Make no mistake about it, the all-new Volvo S60 is aimed directly at the Teutonic trio comprised of BMW’s 3 Series, the Audi A4, and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. The nail has been hammered in vociferously too, because the development team claims that this is the most dynamic model from the Swedish manufacturer to date…
And it is, in more ways than one. It all starts with the updated Volvo design language – which debuted on the svelte Steve Mattin-designed XC60 crossover in 2008, and sees its best interpretation in the Swedish manufacturer’s new compact executive, courtesy of the S60 programme chief designer, Örjan Sterner, who penned the newcomer’s lithe lines.
Up front, the S60 may appear to be quite unremarkable in that it is very similar to the rest of the models in the range. The nose, which seems to have been sculpted in the form of a vague “X” is dominated by Volvo’s new, enlarged iron logo, which takes pride of place on an ovoid grille, flanked by driving lights that are independent of the swept-back headlamps and vents that trace the same upward line as the other frontal elements.
The profile has been raked to be as “coupé-like” as possible, with blacked out B-pillars, a C-pillar that stretches all the way back to the tail lamps, and a design line that emphasises the curvature of the front and rear fender flares. Finishing touches to the rear include boomerang-shaped tail-light clusters, and dependent on the model, a subtle or slightly oversized boot spoiler and twin exhaust tips.
It passes the aesthetic test no sweat, but on the recent launch of the S60 in Portugal, I was more eager to test Volvo’s claim that the S60 is the first real Scandinavian threat to the German dominance of this class – especially in terms of its performance and handling.
Engineers have achieved lower levels of internal friction with regard to the 3,0-litre turbocharged straight six in the T6 model, which now not only produces 227 kW and 440 N.m of torque – 17 kW and 40 N.m more than before – but also boasts improved fuel efficiency, Volvo claims. The range-topping powerplant is refined and well-mannered at low engine speeds, while prodding the throttle deeper unleashes a characterful growl from beneath the bonnet and the welcome whoosh of boost.
It certainly is punchy enough, as I discovered in the hills around the region of Sintra, but even though the car was equipped with Volvo’s second-generation six-speed Geartronic automatic transmission, I still found the shifts to be somewhat tardy during enthusiastic driving. This is made up for while cruising and using the throttle sparingly – especially in traffic. The dual-clutch Powershift would combine well, if not better, with this engine.
With regard to the handling characteristics of the new S60, the range is available with two chassis options. The first is the new dynamic chassis, which is standard in all European markets, while other markets such as North America and Asia are destined to get the comfort chassis as standard, with the sportier set-up available as an option.
Essentially, the S60 shares its underpinnings with the XC60, but befitting a saloon with a lower centre of gravity, the technicians have improved the way the suspension responds to input too. The steering ratio is 10 per cent faster, the springs have been shortened and are stiffer than before, as are the bushes. This definitely facilitates and inspires bolder cornering maneuvers and with Four-C adaptive suspension specified on this model, it was tempting not to explore the dynamics of this system further. The Four-C system also been modified with a number of sensors that adjust the S60’s suspension behaviour, so despite this particular model angled toward optimum “sportiness”, the system adjusts to current driving conditions accordingly, and is very comfortable to drive at lower speeds.
The S60 also boasts what is perhaps the world’s first pedestrian detection system with full automatic braking, which journalists were encouraged to test – on a test dummy dressed up as an eight-year old. The system avoids collisions by detecting pedestrians in everyday situations, such as taxi commuters who unexpectedly walk into the path of oncoming traffic, or children running out of a driveway to retrieve a ball.
The system utilises a camera and radar to assesses the situation, warns the driver of a potential collision, and if he/she has not applied braking force to avoid the danger, applies the appropriate amount of stopping power. This is only effective at up 35 km/h, thereafter, the system will minimise collision force as much as possible. Obviously, this is only needed as a last resort, and thought we were encouraged to leave it up to the system, it did feel weird not to brake when an obstacle is obviously in your path.
The new S60 is impressive, but the Gothenborg-based manufacturer sure has some ground to make up for in terms of premium (or shall be say “snob”?) appeal – especially in a market that has not been particularly welcoming to the last S60. Furthermore, we’ll have to wait for clarification of the S60’s local model and pricing strategy to gauge just how competitive the new Volvo will be… It’s off to a good start though, I have to add.