Review: Volvo S60 (Gen. 3)

A review of Sweden’s latest contender in the premium midsize saloon market.

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S60 T5 R-Design (Photo Credit: Volvo)

The midsize saloon market- nowadays, it is not what it once was for popularity. However sales for the premium midsize car market is still a strong sales post, as compared to contemporary midsize saloons; while they are more- plush nowadays, they are being deemed less appealing and less practical compared to the equivalent sized crossover in the range. However this is not the case with premium midsize luxury saloons, as they offer a sporting pedigree from scratch when being designed, a principle of their purpose; combined with high levels of luxury, refinement and build quality, the enhanced driving dynamics from the core design make for a desirable package- one which even the equivalent luxury crossover can’t match in driving.

Overview

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Volvo S60 (Photo Credit: Volvo)

The new third-iteration of the Volvo S60 (&V60) is the final model to follow into Volvo’s new design language, which was initialised by the Volvo Concept Coupe and started in production by the new Volvo XC90 and S90. As always, Volvo prides themselves upon safety, build quality and innovation, in which this car demonstrates exceptionally well. While the likes of BMW with the 3 Series are centred on its driving dynamics, most competing brands try to replicate that. It is also a factor I which they fall on their own sword, as for instance, with the 3 series, due to each new generation getting larger and heavier, they are less engaging to drive. And that is where the S60 shines; it sets itself apart, while making a sporty, premium midsize saloon, they aren’t too concerned on taking a page out what their competitors are doing, but are proud of doing their own thing, focusing on a clean, clear design and quality, refinement and innovation. Their new design language on their new line-up of models, as with the previous line-up of Volvos, it to have a clean-cut, non-complex, well- proportioned aesthetic to the design. The sign of this pride is evident in many aspects, down to a small Swedish flag stitched on the seams on the driver’s seat in the car.

Specifications & Features

The new S60 will be based on Volvo’s new ‘SPA’ Platform (Volvo Scalable-Product-Architecture Platform), which is a similar method of platform design that Toyota and BMW are using, which means that one platform will cover all or most vehicles in the range, rather than having separate platforms for different car size segments. Unlike the two preceding S60 generations, this Volvo will not be built in Sweden, nor will it even be built in Europe as with some other Volvo models; it will be built in Volvo’s new plant in Ridgeville, South Carolina, USA, in which it will be the first American made Volvo. The S60 will be available in four different trims: Momentum, R-Design, Inscription & Polestar.

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Engine badge designation is a clever nod to Volvo’s past engines, such as their Turbo-5 (T5) Volvo-B Engines.

With regards to performance, the S60 is well-sorted; across the range it will include with a 2.0 inline-4 Volvo ‘B4’ engine, which has a solid reputation and will come in three different specifications: the T5, T6 & T8. While the numerator in the engine names doesn’t indicate at the cylinder displacement, it is a nod or tribute to the past inline-5 and inline-6 and V8 engines Volvo used to offer, especially in notable performance models of the past. It possess a healthy performance output, with the T5, it will produce 247 BHP and 258lb-ft, through the front wheels, with an 8-speed gearbox, which will propel the S60 T5 to 60 MPH in about 6.5 seconds.

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S60 T5 R-design: This model uses Volvo’s 2.0 Inline-4, featuring Twin-charging (Turbocharging & Supercharging).

The T6 & T8 version engines aren’t available just yet; the T6 will feature twin-charging (turbo-charging aided with a supercharger, in order to counter turbo-lag), which is a more common occurrence in cars nowadays, as down-sizing & turbo-charging is a popular thing for manufacturers now. The T6 will produce 318 BHP, in which it will also gain AWD, which will help with traction and acceleration. Above this, the T8 engine will stand, which will be available in the S60 Polestar, will additionally to the T6’s twin-charging and AWD, will feature performance-oriented electric motors, powering the rear wheels, in which the T8 models will be plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV). This will allow for the T8 powered S60 to produce 400 BHP.

