4.7 / 5.0
By Wayne Gorrett, Pitlochry, Scotland
My peers and I have been grumbling on for some time about the tidal wave of SUVs and so-called ‘crossovers’ stunting the growth of the traditional four-door saloon. It has and continues to do so.
But here, continuing to go boldly where few manufacturers now fear to go, is Volvo’s all-new S60 saloon. Hurrah!
It follows the V60 estate launched last summer and is essentially a less roomy version of it. They’re both based on the same mechanicals as the rest of the Volvo range, including the SUV line-up.
Unless you’ve been under a sizeable rock the past few years, you will have noticed Volvo’s metamorphosis, beginning with the XC90. The S60 saloon is the firm’s seventh all-new car in five years and the brand’s regeneration is due largely to the injection of capital from new owners Geely, who acquired the company from Ford in 2010.
This is the third-generation S60 and the first model to be built at Volvo’s new plant in Charleston, South Carolina. It is also the first Volvo to be available without a diesel engine in its line-up. Instead, Volvo will offer the S60 with its own range of Drive-E petrol and petrol-electric hybrid powertrains.
Earlier this month I met up with Volvo UK at Fonab Castle in Pitlochry, Scotland for the media launch of the all-new S60 saloon – initially in T5 R-Design Edition trim – and filed this report…
The new S60 gives you precisely what you’ve come to expect from Volvo of late, because the new family of Volvos follow largely the same successful formula.
On the outside, you get one of the best-looking saloon cars in its class, which houses the likes of BMW’s new 3 Series, the Audi A4, Alfa Romeo’s Giulia and the handsome Volkswagen Arteon. It bears a strong Volvo family resemblance, fine saloon proportions with perhaps a hint of contained aggression and with enough differentiation from other Volvos to avoid shouts of Matryoshka cloning.
The inside story
Inside the S60, you’ll find even less of a difference between modern-day Volvos than there is on the outside. That you can hop from any one current Volvo to another and know exactly where everything is and how to quickly fold the rear seat headrests, is quite reassuring.
Volvo has settled welcomingly into a Scandi-cool way of doing things, with excellent seats, a widely adjustable driving position and clear, well-positioned dials.
The vertically-mounted central touchscreen is relatively easy to navigate but, for my liking, still controls too many touch functions – such as the heating and ventilation which ideally should be controlled by intuitive knobs and dials.
On the whole, it looks good, works satisfactorily and reacts quickly to inputs and remembers you’ve turned off lane keep assist along with a few other nannying electronics the next time you get in the car.
There’s also plenty of storage space dotted around the cabin, including two cup holders below a lidded cubby between the front seats.
In the rear, the new Volvo has less head and leg room than the 3 Series and Alfa Romeo Giulia. Anyone gifted with height taller than around 6ft will probably notice their head brushing the ceiling and that before the optional panoramic glass roof is fitted, which will exacerbate the problem.
More positively, all versions get a rear central armrest as standard with integrated cup holders, plus there’s also a reasonable sized door pocket on either side of the car.
At 422-litres, the S60 has a relatively long boot by executive saloon standards, although the rival 3 Series has a taller and broader load bay. The powered tailgate is standard across the S60 range and there is underfloor storage and cargo hooks as standard.
The rear seats are manually split 60:40, but the optional Convenience Pack allows their folding at the touch of a button.
Trim grade and equipment
At launch, just the one trim is offered, that of R-Design Edition. It is very well equipped with 19-inch alloys, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, a driver head-up display, climate control, adaptive cruise control, keyless entry, rain-sensing wipers and automatic headlights.
Additional trim grades of ‘R-Design Plus’, ‘Inscription Plus’ and a performance-oriented ‘Polestar Engineered’ (with the T8 twin engine only) will follow later.
Engine and transmission
At launch, the S60 comes with just the one engine – a turbocharged four-cylinder 2.0-litre T5 unit, paired with an eight-speed automatic gearbox.
It offers 250hp and is pretty nippy – accelerating from 0-60mph takes less than 6.5 seconds – and you shouldn’t have too much trouble matching Volvo’s claimed 35mpg fuel-economy figure, which I exceeded on the 240-mile launch test route around Scotland.
Additional petrol engines are expected to join the S60 line-up later and are likely to include the 310hp supercharged and turbocharged AWD T6, and two T8 hybrid models. These use the same turbocharged and supercharged petrol engine as T6 versions to drive the front wheels but adopt an electric motor under the boot floor to drive the rear wheels. Together, the engine and motor produce 400hp in the standard T8 and 415hp in range-topping ‘Polestar Engineered’ T8 version.
The eight-speed automatic gearbox you get in all S60 models is relatively smooth, but it doesn’t respond particularly quickly which makes the Volvo S60 feel a little dim-witted when accelerating to overtake slower-moving traffic.
On the road
A delight to drive, the S60 has natural and well-engineered control weights; there's no learning curve to driving it because it adheres to your inputs so obediently. Ride quality and high-speed stability are right up there with the car’s German rivals.
Though very responsive and plenty quick, the S60 is not quite so thrilling to drive with a dollop of enthusiasm as, say, the BMW 3 Series but frankly, most luxury-car customers are not chasing 0-62mph times. The Volvo's perfect balance of luxury and sportiness is better suited to everyday driving.
The Volvo S60 makes a very accomplished motorway cruiser. You’ll hear barely any tyre noise at speed and almost no wind noise makes its way into the cabin, either.
It’s especially stress-free to drive if you opt for the optional IntelliSafe Pro pack. This adds adaptive cruise control and Volvo’s Pilot Assist systems which allows the car to accelerate, brake and even steer for you on motorways – providing the steering wheel can sense your hands on it – even delicately.
Thankfully, you don’t have to pay extra for automatic emergency braking – a system that’ll apply the brakes if the car senses an obstacle in the road ahead. In fact, the Volvo S60 is the first mid-size saloon able to detect not just cars, but pedestrians, cyclists, large animals and oncoming traffic in the wrong lane, and react accordingly.
Threading the S60 through tight city streets can be a tad tricky. The rather large pillars between the windscreen and the doors produce some fairly obtrusive blind spots and you don’t get a particularly good view out of the rear windscreen, either. That said, you can get it with a 360-degree surround view camera system to help make parking as easy as possible.
The S60 received the maximum five-star safety rating from Euro NCAP when tested in December 2018. It didn’t perform quite as well as the Alfa Romeo Guilia at protecting adult occupants in a crash, but scored better marks for protecting children, and its standard automatic emergency braking (AEB) system proved better at recognising cyclists.
Other standard active safety aids on the R-Design Edition include lane-keeping assistance, blind spot monitoring, traffic sign recognition and cross-traffic alert.
During the all-too short time I spent with the new S60 at its launch, it felt a bit like sitting down for lunch with an old friend: Everything just works and is natural, no negotiation or explanation needed.
The new Volvo S60 looks great on the road, drives with all the confidence and maturity you could wish for and is packed with technology to keep you and yours well-entertained and super-safe.
Even more so than its predecessor, the 2019 Volvo S60 has everything needed to compete favourably against its Germanic rivals in the compact executive saloon bull pit.
Browse our latest top leasing deals on the new Volvo S60.