REVIEW DATE: 19 Dec 2006
Volvo's Traditionally Older Clientele Aren't The Only Ones Likely To Be Tempted By The S60 T5, Thinks Jonathan Crouch.
On paper at least, the argument for Volvo's S60 T5 is a pretty compelling one. For what seems a pretty reasonable £26,745, it offers a huge 260bhp output - much more power than any of its German rivals can muster for similar money. Yet in a market as image and badge-conscious as the compact executive saloon sector, sheer power and value are never quite enough.
Volvo has discovered this to its cost in the past, with turbocharged versions of its mainstream models that all failed to quite make the grade. This applied as much to the twisty stuff as it did to the golf club carpark. But things are changing. The latest S60 is winning the marque a whole new kind of customer. The kind who would never have previously considered buying one of the company's cars.
As the S60 line-up's mainstream flagship, this T5 clearly has an important role to play in this process. Yes, it has slightly more power than BMW's rival 258bhp 330i. Yes, it costs thousands less and offers a higher specification. More important however, is the way it handles, the first Volvo to get anywhere near the Bavarian car in this respect. A revised chassis has moved it closer still to Germany's finest while a power boost also helped performance. Thanks to the change from the old 2.3-litre engine up to 2.4-litres, an extra 10bhp was made available. This uped the peak power to a not inconsequential 260bhp and peak torque also rose to 350Nm (up from 330).
Naturally, this had an effect on the performance figures, the S60 T5 managing the sprint to 60mph 0.3 seconds quicker than before at 6.3 seconds and Volvo being Volvo, the brakes were also beefed up to cope with the additional urge. Yes, you can buy a 300bhp S60 R, priced from £34,965, but this is a specialist tool and most will feel that the more pliant suspension and 260bhp punch of the T5 represents a more usable everyday alternative.
Not that Volvo has ever quite mastered the sporting saloon genre. On the road, the S60 T5's handling response certainly isn't quite as pin-sharp as the all-conquering 3-Series, despite the recent upgrades to springs, dampers and anti-roll bars. Nevertheless, it's quite good enough to match other direct rivals like Mercedes' C-class and Audi's A4. It could be even better too: the chassis is certainly more capable than the slightly vague steering gives it credit for.
"There's a sense of style and spirit we've not seen from Gothenburg in the past.."
So how has Volvo done it? Well 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 in the S60 for a completely new approach, aided by the use of a platform 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 over the previous generation car. 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. Over and above this, the two ride set-ups allow buyers to choose a car that's tuned for either comfort or handling response. Alternatively, they can go for the adaptive Four-C system which can be set into either comfort or sport modes.
The 'wheel-at-each-corner' design also helps with reduced overhangs that lower the polar movement of inertia, enabling sharper steering responses and a crisper turn-in. Plus there are the usual electronic aids. Like all S60 models, this 2.0T gets 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.
The main focus of the changes brought to this S60 was to increase the car'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.
Volvo has an unparalleled reputation for safety and the S60 harbours yet another Volvo safety innovation that will doubtless find its way into many other rival cars. Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) acts much like an extra set of eyes and utilizes digital camera technology mounted in the door mirrors to monitor the areas 3m to each side and up to 9.5m behind the driver. If a vehicle enters this area, a symbol appears on the windscreen pillar near the rear view mirror to indicate that something's there when you take a quick look towards the mirror. Active at speeds above 10km/h, this system isn't the only safety benefit buyers of the latest S60 enjoy. Special water repellent glass is fitted to the mirrors and side windows. Water beads up on the glass and the airstream quickly clears it, leaving unimpeded visibility.
It's obvious that safety remained formost in the designers' minds throughout the S60's development: Volvo may have ditched many of its marque values in recent years but it 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.
Without any doubt, the S60 T5 is one of the most convincing driver's cars the marque has yet made. Certainly, this is a car that serious drivers can't ignore.
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|OVERALL||6.8 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||6|
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