VOLVO South Africa, under the auspices of the Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa, has been hard at work in recent years, rebuilding the brand and attracting new customers with a combination of keen pricing (relative to its rivals, if not to overseas figures) and respectable quality. While the entry level S40 and the soon-tobe- released next-generation S80 flagship occupy centre stage, the S60 range has undergone a mid-life facelift. The front and rear aspects, together with the interior, received a nip and tuck, although the super-stylish floating centre console of the S40 – now offered in the new S80, too – was left out. Power of the turbocharged fivecylinder engine has been upped by four per cent to an impressive 191 kW.
Styling evokes like it or loathe it sentiments, mainly due to the rounded flanks and the curve that flows to the raised boot lid. Of course, all this can also be seen as an acquired taste. The plus point is that all the models are unmistakably Volvo. Our last test of an S60 T5 was in January 2001, that model “only” producing 184 kW, but also costing a lot less!
The doors are sturdy, closing with a solid thunk, a fair indication of decent build quality. The layout of instruments and controls is largely unchanged from before, although the cassette player has been ditched. The switchgear may be considered old-fashioned to some, but everything is top quality and clearly labelled, so finding your way around takes only a few seconds (much quicker than mastering more modern, menu-based systems). The rotary knobs, in particular, are precision perfect with small indents for fine and accurate adjustment.
Interior comfort is easily summed up by sampling any of the seats, which are among the best available. Both front seats have height and cushion tilt adjustment, but the passenger’s is by levers rather than the electrical controls of the driver’s seat. Additionally, three drivers can have individually memorised settings. Steering adjustment is plentiful, using a manual lever release. A clutch footrest is set deep into the floor, thanks to space created by the transversely-mounted powertrain.
Legroom in the rear is not outstanding for this size of car, but due to the generous cushion size, comfort remains agreeable. Individual air vents are also supplied for rear passengers. Wood trim is tasteful – a strip around the drop-down section, around the gearlever, a segment for the sliding cover over the dual drinkholder, and door strips.
The total number of drinkholders is both amazing and amusing. Two under the sliding cover between the seats, two under the centre floor storage bin and armrest. One of these folds back for use by rear seat passengers. The rear passengers also have two under their armrest. But wait, there’s more! There are moulded cut-outs in the front door pockets, and, finally, a pop-out one in the facia. This makes a total of nine. This car would make a fine taxi!
Although a space-saver spare is located in a recess in the boot, there is room for a full-size wheel, which robs the main luggage area of decent depth. This means wasted space that can only be utilised by small packages placed under the floorboard. The battery also resides in the boot, rather far back near the rear bumper, and prone to damage in the event of an accident.
Whereas a four-cylinder engine usually does not make interesting noises, and a sixcylinder often exhibits a turbine- like wail, five cylinders give more of a growl. Very pleasant in an offbeat way. Boasting more power than any previous T5, there is a slight roughness on hard acceleration, disappearing to silky smoothness in normal driving.
The Geartronic auto transmission swops cogs with impressive alacrity. In fact, most of the gear selections seem second in speed only to the great Audi DSG gearboxes. While manual gear selection is possible by using the gearlever, it would be fun to have a set of buttons/paddles on the steering wheel. In manual shift mode, the ’box will not take over control should you take the revs to the limiter. It will sit there until you decide to change gears. In other words, a truly manual mode. Left to itself, full throttle acceleration sees the transmission shifting at about 6 200 r/min.
Attempting to achieve quicker sprint times by manually shifting at an engine speed closer to 6 500 r/min did not help matters, and our best zero to 100 km/h time was achieved by relying on the slick auto to register a time of 7,84 seconds (substantially better than the previous model’s 8,65 seconds). This is a car that will surprise many a robot dicer, so understated are the power credentials. Top speed is now up to 250 and seems to be soft-limited at that speed.
Safety features not often noticed are laminated side windows that can take quite a beating (literally) before collapsing, and an award-winning whiplash protection system built into the front seat backrests. A fiveyear/ 100 000 km maintenance plan is included in the price.
Although sales of the S40 are significantly higher than the S60, the price differential is only about 20 per cent, so for the extra space and pace, (additional 29 kW, 74 kg heavier, higher top speed and quicker acceleration), it adds up to an impressive package. An agreeable alternative to the trio of Teutonic saloons, this Swedish challenger is a satisfying drive, not lacking in comfort, and supplying all the goodies you would expect at this level. Although resale values may be lower than Mercedes, BMW and Audi, it’s still worth doing the sums before choosing.