From £36,7508
Volvo takes on the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C-Class et al with a saloon imbued with inviting Scandi-cool and sophistication

Our Verdict

Volvo S60 Polestar Engineered 2018 review - hero front

American-built Swedish sports saloon has the style, but is more a rival for the Mercedes-AMG C43 or the hardcore BMW M3?

  • First Drive

    Volvo S60 T5 2019 UK review

    Volvo takes on the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C-Class et al with a saloon imbued with inviting Scandi-cool and sophistication
Matt Prior
28 April 2019

What is it?

In America, apparently they don’t put labels in boxes of assorted chocolates, telling you how each different delightful sugary nugget is flavoured. So, as Forrest Gump’s mum said, life is like a box of chocolates, in that you never know what you’re going to get.

We British, meanwhile, being more reserved, prefer to know exactly what kind of chocolate we’re getting so insist captioned pictures are enclosed within every box. A box of chocolates here, then, is very much unlike life.

Which brings me, convolutedly, to the new Volvo S60, which is the first Volvo to be built in the US, where it will be nothing like a box of chocolates.

Here, it will be precisely like one. This is a Volvo that gives you – as you’ll guess if you’ve been paying attention to the brand’s recent rapid model roll-out – precisely what you expect, because all new Volvos follow largely the same formula.

To date, it’s a successful one. On the outside, it means you get one of the best-looking cars in its class, if you ask me, which I’m prepared to argue you sort of did. Standard Autocar-design-award-winning Volvo: the new S60 has a strong family resemblance, fine proportions, even some discreet aggression, with just about enough differentiation from other Volvos to currently avoid accusations of Russian Dollness, although I suspect that’s only a matter of time. That they’re better-looking than today’s BMWs probably helps.

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Each car has hints of suitability for its segment, at least. The S60’s is the segment of ordinary/nice/4.7m-long saloons, so it’s a rival for anything from a Ford Mondeo to a BMW 3 Series, and Volvo will probably argue at some length that it’s at the more premium end of the market, given the difficulty you’d have spending this S60’s £38,000 on a Mondeo. But with the Ford being much rarer than the BMW these days, if you value exclusivity, a Mondeo, or indeed an S60, which hasn’t set UK sales alight for quite some time, is among your go-to options.

Volvo is, effectively, and by accident rather than design, an SUV company today, given how many off-roaders it sells. And the S60 might remain a niche in its line-up, given family saloons are a declining sector. Especially given it’s launching in only one specification, too – a four-cylinder 2.0-litre in R-Design trim – although more options will come. Nothing bigger than a four-cylinder 2.0-litre, though, and nothing diesel.

What's it like?

For now, that means the T5, with the T meaning petrol and the number relating to its power rating, which seems to go up to eight rather than 11, disappointingly. It has 247bhp and front-wheel drive, although you can have up to 394bhp and all-wheel drive in the US in the T8, and [Volvo spokesperson taps nose] “more specifications and powertrains will arrive here later”, too.

Meanwhile, the T5 drives through an eight-speed automatic gearbox and sits on Volvo’s SPA (Scalable Product Architecture), which underpins all of its big cars. It’s a mostly steel monocoque in which the engine sits at the front and is transversely mounted and, in other Volvo models, can have electrical assistance for both front and rear axles in place of the diesels that Volvo is currently repulsed by.

Inside, there’s even less difference between Volvos than there is on the outside. Volvo has settled into a Scandi-cool way of doing things, with good seats, a widely adjustable driving position, a round steering wheel, clear dials and a vertical touchscreen that’s relatively easy to navigate in the scheme of things but still makes you control too many functions from it, in the name of removing physical buttons. So it looks good, works satisfactorily and, at least, reacts quickly to inputs and remembers you’ve turned off lane keep assist the next time you get in the car. There’s a decent-sized boot and plenty of space in the back for grown adults to sit behind the same in the front.

There are adaptive dampers and drive modes, which are among the few things selectable via separate buttons on the centre console, slightly needlessly given that you’ll put it in one mode and leave it there for the next three years. And I suspect you’ll get not far into the good side of 30mpg whichever mode you pick. And whichever mode it’s in, the S60 is a largely amiable companion, too. Mature, sophisticated and largely uncomplicated in feel.

Volvo’s latest four-cylinder engine family can lack refinement, depending on its application, but I’ve no such qualms with the 2.0-litre here. It starts, goes and revs quietly and freely, with an eight-speed gearbox that slurs nicely and seems to react and predict well. It’s less impressive mooching to a halt, if you take pleasure in stopping without a jolt, because the stop/start judders the engine off and with it your last couple of feet of finesse. Which is not how a relaxing car should be.

The ride is towards the firmer end of pliant on the 235/40 tyres and 19in rims that are optional and fitted to our test car. It’s fine but might be better (yet look weedier) with a bit more tyre sidewall and what might be the less unsprung mass of the 235/45 18s that are standard. Handling is secure, reassuring and never exciting but always capable and pretty relaxing, with a relaxed steering ratio but positive steering weight and feel and self-centring.

