Words by Wayne Gorrett
When I tell you that the Volvo is expected to reveal its refreshed XC90 next year, you realise that it was only three years ago when the ground-breaking premium SUV was launched, beginning what has been a remarkable transformation for the Swedish car manufacturer. Since then, the company has introduced a further four all-new models in the S90, V90, XC60 and XC40.
Less surprising is the news that Volvo’s global order books are currently bursting at the seams. Well, they had better get bigger books as this week Volvo launched the new V60 estate to the UK motoring media, having earlier this month revealed its S60 saloon sibling, which goes on UK sale in the autumn. Sorry, what was that? Oh, you’re trying to keep up?
The new V60 is Volvo’s heartland reinvented. This second generation of Volvo’s mid-size estate brings all the ground-breaking technology and Scandi-cool design from the company’s run of latest models to a sector in which Volvo has decades of hard-earned experience, starting with the Volvo Duett estate back in 1953.
Revealed at the Geneva Motor Show earlier this year, the new V60 is built on Volvo’s own and very versatile SPA (Scalable Product Architecture) platform, which also underpins the current S90, V90, XC60 and XC90 and imminent S60. It is built alongside the XC60, V90 and XC90 at the company’s plant in Torslanda, near Gothenburg.
The Volvo V60 estate reinforces Volvo’s top-table place among the premium-badge players in the sector and offers an extremely convincing argument. Stylish and good to drive, it manages to be more practical than most direct rivals – including the Audi A4 Avant, BMW 3-Series Touring and Mercedes C-Class estate – without feeling like a box on wheels.
Other less premium but worthy estate rivals include the Insignia, Mazda 6, Skoda Octavia, Subaru Outback and the VW Passat.
The V60 takes many styling cues from the larger V90 model and essentially shrinks it down without changing too much…in an Audi kind of way, but classier and more successfully.
It uses the now-familiar Volvo LED daytime running lights with their T-shaped ‘Thor’s Hammer’ highlight. There are big C-shaped lights on the rear hatch, similar in concept, but again slightly different in detail, to those on the V90.
Buyers can choose from five alloy wheel designs, ranging in size from 17-inch to 20-inch, with a choice of finishes. You can also choose from two solid paint options, ten metallic hues and a ‘Crystal White’ premium metallic.
At the end of the day, the V60’s aesthetic appeal will depend on how much you do or don’t like estates, but within its class it is one of the more refined and stylish models.
Inside the cabin
Personally, I dislike dark and sombre interiors such as those found in the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Merc C-Class. While not at all advocating ‘Wogan beige’, I prefer a lighter, brighter interior especially in larger cars. You can of course have the cabin resemble an Afghanistan cave, but Volvo also obliges with a raft of cheerful materials including light leather, carpets and even tweedy seat fabrics that give the V60 a more tactile feel. Go for one of the ‘Pro’ models and the quality of leather is very high.
Similarities with the interiors of other models in the new Volvo crop of cars are evident as the V60 uses the same all-digital instruments (a 12.3-inch digital dashboard screen, which is standard across the range) and the same 9.0-inch portrait-style touch-screen (which looks very much like an iPad).
As you’d expect from Volvo, everything is laid out rationally and, despite the initial complexity of the big touch-screen, it’s not a difficult dashboard to find your way around. Using the touch-screen soon becomes second nature, especially if you’re used to a smartphone or tablet (although there’s no denying it can be a hazardous distraction from the road at times) and, what physical switches and buttons remain, are easy to find and feel solid.
There are five upholstery colours on offer with the V60 and both the driver and front passenger seats are electrically height-adjustable. Together with electric lumbar support adjustment, most drivers should be able to get comfy. On the quality front, it’s all but impossible to find fault – it’s my job to try: everything you look at and touch is of a very high grade, and Volvo has made a cabin that easily competes with the best of its premium opposition.
In the rear of the cabin the furniture is equally as comfortable as the front and there is plenty of legroom along with handy touches for families such as electronic child locks.
The raison d'être of any estate is its ability to carry people and their respective luggage. Volvo has given the V60 a good and well-shaped boot and at 529 litres with the rear seats up, it’s only 30 litres short of the space on offer in the larger V90. With row two folded flat, there is a cavernous 1,441 litres of space available.
The standard boot can be divided and partitioned using the now familiar pop-up floor panels, but it’s a pity the tailgate glass doesn’t open separately to the rest of the hatch to increase practicality. However, all V60 tailgates are powered with hands-free operation an option.
At its launch, the V60 will be available in two trim levels – Momentum and Inscription – each having a ‘Pro’ derivative which adds a bit more kit. The expected best-seller in the line-up will be the R-Design, which will be available early in 2019.
Standard equipment is very good and includes LED headlights with an active high-beam function (which automatically dips the lights if it spots oncoming traffic), 17-inch alloy wheels, two-zone climate control, the 12.3-inch TFT screen digital instruments, the big 9.0-inch touch-screen in the centre of the dash, satellite navigation, DAB radio and Bluetooth. There’s a built-in internet connection and a broad array of safety and driver aids.
Volvo V60 ‘Sensus’ system
Volvo’s Sensus system comprises of a nine-inch touch screen, a voice-activated control system, a power-operated tailgate, LED headlights, navigation and the Volvo On Call connected services platform – all standard on every version.
I understand the need for clean, fuss-free interiors, I really do. While Volvo offers voice controls that are perhaps too sophisticated for some, jamming all the car’s main controls and settings into a touchscreen interface means navigating the respective function menus can be an unsafe and unnecessary frustration. It essentially forces you to take your eyes off the road ahead to prod the screen for simple functions such as adjusting the temperature – a task that ideally would require a simple an intuitive twirl of a knob.