 

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S60 T8 Polestar (Photo Credit: Volvo)

As mentioned, Volvo is a company that prides itself upon safety and innovation. It is what comes to people’s minds now with the word Volvo, as they have mastered in engineering and design solutions to not only improve driver and passenger safety, but also pedestrian safety, with designs such as the three-point seat-belt, inflatable seat-belts, exterior airbags. And now on the new S60, the bonnet is designed in a specific, safety- oriented way, that is made of a less hard material in terms of the sheet metal, with a mechanism in the hinges to move the bonnet upwards in accordance with a person landing on the bonnet in the course of an accident or collision, in order to reduce injury.

Driving

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Volvo S60 (Photo Credit: Volvo)

The latest S60, in T5 R-Design trim, off the bat, is rapid. Rapid, yet refined. The power and torque delivery is instant, though in a soothing, smooth manor. This down to the twin-charged inline-4 motor, which being twin-charged (Turbocharging with Supercharging applied to eliminate Turbo-lag), it was very responsive. It uses a sharp semi-auto gearbox as with most manufacturers nowadays, which can be operated through the use of paddles or a sequential-shift style gear shifter. The T5 engine is the base engine, which provides about 247 BHP & 258 lb/ft, which is good for making the S60 propel from 0-60 MPH in about 6.5 seconds and clock 145 MPH. This is interesting, with regards to people who would look at Volvo as slow and contemporary from past image of safe, family oriented, boxy estates/wagons, are now producing a car, in base form, that is quick as, even quicker than many retro exotics such as a Ferrari 308 GTS, while also being a far bigger, technically advanced luxury car. This latest Volvo S60 drives and handles very responsively, as it shows how far Volvo have come in terms of driving dynamics, yet it extremely quiet and refined. While it may be a tad heavier than the BMW, it still produces similar performance figures, has a similar range, yet it possibly helps the car feel more planted with regards to handling and performance.

Design

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Volvo S60 R-Design (Photo Credit: Volvo)

The design of the latest S60 (& V60) is that it is finally in order with the rest of the Volvo range with regards to the exterior design. The design language of the exterior is following the rest of the new Volvo line-up; a more pronounced, sharper, more sportier profile- yet it isn’t boxy as Volvos of the past, yet subtle, dynamic and sleek resulting in a well-proportioned aesthetic design. The S60 follows the larger S90, in which you can see how it influenced the S60’s exterior design. With regards to the interior, it is reflective of the exterior design; the S90 was influenced by the 2013 Volvo Concept Coupe.

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Volvo S60 T5 R-Design Interior

Volvo have managed to make a premium saloon that can seat the occupants in comfort, with high levels of refinement, yet making a supportive, sporting interior space. The seats, in R-Design trim provide good levels of bolstering, keeping occupants seated well-in place, while providing smooth comfort. The dashboard, center-console and cabin are designed in a good blend of modern technology and a sophisticated user interface (using an advanced infotainment system), yet while being a tidy, clear, uncluttered design.

Heritage

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Volvo Amazon advert

Volvo’s heritage, in the premium midsize saloon market, is strong. The driving aspect has always been a strong point of Volvos saloons, to sit beside their strong-suit of safety and innovation; this can be seen in the Volvo Amazon & Volvo 240 series, right through to the 850 (&S70), into the first and second generations of the S60. However Volvos lineage, especially in the mid-size saloon segment, has possessed a punch with regards to performance. The Amazon was used quite often in rally sport, the 242 was successful in touring car racing, with the 240 GLT and 242 Turbo.

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Volvo 242 Turbo, known as the ‘Turbo-Brick’ was successful in racing. Here it is racing at Bathurst, Australia in the 1980s.

Then it was followed by the 850, which surprised most people when entered as an estate/wagon in touring car racing, to which it made great success, which spawned the road-going 850 R & T5-R variants.

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Volvo 850 T5-R Wagon, possessed a Turbo Inline-5 channeling 250 BHP through the front wheels; co-developed with porsche. 0-60 MPH in 6.6 seconds & was able to reach over 150 MPH.

Then the first generation S60, with the T5 models providing some punch, with raspy inline-5 turbo engines, from the 850,which lead to the subtle but fast, S60 R. The S60-R possessed a Turbo-5 engine producing 300 BHP & took aim at BMW’s M3 (e46) & Audi’s S4 (B5). Applied with a Haldex AWD system, it could clock a 0-60 MPH time of 5.9 seconds and 155 MPH.

