Volvo estates aren't what they used to be. Jonathan Crouch checks out the improved V60 Sports Wagon.
Ten Second Review
In case you hadn't heard, Volvo estates are curvier and sportier these days, as is ably demonstrated by the improved version of this V60. Despite its sleeker styling direction, the car isn't a clone of the German compact executive rivals, still majoring in Volvo virtues like safety, comfort and practicality. Also included though, is a rewarding driving experience and a fine set of petrol and diesel engines, including Volvo's latest 'Drive-E' 2.0-litre petrol and diesel units.
Estate cars. They used to be things you bought to carry around loads of kit. Not any more. These days, most people wanting to do that will buy an MPV or an SUV. Leaving estates to focus almost completely on style and driving dynamics. Which is why compact executive wagons like Audi's A4 Avant and BMW's 3 Series Touring can't actually carry much more than the saloons upon which they're based. Now you wouldn't expect Volvo, a solid, traditional brand that pioneered the kind of boxy estate car into which you could fit a fridge (or several), to want much to do with this kind of trendy form over function approach. And you'd be wrong. The Swedish brand actually invented this style-conscious market niche long before the German brands turned up, bringing us the classic P1800E model that Roger Moore drove as 'The Saint' way back in the Sixties. But it took them until 2010 to return to it with this car - the V60.
This, apparently, isn't an 'estate' anyway. According to Volvo's publicity material, I'm to call it a 'sports wagon'. I'm not going to do that - but you've got the idea. The type of baggage that Gothenburg doesn't want this car to carry is the historical kind that might see this V60 associated with pipe-and-slippers-bound antique dealers for whom sheer driving pleasure is neither desirable or required. This was once a market Volvo was bound to, but the introduction of their BMW 3 Series-sized S60 saloon in mid-2010 changed all of that. Here was a car that really could reward at the wheel. Here was a car you could mention in the same breath as its German premium rivals. And here was a car ready and waiting for a sleek, low-slung, style-conscious estate variant. Exactly like this one. Let's check out the latest version.
Volvo has at last developed its own range of 'Drive-E' 2.0-litre engines after years of relying on Ford and PSA units. Pick of the line-up, we think, is the fastest of the three diesel engines on offer, the 190bhp D4. Rest to 62mph here takes 7.7s en route to 140mph. All the diesel units available are now from the brand's frugal 'Drive-E' family of engines, all 2.0-litre units. The D3 develops 150bhp, while the entry-level D2 manages 120bhp.
Low mileage buyers need to factor in the possibility of petrol power too, especially if they don't like the rather clattery diesel noise you get on start-up. This option is particularly worth considering now that Volvo has extended its 'Drive-E' engine family in the V60 range to include a petrol model. The manual gearbox T4 variant uses this technology allied with 2.0-litre power, generating 190bhp. Near the top of the range, there's the option of a 'Cross Country' model with either 2WD or AWD traction. Finally, there's the intriguing flagship D6 Twin Engine plug-in petrol/electric hybrid model that has a limited electric-only operating range and 4WD.
Interestingly, there are three chassis set-ups available to V60 buyers which govern how the car performs on the road. The Dynamic chassis is fitted as standard in the UK. Then there's a firmer, more sporting set-up offered with the R-Design Lowered Sport Chassis option. The final option is the Volvo FOUR-C (Continuously Controlled Chassis Concept), an active suspension that allows drivers to select their preferred settings when on the move.
Design and Build
Lots of people will have a clear picture in their head of what a Volvo estate looks like but the V60 is quite a departure from that. It employs what Volvo calls its 'racetrack' design with the lines of the car flowing organically into each other like the curves of a race circuit. Boxy it ain't.
A sweeping bonnet incorporates flowing creases, while the piercing headlights include a cornering function and an auto-dimming main beam. There's also a smartly styled bumper with chrome trim - and of course daytime running lights.
At the wheel, where you sit a bit lower than in most other Volvos, the emphasis remaining on the kind of cool Scandinavian design that IKEA fans will like very much. The signature Volvo 'floating' centre console is present and correct, angled in this model more towards the driver for a more 'cockpit'-style feel.
The boot is 430-litres, which is just under 100-litres up on the S60 saloon but less than you'll cram into compact executive estates like the BMW 3 Series Touring and Audi A4 Avant. Volvo points out that there's more to practicality than sheer load volume and it's got a point. The V60 load area has been designed with a wide aperture of 1,095mm and a uniform shape, so all of the available capacity can be used. The rear bench splits 40/20/40 and drops down flat to the floor, while the front passenger seat can do likewise to further increase luggage space.
Market and Model
Prices sit mainly in the £24,000 to £35,000 bracket, though you'll need a hefty £50,000 budget if you're to stretch to the diesel/electric Plug-in hybrid D6 Twin Engine version. That means a premium of around £1,600 over equivalent S60 saloon models. Even entry-level models get alloy wheels, cruise control, powered heated mirrors, climate control, a quality 6-speaker stereo with controls on the leather-covered steering wheel and a 5-inch colour display screen.
One area where the V60 sticks very much to Volvo tradition is safety. The excellent City Safety technology that can automatically warn the driver and, ultimately, apply the brakes if it detects an imminent collision, is standard. There's also an optional Pedestrian Detection function that keeps an eye out for people stepping in front of the vehicle. Seatbelt pretensioners are fitted to all seats and a full array of airbags is standard.
Technology features available on the V60 include the ACC Adaptive Cruise Control system that can maintain a set gap to the vehicle in front, a parking assist camera with front and rear sensors and a further camera on the front grille to help the driver see out of bind junctions. The specially developed infotainment system brings the various functions together on a five or seven inch screen mounted high on the dashboard.
Cost of Ownership
The launch of 'Drive-E' technology across the V60 range makes things clearer here. Previously, there was a mix between this and the old-Ford-derived units. The entry-level 2.0-litre diesel D2 returns 101g/km of CO2 and manages 74.3mpg on the combined cycle. The same engine in 150bhp or 190bhp D3 or D4 guises delivers around 105g/km and 70.6mpg. Go for the D3 or D4 models in AWD Cross Country form and your CO2 figures rises substantially to 113g/km. There are also Plug-in hybrid diesel/electric D5 and D6 Twin Engine models that claim to be able to deliver 155.2mpg on the combined cycle and 48g/km of CO2. Insurance groups range mainly between 28 and 39.
And the Plug-in hybrid diesel/electric D6 Twin Engine variant? Well, Volvo claims a purely electric range of up to 31 miles for his car, which means this model can deliver zero-emissions motoring for the 75 per cent of Europeans who drive less than this distance on a daily basis. Range anxiety isn't an issue because when the batteries are largely depleted, you just move onto diesel power while reserving enough energy for another 12 miles on battery power. Emissions are rated at 48g/km and overall economy at 155.2mpg on the largely nugatory NEDC cycle measure. In 'normal' real world driving you should get around 60mpg.
Volvo estates aren't what they used to be - and in this case, that's a very good thing. This improved V60 will, I think, find it easier than its S60 saloon stablemate to conquest sales from German rivals: indeed, many Volvo customers who started out looking at that four-door will find this car mighty difficult to resist.
This is then, a tale of the unexpected, both in style and speed. True, there have been practical compromises made to achieve it, but the result is a car that many buyers new to the brand will find hard to resist. If you're just about to sign for a premium 3 Series or A4-sized estate, then you might want to try one of these before you do. Swede dreams are made of this.