonnet to access the front dampers and jacking the car up to turn the dial on the rears.
Volvo S60 petrol engine
The S60 T5 has a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine producing 247bhp, paired with a standard eight-speed automatic gearbox. It gets the Swedish saloon from 0-62mph in 6.5 seconds but it’s still not especially sporty. The car is quiet at lower revs and the gearbox shuffles through changes to help the car build speed, but take manual control and hold onto more revs and it sounds harsh, and the shifts aren’t particularly satisfying.
Plug-in hybrid engines
The T8 Twin Engine plug-in hybrid models both use a combination of four-cylinder petrol engine, electric motor and lithium-ion battery pack. They use a 2.0-litre engine that's turbocharged and supercharged, producing 299bhp or 314bhp on its own. All that power goes to the front wheels, while the electric motor produces a further 87bhp that's sent to the rear wheels. There's effectively 385bhp in total, or 399bhp if you choose the Polestar Engineered version.
Volvo claims 0-62mph in 4.6 seconds, and while the S60 T8 doesn't quite feel as quick in the real world as that figure suggests, there's no doubting its impressive turn of speed on a twisting country lane. If you want more, the extra 14bhp contributed by the optional Engineered By Polestar package adds a slightly sharper feel to the steering, but most drivers will be hard pressed to notice the difference. The biggest change is the new adjustable suspension, which brings a surprisingly hardcore setup. Polestar's intentions are admirable, but it feels like a step too far in a car that's usually so laid back, and we're not sure how many owners will find themselves at a racing circuit.
The implementation of large six-piston Brembo brakes is more successful, bringing a progressive and powerful feel to the brake pedal, but ultimately the S60 Polestar Engineering feels like a motoring novelty compared with rivals. The BMW M340i feels more involving and exciting, while the S60's steering isn't as tactile as that found in the Mercedes-AMG C 43.