REVIEW DATE: 01 Jun 2007
June Neary Appreciates Volvo's Very Swedish Interpretation Of A Compact Executive Saloon
'Volvo' conjures up all kinds of images but few of them have much to do with seriously sporting driving. This car, the S60 saloon, aims to change all that and appeal to men or women like me who might otherwise buy a BMW or an Audi. My first impressions were good: it's a beautiful looking car that has a prestigious feel to it. There's also a dynamic flavour to the sweeping lines: a car that encourages you to get in a drive whilst still retaining that Volvo look. So far, so good.
Don't bother asking for an estate: there isn't one. Opt for the V70 if that's what you want. British designer Peter Horbury's brief was to create a saloon that looked like a Coupe front and rear - in his words "a Ferrari you could get in and out of" - and the result is one that should sit snugly in the boardroom carpark amongst the massed ranks of Mercedes', BMWs and Audis. Inside, the cabin draws heavily on the approach already used in the S80 and V70 models but, I thought, felt much nicer. The audio systems have been upgraded and the centre of the dashboard and the centre console both offer superior build quality. The later featuring an armrest that doubles as a tray and cupholder. A sportier feel comes courtesy of the three-spoke leather-covered wheel, the sports seats and, on the T5 manual model I tried, a 'spaceball' gearlever surround (an aluminium dome that pivots beneath the stick). Probably more significant than all that however, is the amount of space I found in the rear, thanks to a 'cab-forward' design which has freed up more space for those on the back seat. There still isn't a huge amount of room - three people would be a snug fit. Still, Volvo apparently expects many customers to opt for a special two-seater rear bench with more sculpted, supportive seating for a couple of adults. The main focus of the changes was to increase the S60's sportiness, both actual and perceived. The Dynamic chassis was introduced across the range with revised components while Sport models get a Sport chassis and the SE Sport derivatives benefit from the active Four-C set-up. Outside, indicators are integrated into the larger mirrors, there's a low front spoiler and the grille has a wide chrome surround. Inside, there's more chrome and aluminium detailing with cruise control standard on all models. It wouldn't be a Volvo of course if it wasn't safe. The Swedes may have ditched many of their marque values in recent years but they can't afford to lose this one. Hence the inclusion on every model of dual-stage airbags for front driver and passenger, SIPS (the company's patented Side Impact Protections System) with side airbags, WHIPS (the Whiplash Protection System), an inflatable curtain to save your head from smashing against the side glass and five three-point seatbelts.
Here's the real test. I'm not a tyre smoker behind the wheel but I do like the positive, involving feeling that top BMWs and Audis give. The S60 isn't quite on this level - but it's pretty close. What it lacks in outright finesse it makes up for with raw power - and better value. I've tried an old S70 - the car this model replaced - and it certainly never qualified as a sports saloon, even in its most bespoilered forms. Is this S60 different? Well on paper, the portents are good. Handling has much to do with body stiffness - as anyone who tried to make an S70 change direction at speed will testify. Without it, you can make the springs as stiff as you like: it won't make much difference. Hence the need for a completely different approach, aided by the use of the impressive platform already developed for the larger S80 saloon and the V70 estate. In the case of the S60, this has, allowed for a 70% improvement in torsional rigidity. The provision of such a strong foundation has enabled much else to be achieved. Take the suspension, now tuned to deliver progressive movement, rather than lurching forward or back during heavy acceleration or braking. Volvo's second-generation Four-C system is also available on the S60. This system enables drivers to choose from Comfort and Sport settings with resultant changes to the suspension and steering feel. The 'wheel-at-each-corner' design with its short overhangs lowers the polar movement of inertia, enabling sharper steering responses and a crisper turn-in. Plus there are the usual electronic aids. All models get Volvo's STC Stability and Traction Control system, plus there's the (sadly optional) DSTC active anti-skid programme: enter a corner too fast and it automatically cuts in, reducing the throttle and selectively applying the brakes.
This isn't really a family car, so it wouldn't suit my lifestyle. It's more one for the single-minded executive who fancies making a different statement from his BMW, Mercedes and Audi-owning colleagues. 'Different' does not always mean 'better', but in this case, you might even find that going your own way pays dividends.
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