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S60-R (Photo Credit: Autocar)

Then there was the second generation S60, initially using the T5 R-Design as the flagship performance model, possessing a similar output to the previous S60-R. However teased with a Polestar concept, which possessed about 500 BHP, a more attainable, toned-down Polestar model arrived in Australia, then globally after the facelift of the second gen S60. While the earlier concept had Audi RS4 performance, the newer S60 (&V60) Polestar was in the performance bracket of the Audi S4- though it was no slouch, in which it was praised above the competition. It had a more interesting appeal than the competition due to Polestar’s engineering appearing more specialist rather than mass-market performance. Originally possessing a (Volvo B6) inline-6, it was later changed to a (Volvo B4) inline-4, which, boosted the all-wheel-drive car’s output from 350 BHP to 362 BHP, dropping the 0-60 MPH time from 5 seconds to 4.8 seconds. It also helped it in terms of efficiency, as well as the down-point of a poor turning radius (due to the transversely mounted inline-6 engine taking more space in the engine bay than an inline-4 engine).

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Volvo S60 Polestar (2015)

In general, especially with regards to the estate/ wagon performance models Volvo has previously produced, they have gained a reputation, or even seen as responsible for starting a trend in car culture as ‘Sleepers’, which is given to unassuming looking cars, that pack way more performance, than their relatively contemporary looks may suggest.

 

Summary

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Volvo S60 (Photo Credit: Volvo)

Overall, in terms of specifications, the new third gen S60 manages to be a strong contender in the premium mid-size saloon market, while maintaining Volvo’s trademark of safety, reliability, solid build & ride quality & practicality. Volvo are taking a further step, on improving how many people would view Volvo, as how some people may look at them as contemporary and or even boring, by making their latest cars, especially the S60, even sharper in terms of driving dynamics, yet while keeping their staple trademark of safety, reliability and refinement. As mentioned Volvo have had a strong history in making performance cars, in which they are improving upon that in recent years, especially with the latest cars they are producing. And the new S60 is a fine example of this move by Volvo. It is especially more notable considering Volvo are also making a big change in terms of innovation, with the power plants- as they will only make cars from now on with electric power plants; PHEVs (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles) and BEVs (Battery Electric Vehicles); it make the S60 similar to the Lexus IS who aren’t taking as great a step as Volvo, yet as they no longer offer Diesel, as Toyota/Lexus are focusing of PHEVs and BEVs. While competition such as the BMW 3 series may have a (Slight) edge over the Volvo in terms of driving dynamics, as that is BMW’s most notable trademark, especially with the 3-Series, the Volvo S60 isn’t to dissimilar to how it drive, as the S60 it sharp and responsive, similar with performance. Yet the Volvo’s strong point is safety, in which it handles more compliantly, and has innovative features in the body to counter safety issues.

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S60 T8 Polestar will be a PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle) (Photo Credit: Volvo)

However while driving dynamics are paramount to BMW for instance, it is an issue in itself, where in a way they may be shooting themselves in the foot, or becoming their own worst enemy; the latest G20 generation of the 3 series is said to not be as engaging or as fun to drive as the previous F30, E90 & E46 generations of BMW 3 series, even though it is stated by many as being the sharpest driving car in the class. The new S60 symbolises that Volvo takes great pride in what they do best: safety, reliability and refinement, yet it is evident that they are focusing on implanting a more sporty, yet subtle approach with regards to design and driving dynamics, all while being more innovative by transferring to Electric Power plants for their car line-up. While many automakers in the premium mid-size car segment are improving on their previous generation of car, especially in this segment, automakers such as Audi & BMW, etc are extremely competitive, in which they are aiming to make their cars similar, having the same aim for each aspect of the car and a similar approach, thus they have pretty much made the same car overall. However Volvo, with design language stands apart from the German competition, which is refreshing. Overall it is nice that Volvo have again made a great premium mid-size saloon, as always, but better in every aspect, while continuing their trademark of safety, practicality, quality and refinement, are improving even further with an image of performance & handling, while being more innovative.

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Volvo S60 (Photo Credit: Volvo)

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