REVIEW DATE: 08 Jun 2007
Volvo has responded to accusations that its S60 executive saloon isn't sporty enough with a round of dynamic revisions. Andy Enright reports.
As consumers, we're becoming worryingly attached to over-engineering. Think about it for a moment. How often will you expose your watch to the 100m underwater depths it's been designed to withstand? My mountain bike has a carbon fibre frame which is possibly overkill for nipping up the shops to pick up a pint of milk and the papers. Yet everywhere we look, we buy things that are ludicrously over-specified for their task and nowhere more so than with our cars. Volvo's latest S60 is a prime example. The old car was perfectly good but the market has deemed it not sporty enough so Volvo has gone away and made a bunch of revisions aimed at making the car feel sportier.
Let's pause for a moment and consider the word 'sporty.' It peppers manufacturer promotional material. Sporty is good. If your car can be deemed sporty, it will sell even if sportiness has been endowed by merely tacking on alloy wheels, a set of spoilers, a chicken wire grille and white dials. It all counts. But why do we need our cars to be sporty in the first instance? Even the least sporty cars on the market can still be fun to drive. I suspect the blame may reside with people like me. I'll let you in on a little secret here. There's barely a motoring journalist who, if they weren't endowed with such a paucity of talent, wouldn't want to be a racing driver. Some even turn up at track tests with their own monogrammed race overalls. It's all a bit embarrassing really. When they test cars, they test them to different criteria than the average buyer and have rather lost touch with what makes a customer buy. Or have they? It seems that the press is warping customer needs round to their way of thinking. Tight rebound damping is more important than whether you can afford the insurance premium and a sharp steering rack counts for more than the ability to fit your kids in the back.
In making the latest S60 more sporty, is Volvo guilty of trying to play BMW at its own game? Shouldn't the company instead concentrate on its core values of safety, family and the environment? It's a debatable point. Certainly the latest S60 is a good deal more composed if you want to play the Touring Car driver, with firmer shock absorbers front and rear and 24 per cent stiffer springs. The front and rear anti-roll bars have been beefed up and solid bushes improve steering feel while reducing torque steer. The Volvo active Four-C chassis (Continuously Controlled Chassis Concept) based on the very rapid (but now deleted) S60R variant is also available on the latest S60. This offers Comfort and Sport modes switchable at the touch of a button. So far, so sporty.
"Whether you agree with the sporty philosophy or not, the S60 has emerged as a very credible contender"
There are a few design touches that have been altered with the front end looking a little more aggressive thanks to a lower front spoiler, a bigger grille and a more pronounced Volvo 'iron mark' badge in the centre. The door mirrors now house the side indicators, there are Active Bi-Xenon headlights that swivel to show the way ahead and a revised selection of alloy wheel designs.
The cabin has also come in for a sprucing but this was always the S60's strong point so not a whole lot needed doing. Now you'll find satin chrome inlays on the air vents, switches, column stalks and on the steering wheel with grid aluminium inlays for the doors and dashboard. The sports steering wheel offered features perforated leather and silver inserts while the sport gear knob and handbrake are also perforated leather. Optional Imola sports leather upholstery with two grades of hide in contrasting colours will doubtless prove popular. All the latest S60 models have improved specifications, with cruise control standard on all models, while the Sport models gain chronograph instrument dials, speed dependent power steering, leather sports steering wheel and sports spaceball gear knob. Prices start at £19,995.
The S60 always did have one of the more generous power outputs in its class whichever model you opted for and the engine line up carries on largely unchanged. This means a 2.4D five-cylinder diesel rated at 163bhp and a D5 variant good for 185bhp. Both are Euro IV emissions-compatible. The fire-breathing 2.4-litre T5 generates 260bhp and boasts a peak torque of 350Nm. This is a car capable of notching off the sprint to 60mph in 6.3 seconds.
The S60 still undercuts most of its rivals. Take the entry-level 2.0-litre turbo model, with 180bhp. It's faster and generally better equipped than rival German marques: cars like the 163bhp Mercedes C200K or the 170bhp BMW 320i. In fact, you could probably afford to step up to the S60 2.5T S and still save money to spare. Here, there's 210bhp on tap, enabling the rest to sixty sprint to be dispatched in just 7s on the way to 146mph: that's a useful improvement on the already rapid 2.0-litre version (8.8s and 140mph). Occupying the middle of the range are the Sport derivatives. Available with both the 2.0 and the 2.5 engines, these models can be found displaying lowered suspension, 17" alloy wheels and a rear spoiler.
Next up is the 260bhp T5. To rival this car's performance, you'll need either a BMW 330i or a Mercedes C350: either way, expect to spend between £4,000-£6,000 more. The 185bhp S60 D5 diesel version acquits itself superbly, especially as its Volvo's first in-house stab at a diesel engine. Capable of hitting 60mph in 9.2 seconds on the way to 130mph, it will still return an average of 47mpg.
The S60 really didn't need to get sporty. It's a bit like seeing your aunt getting into rap music. You just want her to be your aunt. Despite that, it's hard not to agree that Volvo has built a better car but question the direction the company is going. Volvo already has a very strong brand identity and aping the German marques will only serve to dilute it. Let's hope this is as sporty as mainstream S60s get.
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