By Jonathan Crouch
In case you hadn't heard, Volvo estates are curvier and sportier these days, as was ably demonstrated by the brand's MK1 model V60 when it was updated by the company in 2014. Despite its sleeker styling direction, the car never aimed to be a clone of its German mid-sized premium station wagon rivals, instead majoring in Volvo virtues like safety, comfort and practicality. Also included though, is a rewarding driving experience and the option of the class-leading combination of performance and efficiency you get with the Drive-E 2.0-litre D4 diesel engine that most original buyers chose. Potentially, it's a surprising package for the right kind of customer in this segment.
If you never imagined yourself owning a Volvo estate car, then this is the one the brand wants you to try - the V60. Estate cars, of course, 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 premium mid-sized 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, the 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 maker 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 late in 2010 to return to it with this car - the V60. It's the facelifted post-2014 version of that MK1 design we look at from a used car perspective here.
This, apparently, isn't an 'estate'. According to Volvo's publicity material, we're to call it a 'sports wagon'. We're 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.
The V60's initial promise though, was never going to be completely fulfilled with the reliance on other people's engine technology it was first launched with. So, for the fully improved version launched early in 2014, Volvo brought us some of its own in a D4 diesel variant offering a combination of performance and efficiency that at the time, no rival could match. There were smarter looks too and extra technology, all delivered without sacrificing the substance and safety part of the brand value proposition. This improved design sold until it was replaced by an all-new MK2 V60 model in the Spring of 2018. Does it all add up to a decent used car buy if you're shopping in this segment? Let's see.
What You Get
Lots of people will have a clear picture in their head of what a Volvo estate looks like. This won't be it. Where old Volvo designs were a riot of right-angles, this one has barely a straight line on it, its so-called 'racetrack' design producing lines that flow organically into each other like the curves of a race circuit. It's not just different for the sake of being so though. The alert stance, short overhangs and sleek, low roofline make this car's silhouette closer to that of a coupe than a boxy estate.
This updated MK1 V60 model got what Volvo describes as 'more focused and determined-looking headlamps', added to create what was intended to be a more 'expressive' front end. The V60's horizontal lines were also emphasised at both the front and rear and, together with details such as a wider grille and daylight running lights, the various changes gave this car a more striking, purposeful presence. Under the skin, there was a chassis originally borrowed from the Ford Mondeo, which means the underpinnings were exactly the same as those used in the brand's supposedly larger V70 estate and S80 saloon models.
The sweeping styling takes its toll of course, when it comes to practicality. Though the 430-litre load bay is, as you'd expect, much bigger than the boot space on offer in this car's S60 saloon design stablemate, you're talking around 10% less cargo room than you'd get in the rivals Volvo hopes you'll be comparing this model to, cars like Audi's A4 Avant or BMW's 3 Series Touring. Volvo though, was unrepentant. For one thing, the company points out that the V60's seats-folded capacity of 1,421-litres is within a whisker of that boasted by its German rivals. For another, it reminds us that in an age when every shop will deliver bulky items, there aren't many buyers needing to transport them and for those that do, there were in this era V70s, XC70s and XC90s further up the Volvo range.
In any case, it's undeniable that the 3-metre-long space that is on offer here is very accessible and easy to use. The rear bench splits 40/20/40 and drops down completely flat, while the front passenger seat can do likewise to further increase luggage space for really long items like surfboards and bikes. You get a lockable under-floor compartment to keep valuables away from prying eyes, plus net pockets and a grocery bag holder to keep your shopping upright. We especially like the shallow hinged compartment on the top of the boot floor. Lift up the flap and you can mess up the floor with muddy stuff. Then when you remove your wellies or whatever, the flap goes down again and you don't have to worry about cleaning the boot floor. Well not immediately anyway: out of sight, out of mind and all that.
In the rear seat, you get marginally more headroom than you would in an S60 saloon, but otherwise, the accommodation on offer is much the same. Which means that there's comfortable room for two adults but, as with virtually every other car in this sector, adding a middle occupant would make things a bit tight on a journey of any real distance. That occupant wouldn't be especially comfortable either, thanks to the narrow, curved centre seat they've to be perched upon. Three children will be quite happy though.
At the wheel ('the most important part of any car' according to Volvo's Head of Design) it's all very nice indeed, with a premium feel right across the V60 range that you only really get on the more expensive versions of BMW, Audi and Mercedes rivals from this era. The idea is that, like IKEA furniture, this cabin should be typically Scandinavian, comfortable, simple, intuitive and visually pleasing. And broadly it is thanks to a subtle redesign which here introduced smarter materials and silk metal frames around the air vents and light controls, plus a re-designed gear knob.
