5 0 5
Plus & Minus
Clever plug-in tech on T8; punchy versatility of T5; quality interior ambience; sleek styling
Tiresome ride; inconsistent control weights; insipid engine acoustics
The Wheels Verdict: The S60 looks a winner. It’s fast, safe, stylish, technically intriguing and delivers a middle-stump yorker on pricing and features. Unfortunately, the cars we got to drive, which were exclusively T5 and T8 R-Design models, are saddled with a ride quality that doesn’t approach the class standard. Perhaps we can expect better from the more affordable models when they appear but the R-Design versions fail to convince as well-rounded sports sedans.
WHAT IS IT?
On paper, the S60 sounds a surefire hit. We loved the XC60 SUV so much that we awarded it our 2017 Car of the Year crown, and the S60 runs on much the same Scalable Platform Architecture chassis, albeit one that's on a lower flight path. Volvo has also made it a good deal more affordable than the SUV, styled it sharply and imported it with a choice of two firecracker powertrains. Sound good to you?
WHY WE'RE TESTING IT
After two COTY wins in a row, we were intrigued to see whether the Swedes had the goods to carry off an unprecedented three-peat. The S60 competes in a sector that's gently swelling with quality rivals but Volvo has priced it aggressively and has resisted the temptation to saddle dealers with unrealistic sales targets. Does it have the ability to do a number on mainstream and near-premium challenger brands? That’s what we were keen to discover.
THE WHEELS REVIEW
You're not likely to buy a Volvo S60. No, really. The company aims to sell 400 cars in its first calendar year so, statistically at least, Australians are considerably more likely to die of influenza, be hospitalised for falling off a scooter in Bali or find that their partner has left them for someone of the same sex in the next 12 months. A certain measure of exclusivity is therefore guaranteed for those willing to sign on the dotted line.
The market for cars like this stands at around 40,000 per year, so the S60 needs to make a piffling 1 percent dent in it to achieve a warm and cosy glow in Gothenburg. Given that the XC40 and XC90 have achieved 9 percent share and the XC60 a hefty 16 percent slice of the pie, the S60’s targets look decidedly modest.
The sedan arrives here with two powerplants. Around 96 percent of all the cars sold will be propelled by the turbocharged 2.0-litre T5 engine, with the remainder opting for the flagship turbocharged and supercharged T8 plug-in hybrid. Volvo has purposefully pitched the S60’s pricing a long way below that of the XC60, the SUV with which it shares much of its oily bits. The range kicks off at $54,990 for the T5 Momentum version, an all-wheel-drive 187kW sedan which is at least $15K cheaper than an Audi A4 or BMW 3 Series with similar power and equipment. It’s even cheaper and more powerful than a 2.0-litre Kia Stinger GT-Line and also offers the adverse weather benefit of all-wheel drive.
Unfortunately, none of the Momentum and Inscription models were available to test, the launch vehicles comprising either the 192kW/500Nm T5 R-Design or the 311kW/680Nm T8 R-Design. Therein lies a problem. Put simply, the R-Design suspension is just too firm for Australian roads. The ride quality on both vehicles was notably terse, with a poorly controlled pitchiness particularly in the weightier T8. With no option of air suspension (something we always recommend to XC60 purchasers), and a low-profile tyre fitted, the S60 R-Design is at an immediate disadvantage.
- Read more: Volvo S60 Range Review
The T5 claws back some credit with its wieldiness through corners. A good Continental PremiumContact tyre, clean, if somewhat mute, steering and a feeling that there’s not a lot of weight in the nose offer rewards to the keen driver. It’s certainly a better driver’s tool than the quicker T8, with its inconsistent brake pedal and power delivery. We’re used to this powerplant in the XC40 and XC60 among others, but putting it into a sporty sedan opens it to a different level of scrutiny. We don’t expect a characterful, acoustically rewarding petrol engine in a midrange family SUV. But we do when choosing a quick sedan.
The S60 T5 R-Design certainly lives up to that billing. It’ll trip the stopwatch at just 6.3sec on the sprint to 100km/h, the eight-speed Geartronic transmission rarely doing enough wrong for you to feel inclined to intervene with paddle shifting duties. For $65K in this range-topping trim, there are certainly more rewarding – and more supple – driver’s cars available.
The S60 T8 plug-in hybrid features a 10.4kWh lithium-ion battery that sits lengthwise between the front and rear axles. That answers the question of why the T5 has centre-mounted air vents for the rear passengers and the T8 doesn’t. If you’re feather-footed, you might be able to eke out 50km of pure electric range, but this is a vehicle that weighs more than two tonnes. On our test drive, we saw around 7.5L/100km rather than Volvo’s claimed 2.0L figure. While it disguises its weight well, it never feels quite as light on its toes as the claimed 0-100km/h figure of 4.3sec suggests.
It’s hard to pick fault with the S60’s interior finish though. Materials quality is excellent and the cabin feels an almost direct port from XC60, with the same soft-touch materials, portrait infotainment screen, digital dials and knurled starter knob. CarPlay, Android Auto and high-quality leather – it’s all there from the most affordable model. The cabin’s also a good deal more spacious in the rear than the old S60, which was notably tight on both head and legroom. The 390-litre boot is a disappointment compared to the 480-litre class average, especially from a company with such a tradition of utility as Volvo. A split/fold rear bench and a ski hatch go some way to making amends.
There is a very good car in the S60. Unfortunately we didn’t get to drive that car. The R-Design models don’t bring enough to market to merit a solid recommendation. While they’re well appointed, handsome, safe and competitively priced, the tedious ride quality and dull engine acoustics of both the T5 and T8 will be enough to see them scratched from the shortlists of enthusiast drivers. That leaves those who aren’t so interested in driving like their trousers are on fire to account for the lion’s share of those 400 registrations. We’ll reserve final judgment until we get behind the wheel, but an S60 T5 Momentum or an Inscription on softer springs and with a more generous tyre sidewall could well be a very smart pick. Smarter than swinging your leg over a scooter in Bali, at any rate.
Alfa Romeo Giulia; Genesis G70; Holden Commodore; Lexus IS; Peugeot 508; Subaru Liberty; VW Passat
PRICE AND SPECS
- Model: Volvo S60 T5 R-Design
Engine: 1969cc four-cyl, 16v, dohc, twin-turbo
Max power: 192kW @ 5700rpm
Max torque: 400Nm @ 2500-3500rpm
Transmission: 8-speed auto
0-100km/h: 6.3 sec
Economy: 7.3L/100km (claimed)
On sale: Now