The satellite navigation takes some getting used to and some may find it rather ‘unfriendly’. Adjusting the map on the move and assessing the road ahead from the screen can be more distracting with this system than others that have a couple of physical controls and clearer onscreen displays. Other systems more intelligently zoom in for themselves as you approach a junction making it easier to determine how to negotiate complex road layouts.
The steering wheel controls are also labelled with symbols that take more getting used to than some rival models. Thankfully, substantial adjustment from the steering wheel means that you should be able to get it exactly where you want it.
Additionally, Drive Modes are selected with a roller control which doesn’t fall easily to hand when driving, proving a further unnecessarily distraction, requiring a press and then a roll to adjust. No doubt if you purchased a V60 you will get used to the quirks, but considering how relaxing and comfort-oriented the rest of the cabin is, these elements can perhaps irritate when underway.
Without being flippant – it’s a Volvo and as such safety kit is expectedly generous and not wanting to put the mockers on, independent research showed that no person has died in a Volvo on UK roads since 2004. Think about that for a moment.
Aside from systems that keep you safe in the event of a collision — airbags, side impact protection and a system that automatically alerts the local emergency services if you have a crash — the V60 is also packed with sensors and technology that stop you having a crash in the first place.
They include a computer-controlled braking system that can stop the car entirely, or at least slow you down enough to reduce the impact with another vehicle, pedestrian, or even a large animal, steering that automatically tugs you back into your lane should you drift out of it and a new head-on collision system that slams on the brakes should it detect that another car is going to drive into you.
There’s also Pilot Assist, which (as Volvo is at pains to point out) is NOT an autonomous driving system (you can’t sit back and read the recent exploits of Jack Reacher), but a clever cruise control and steering setup that helps keep you in your lane and controls the car’s speed. You still have to pay attention and keep your hands on the wheel, but it definitely reduces driver fatigue on long motorway journeys. Volvo has updated the system so that its lane-keeping steering action is a little smoother and less jerky than in earlier applications.
Engines and transmissions
Initially, the V60 will be offered with the firm’s own all-aluminium 2.0-litre, four-cylinder 148hp/340Nm D3 and 188hp/400Nm D4 turbo-diesel engines and a 247hp T5 petrol with a choice of six-speed Getrag manual or eight-speed Aisin automatic gearboxes – all in front-wheel drive. A T4 petrol, T6 twin engine and T8 twin-engine plug-in hybrid models will arrive in 2019.
Yesterday, I drove the more powerful D4 variant paired with both the manual and automatic transmission. It’s best described as refined, quiet and quick with enough torque to enable safe and confident overtaking. As befits a car of the Volvo V60’s stature – a family car for long, load-lugging journeys – it’s far better suited to controlled cruising than getting the tail loose through the twisty bits (which it will happily do, by the way). Overall, a car for cruising, not for bruising.
Distinct driving modes are available, but unlike other models, owners can select the weight of the brake pedal, depending upon whether they prefer a firmer pedal or lighter weight.
As for towing, the diesel V60s offer reasonably strong towing ability, with the D4 versions able to tow 2,000kg – the equivalent of a large caravan. That’s more than its Audi, BMW and Mercedes rivals can muster.
Claimed fuel economy from the D3 varies from 60mpg to 64mpg, depending on the chosen gearbox and alloys wheel size. The more potent D4 will return approximately the same – the smaller the alloy wheels, the higher the figure.
Ride and handling
The Volvo V60 is a balanced, relaxed, ambly sort of car and not as barge-like as its larger V90 stablemate. It is quiet, with more-than-decent handling and a ride quality that’s more pliant than an Audi or BMW and ideal for stress-free travel.
When you do find yourself on an ‘entertaining’ B-road, the V60 offers plenty of grip and impressively low amounts of body roll around the corners, with the possibility of tweaking both throttle response and steering weight through the car’s various drive settings. But, in all honesty, you’re best off settling back, enjoying the music from the excellent standard 10-speaker audio system and proceeding at a more sedate pace.
Around town, the V60 is pleasant to drive, though as with many new cars, it’s substantially larger than the previous model – by 13cm – and wider, too, so finding a sufficiently large parking space is trickier than it could be.
Being of medium height, I found the manual gear lever set too close to me and rather clumsy to enjoy when pressing on. It is more ideally positioned for those who prefer their seat set back a little further from the pedals. Somewhat naturally, no such discomfort was experienced with the automatic ‘box which, sans flappy paddles is largely left to its own devices, once set.
The suspension is set to a reasonably comfortable level, but can’t quite eliminate a little skittishness over crusty surfaces. Adaptive suspension is available for the higher trim levels and offers different driving modes including Comfort, Dynamic and an Individual setting, where you can separately adjust suspension firmness, steering weight and the heft of the brake pedal.
Comfort mode adds an extra level of give to the suspension, while Dynamic somewhat sharpens up the steering, with the ride proving slightly more coarse. Get up to motorway speeds and the V60 feels smooth and refined, with little noise from the road surface.
The new crop of Volvos continues to offer yet greater levels of safety and practicality and the V60 estate continues that fine Scandinavian tradition, honed over the past several decades.
Get one and you’ll also get a refreshing dollop of style and Swedish pizzas in a posh and premium-feeling car. With an exceptionally smooth and relaxing drive, along with sufficient space for your family to get comfy and accommodate all your various daily bits and bobs, there is very little – if anything – to dislike about the V60.