One of the nicest touches that many original buyers shelled out for is the hi-tech TFT instrument display. With the flick of a switch, you can with this choose between three different dial layouts - an amber back-lit 'elegance' setting for comfort-orientated day-to-day motoring, an green back-lit 'eco' setting to help you drive more economically and a red back-lit 'performance' mode to better suit for more spirited driving: the kind of thing the Swedish brand hopes this second generation model's slightly lower driving position and smaller steering wheel will put you in the mood for. It'll also help in this respect that that the signature Volvo 'floating' centre console is angled more towards the driver for a greater 'cockpit'-style feel.
That'll be familiar if you owned an early version of this MK1 V60 model. New to you though, will be the clever 'Sensus Connect' infotainment system that allows you to add connectivity and internet access into the car. This set-up turns the 7-inch infotainment display you get on the dash into a state-of-the-art infrared, beam-scanned touch screen that can be used even when wearing gloves - a world first. As a driver, you've the choice of going online either via a car-mounted 3G/4G dongle or by using your own mobile phone. Hi-tech features include a voice-activation system that works on all music sources and the industry's first in-dash, fully integrated, voice search Spotify application. It's also possible to share a WiFi network with everyone in the car.
Of course, it's possible to get carried away with gadgetry like this and forget more crucial considerations. The seats for example. It's remarkable how little importance we attach to the things we'll be sitting on in our cars, given that we'll be spending many hundreds or thousands of hours in the things, and down the years Volvo has quietly earned a reputation for making the comfiest chairs in the business. This V60 continues that form line with what have to be the most supportive yet wonderfully pillowy seats in the compact executive saloon sector. The sports seat in the R-Design model is particularly good, positioning you beautifully throughout the longest drive.
What to Look For
Most of the V60 owners we surveyed were very happy with their cars - but inevitably there were a few issues. Some owners have reported problems with jerky or jumping gear shifting. The underlying mechanicals are tried and tested parts and shouldn't give cause for concern. The interiors are also more hard wearing than most but the load area can be damaged by trying to lever in bicycles which can be an awkward fit in this car. Check for parking bumps and scrapes especially on the 'R-Design' models. The big alloy wheels are very susceptible to kerbing. The T5 and D5 models have quite an appetite for front tyres so check there's some life left in the rubber. As usual, check the alloys for kerb scuffing and the rear of the cabin and the boot for damage caused by unruly kids or awkwardly-shaped luggage.
(approx based on a 2014 V60 D4) A fuel filter costs in the £16 to £25 bracket and an air filter will cost around £13-£20. Front brake pads sit in the £33 to £66 bracket for a set. For rear brake pads, think £12-£30, though you could pay up to around £40 to £55 for a pricier brand. Front brake discs are around £55-£88, though you could pay up to around £100 to £150 for a pricier brand. For rear discs, think £45-£80, though you could pay up to around £120 to £170 for a pricier brand. You'll pay around £9 for an oil filter. Wiper blades cost in the £10 to £20 bracket. A rear shock absorber is priced in the £55-£95 bracket, while a radiator will be around £148-£155.
On the Road
You might not approach the idea of driving a Volvo estate car with much enthusiasm, something which might be justified if here, we were talking about the Swedish brand's bigger V70 station wagon or, worse, one of its older estate models. But we're not. Here's a car based on an S60 four-door model the marque describes as a 'premium sports saloon'. And it runs on the underpinnings of a Ford Mondeo, universally recognised as one of the most dynamically adept family cars out there. In other words, there are great grounds for optimism when it comes to the on the road experience.
Optimism largely justified once you're up to speed, provided you take the trouble to adjust your thinking into the distinctly Volvo feel this car has. True, it isn't quite as sharp, either to steer or to throw around the bends, as a rival BMW or Audi but apparently, that's entirely intentional. The Swedish brand reckons that such cars are too stiffly set-up, robbing them in extremis of the security and predictability that create a really fluid drive. It's an arguable point, but we have to agree that you really do feel confident at speed at the wheel of this car. If you're prepared to throw the Labradors around a bit in the back, the bends flow together beautifully and it's as surefooted as any of its rivals from this era when conditions turn nasty.
The reasons why have much to do a Dynamic chassis carefully developed over the most demanding British B roads. You can take this a step further by opting for an 'R-Design' model with stiffer suspension - but personally we wouldn't. This firm set-up dilutes one of this car's greatest virtues: the composed ride it offers over poor surfaces, superior in fact to what's on offer in this car's German rivals. No, there are other ways to make this V60 handle more sharply that don't involve higher chiropractor's bills. Namely find yourself a V60 whose original owner put a tick in the box for the optional FOUR-C (which stands for 'Continuously Controlled Chassis Concept') active chassis with adaptive damping that via 'Comfort', 'Sport' or 'Advanced' settings, enables the driver to alter the character of the car based on the road you're on and the mood you're in.
