THE compact executive segment in South Africa is a pretty tough playground in which to try and stake a claim – especially if you don’t speak German. And while Volvo has had a presence in this playgroup for some time it has, perhaps unfairly at times, been bullied out of the sandbox during the struggle for supremacy amongst the Teutonic Three. With the launch of the second-generation S60, however, Volvo is attempting to finally gain acceptance, and perhaps even kick some sand into the eyes of its rivals. Furthermore, the S60 is the first all-new Volvo to hit showrooms following the takeover by Chinese car-maker Geely. As such, it is a car that needs to do well.
In terms of design it is off to a good start. Volvo’s new design language, introduced on the XC60 and, to date, handed down to the C30 and C70 models, arguably finds its most flattering application on the new S60. All our testers commented favourably on the sleek and fluid lines of the new model. It shares its platform with the XC60 and manages to look more compact than it actually is, and firmly lays to rest any hint of the company’s previous reputation for boxy designs.
Impressive cabin space there may well be, but there is one disappointing packaging issue with the new S60, namely the relatively small luggage area, including a shallow floor and narrow entry points. The inclusion of a spare wheel below the boot board is optional, but this would potentially encroach even further into the packing space than the standard puncture repair kit already does. A glance underneath the rear fender reveals the main culprit to be an oversized catalytic convertor separating the dual exhaust tailpipes.
Volvo has stuck with what it knows best in terms of interior design, but this is not necessarily a bad thing as the floating centre console concept with its slightly busy layout still looks fresh and modern enough to last one more product life cycle. It is probably time for a revised instrument cluster though as this is one area of the facia that, although admirably simple in its execution, is showing its age.
An electronic park brake replaces the “old fashioned” manual lever, and this frees up space between the driver and front passenger seat. A multifunction steering wheel adds convenience to the package, as some of the main audio controls can be difficult to locate without taking your eyes off the road. On a similar note, some of our testers commented that the centrally-mounted full-colour info-tainment screen could have been a larger feature in the cabin – especially as it works so well.
Volvo’s seating is usually extremely comfortable and the new S60 is no exception. The cushions are large and accommodating and there is just enough bolstering to keep you in place when cornering. Our one complaint about the driving position is the lack of a solid left foot rest to prevent awkward ankle angles while cruising. Rear passenger leg- and headroom are fair for this segment. A welcome touch is the inclusion of ventilation outlets in the B-pillars to cool rear seat passengers.
A tall gearshift lever with a chunky handle fits nicely to hand and is immediately comfortable to use. Pity that the centre storage box can be obstructive during shifts. Another downside is that the relatively long throw isn’t always ideal for optimal shifts while pressing on. It’s a pity, because the revised turbocharged 2,0-litre engine featured in our test unit does seem to enjoy being revved. There’s a welcome flexibility to its power delivery and with a strong 300 N.m of torque available at just 1 750 r/min it doesn’t require a huge dip on the accelerator pedal to increase motivation. That said, we were somewhat disappointed by the figures achieved during our performance tests and our best 0-100 km/h time, for example, was some way off what Volvo claims. On the other hand, the S60 redeemed itself by recording an excellent average emergency stopping time.
Our Vibrant Copper-painted test unit rode on optional 18-inch rubber (215/55 R16 is standard fitment), but thankfully this didn’t impact too heavily on the overall ride quality as the compliant MacPherson struts up front and multi-link arrangement at the rear admirably soaked up most road imperfections. Volvo vowed to make the new S60 an altogether sportier prospect than its predecessor and we’re happy to note that the new car goes a long way to dispelling any reputation for stodgy handling and dynamics for this Swedish manufacturer.
Some body roll is evident before the car settles into a fast corner but, from there on, grip levels are good and the front-end can be accurately placed via the impressively precise steering. The S60 doesn’t set the world alight in terms of dynamic ability but, at the same time, there is a welcome predictability about the way it delivers the goods. All models feature standard DSTC traction control that can, appropriately, only be switched out via the on-board computer.
Volvo has established a wellearned reputation for safety and the new S60 aims to reinforce this by offering a wealth of safety innovation. Complementing the standard array of six airbags, Isofix anchorage points and Volvo’s patented whiplash protection system, there is also an optional new pedestrian detection system.
While the big three German rivals continue to scrap for top honours in this important segment, the S60 offers the discerning buyer a more than capable alternative. The new car’s bold and exciting style direction highlights, to an extent, the conservative approach adopted by the traditional big three, and certainly turns heads. It’s somewhat disappointing that the interior layout didn’t receive as bold a redesign but, as a package, the new S60 holds its own against rivals. It remains to be seen, however, whether the marque-loyal South African market will forgive the Swedish brand its historically poor resale values, but the new S60 is certainly a step in the right direction.