After a quiet period when no fresh models were introduced, the compact executive car sector is back in business with a spate of new models arriving on the scene in 2019 from all the usual suspects.
Over the last few months, Jaguar has launched its revised XE, Mercedes-Benz has unveiled its updated C-Class, BMW has ushered in a brand-new version of the 3 Series and pretty soon the updated Audi A4 will hit the streets. But right now, all eyes are on another player in the compact executive class – Volvo’s all-new S60.
I tested the estate variant of the S60 – somewhat confusingly named the V60 – at launch, and I loved it. It’s even better than the larger V90 in my opinion, purely because its proportions are more attractive – and the handling is sweeter. So, does its smaller sibling share the same DNA?
The fresh S60 saloon supplies pleasing aesthetics and satisfying handling, too. The refinement is excellent, with road and wind noise muted at motorway pace. Engine noise is also well suppressed, but you wouldn’t expect too much racket from a petrol unit, and this one is linked to an eight-speed automatic transmission. And with innovative engines at the forefront of their minds, Volvo says it doesn’t plan to throw any diesel powertrains into the mix. There is just a single trim level to choose, too – the R-Design Edition, which means your options are restricted to start with.
The 250ps 2.0-litre T5 S60, as reviewed here at launch in Perthshire, isn’t bad; it’s hushed, and I managed economy towards the upper end of Volvo’s claimed 35.3 - 39.8mpg range. On the whole, it’s a very effective unit, though even with 250ps the Swedish saloon doesn’t feel particularly athletic. Push hard with your right foot and there is a low-key snarl and a swell of torque from the bottom of the car’s rev range – but it begins to sound thrashy and coarse at the top of the scale. If you let the transmission slave away, it will enable the powertrain to build up speed. However, if you control the gearbox by operating the shift paddles on the steering wheel, you will find the cogs are a tad slow off the mark.
So in this respect, the S60 can’t really compete with the jauntier machines in this segment, such as the Jaguar XE, Alfa Romeo Giulia and BMW’s 3 Series. And yet, with a strong petrol engine beneath the bonnet, it invites the comparison, in spite of a clear emphasis on refinement and comfort within the cabin.
But the positive news from Volvo is that an assortment of plug-in hybrid S60s are due out, and these will, undoubtedly, be a more suitable fit for company car users and private buyers alike.
The hybrids will prove particularly appealing to anyone looking to buy this car, especially when you consider the new saloon’s CO2 output and connected Benefit-in-Kind tax rating. With emissions of 155g/km, this Volvo S60 T5 sits in the high 35% bracket – just a couple of points off the top.
BMW’s new 330i M Sport releases only 134g/km, putting it five bands below the S60. Motorists who put in the miles should consider that a diesel-propelled BMW 3 Series produces as little as 112g/km, so even with the 4% surcharge, the BMW 320d’s Benefit-in-Kind tax grade is the same as its petrol sister’s rating.
Away from the engines, Volvo’s new S60 R-Design Edition has 19-inch alloys fitted as standard. That said, my test car was perched on non-stock 20-inchers, so the ride wasn’t flawless. It was smooth on A-roads and motorways, but ill at ease anywhere with scarred road surfaces. Despite lots of grip and well-regulated body roll, the new S60 cabin doesn’t offer the same protection from jolts as other cars in this segment when you take a ride over a rough surface. The BMW 3 Series is far more acquiescent, as well as being appreciably more dexterous.
Fundamentally, the all-new Volvo S60 isn’t as comfortable or quite as enjoyable to drive as its primary challengers. But it’s pretty close – and that might be enough for potential buyers who want a bit of Scandinavian cool injected into their lives. The S60’s cabin is probably the best in its class, with a simple yet sophisticated design and top-quality materials used everywhere. Indeed, with a matching interior and cheaper price, this Volvo saloon looks like outstanding value for money. What’s more, the infotainment system is clear and user-friendly thanks to an alert touchscreen display. The all-digital dials are crisp and easy-on-the-eyes, too. Though it is a little vexing that the screen-activated air-conditioning makes you look down to alter the temperature and fan speed while driving.
Then again, the S60’s beautifully light steering means it’s stress-free to drive, and the fantastically comfortable seats somewhat make up for the uneven ride. There is generous headroom and legroom in the front and passengers in the back will enjoy plenty of space in the back too.
So, the all-new Volvo S60 has a bit of an identity crisis. It is neither a luxury cruising machine or a sporty saloon with a brawny petrol engine. It is attempting to be both and that doesn’t quite pull it off. Fortunately, thanks to its top-quality cabin and first-rate refinement, this car is plenty going for it, but this launch version doesn’t quite live up to its potential.