Even if you do without this feature, a couple of other standard inclusions are enough to offer up a surprising degree of dynamic brio. First, the surprisingly quick and direct steering set-up. And secondly, Torque Vectoring, a set-up which works through the turns to counter both understeer and wheelspin by lightly micro-braking whichever front wheel is threatening to lose grip, firing you on from bend to bend in a way that will be revolutionary to long time Volvo owners. If you're in a D4 diesel model, you'll also benefit from a reduction in engine weight of as much as 90kgs in comparison to some of the other drivetrains across the range. With less bulk to carry around up-front, this car feels even more eager to turn in. And all this from a V60 that still manages to offer more relaxed long distance refinement than any the marque has yet produced. It's a surprising drive.
But we haven't yet talked about engines. This is something we're not normally very prescriptive about in sharing driving impressions in reviews like this. Different owners do, after all, have different needs when it comes to specifying what lies under the bonnet. With this improved MK1 V60 model though, we're going to make an exception to that rule. We can't really see why you'd buy this car with any engine other than the D4 diesel unit.
To understand why that is, a little background information is needed. As a brand, Volvo has traditionally relied on Ford engineware for its modern era models. A safe approach, but not a very profitable one, which is why when the Chinese Zhejiang Geely corporation acquired the company in 2010, the first priority was to make the Gothenburg maker self-sufficient in the under-bonnet department. Clearly, such a goal would take time to accomplish, which was why the original version of this V60 model was first launched with the same Ford-derived 1.6, 2.0 and 2.4-litre engines used in other Volvo models. But behind the scenes, the engineers were hard at work completing their own in-house range of powerplants - the so-called 'Drive-E' range of engines.
All of these were to be 2.0-litres in size, either petrol or diesel, with a line-up of different power outputs broad enough to eventually completely replace the existing Ford units. Back in 2014 though, only one of the new-generation 'Drive-E' engines had been brought to market - the 181bhp 16v diesel powerplant you'll find in the D4 model we'd recommend here. At a stroke, this engine makes the typical Volvo used car sales person's job rather awkward as it's cleaner and more economical than the feeblest 115bhp 1.6-litre D2 V60, but faster and more responsive than the priciest diesel in the line-up, the most powerful 215bhp 2.4-litre D5 V60 variant. Let's be more specific. As well as being able to average nearly 75mpg and emit under 100g/km of CO2, the D4 gets to 62mph from rest in just 7.6s on the way to 140mph. Even if you opt for an 8-speed automatic version, those stats are hardly affected. Such are the benefits of modern technology.
Of course, there's always the possibility that your budget might not be able to stretch up to D4 purchase - or that you might be offered an un-missable deal on a V60 with one of the older engines. To allow for that scenario, we'll tell you that if you opt for a 1.6-litre D2 variant, or choose to boost your diesel V60's power up to 136bhp in the 2.0-litre D3 model, you're looking at a 0-62mph sprint time of around 11s en route to a maximum speed in the region of 120mph. In the top diesel 215bhp D5 version, those figures are improved to 7.5s and 143mph, readings you can up a little further by paying extra for a 'Polestar Performance Pack' that marginally boosts the power output to 230bhp. But if you do that, you'll end up paying a lot of money for a car that still isn't a better all-round package than the V60 D4 we'd recommend.
Before finishing, we also ought to touch upon the minority interest D6 Plug-in Hybrid AWD version, which mates the D5 diesel variant's 215bhp five cylinder powerplant pushing you along at the front with a 70bhp electric motor driving the rear wheels. So it's nominally all-wheel drive and very futuristic, with three driving modes from which to choose - 'Pure', 'Hybrid' and 'Power' - all operating via a 6-speed Geartronic automatic gearbox. In 'Pure' mode, the car will run in 2WD only and offers a 32 mile-range on electric-only power, though you won't go anywhere near that far if you start to approach the theoretical 78mph battery-powered maximum. Go for 'Hybrid' or 'Power' and the car functions in AWD form, running on a mixture of diesel and electric motion. Go for the 'Power' setting and it's certainly fast, hitting 62mph in just 6.1 seconds on the way to 143mph. Not bad for a car theoretically capable of an astonishing 155mpg. If only it was more affordable.
Volvo estates aren't what they used to be - and in this case, that's a very good thing. This improved MK1 V60 found it easier than its S60 saloon stablemate to conquest sales from German rivals thanks to more stylish looks that built upon class-leading safety, solid build quality and a cool, classy Scandinavian feel. Particularly as in this case, these virtues were fused with more vibrant design, a driver-focused chassis and high-tech engine technology.
It's that last element that back in 2014, really revitalised this car's appeal as a more cost-effective alternative to German-brand compact executive saloons. Any car that can deliver 99g/km of CO2, 62mph from rest in around seven and a half seconds and nearly 75mpg in regular use has to be worthy of anyone's respect. A small brand Volvo may be but it was punching well above its weight here.
This is then, a tale of the unexpected, both in style and speed. True, the sweeping shape required practical compromises, but the result is a car that many buyers new to the brand might find hard to resist as a used buy. If you're just about to choose a premium used 3 Series or A4-sized estate made in the 2014-2017 era, then you might want to try one of these before you do. Swede dreams might just be made of this.