Wheels aside, the car you see here is one that comes without too many options – metallic paint and, praise be, a spare wheel take the R-Design Edition from £37,920 to £38,745 – and feels like it gets everything you’d realistically want. Here’s where the ‘premium’ argument comes in. You have to try very hard to spend that much on a regular large family car (although better depreciation means the Volvo is frequently little less affordable than a high-specced one) and even move quite a long way up the ranges of Audi/BMW/Mercedes-Benz compact executive cars before you reach the Volvo’s price ticket.

Should I buy one?

I’d have one of these over an Audi A4 or Mercedes C-Class and pretty much all conventional large family saloons. I think a BMW 3 Series’ superior ride and handling would sway me, but I’m not sure the handling of an Alfa Romeo Giulia or Jaguar XE or Kia Stinger would be enough to make me ignore just how nice the Volvo is inside.

With the consistent blurring of different segments and such a prolific number of cars on sale, there have never been so many different choices. Pick a large family saloon or premium compact exec or even a crossover and you’ve got, what, 20 or more different cars to choose from? Doesn’t matter how many, really. The S60 is among the best of them.

Volvo S60 T5 R-Design Edition specification

Where Oxfordshire, UK Price £37,920 On sale now Engine 4-cylinder, 1969cc, turbocharged petrol Power 247bhp at 5500rpm Torque 261lb ft at 1800-4800rpm Gearbox 8-speed automatic Kerb weight 1686kg Top speed 145mph 0-62mph 6.5sec Fuel economy 35.3mpg CO2 155g/km, 35% Rivals BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class

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Comments
27

28 April 2019

You say its expensive, however the equivalent, less well equipped 330i M Sport is £39,165 on the road, befor you add a single extra feature, the equivalent A4 is over £40k (admittedly its AWD they dont offer a similar powered 2wd), So I would say its actually relatively good value compared to its rivals.. 

28 April 2019

But have to say that the S60 looks bland and uninspiring. Give me the estate any day 

28 April 2019

Effortlessly so.....

I rather like the current crop of Volvos....

Steam cars are due a revival.

28 April 2019
It's time to end the ridiculously contrived differentiation between 'compact executive' and so-called 'large family' cars. Do executives not drive Mondeos or Insignia? Do mums not drive the kids to school in the family 3 Series, or use the A4 for the weekly shopping trip? Will the S60 not be used for family holidays or weekends away? Defining a car on the basis of its driver's perceived social class is utterly nonsensical nowadays, and really rather pathetic. So let's cut the crap and call a spade a spade, or a medium-sized car a medium-sized car.

29 April 2019
Rollocks wrote:

It's time to end the ridiculously contrived differentiation between 'compact executive' and so-called 'large family' cars. Do executives not drive Mondeos or Insignia? Do mums not drive the kids to school in the family 3 Series, or use the A4 for the weekly shopping trip? Will the S60 not be used for family holidays or weekends away? Defining a car on the basis of its driver's perceived social class is utterly nonsensical nowadays, and really rather pathetic. So let's cut the crap and call a spade a spade, or a medium-sized car a medium-sized car.

Was traditionally the case though. Cars like the old Ford Granada were almost classless, the bank manager and bank robber would both be equally likely to own one.

Was only when the premium company cars were trying to expand in the 80s-90s that the executive car label came about, to differentiate a 316i from a Nissan Primera. And it's been successful, most mainstream saloons have been axed, while the Mercedes C class is a frequent top 10 seller.

29 April 2019
WallMeerkat wrote:

Rollocks wrote:

It's time to end the ridiculously contrived differentiation between 'compact executive' and so-called 'large family' cars. Do executives not drive Mondeos or Insignia? Do mums not drive the kids to school in the family 3 Series, or use the A4 for the weekly shopping trip? Will the S60 not be used for family holidays or weekends away? Defining a car on the basis of its driver's perceived social class is utterly nonsensical nowadays, and really rather pathetic. So let's cut the crap and call a spade a spade, or a medium-sized car a medium-sized car.

Was traditionally the case though. Cars like the old Ford Granada were almost classless, the bank manager and bank robber would both be equally likely to own one.

Was only when the premium company cars were trying to expand in the 80s-90s that the executive car label came about, to differentiate a 316i from a Nissan Primera. And it's been successful, most mainstream saloons have been axed, while the Mercedes C class is a frequent top 10 seller.

 

To extrapolate your analogy, perhaps while the bank manager may have owned his/hers, the bank ROBBER(!), is more likely to have stolen it.

28 April 2019

Considering WhatCar? Is your sister site, I’d expect some consistency between reviews. Just been on their review of a similarly specced car, and they’ve only given it 3 stars with only 2 in the handling department. Similar story with the Peugeot 508 as well, given 4 stars on here and only 3 on WhatCar? Don’t really know who to trust between the two sites.

29 April 2019
Logan Jones wrote:

Considering WhatCar? Is your sister site, I’d expect some consistency between reviews. Just been on their review of a similarly specced car, and they’ve only given it 3 stars with only 2 in the handling department. Similar story with the Peugeot 508 as well, given 4 stars on here and only 3 on WhatCar? Don’t really know who to trust between the two sites.

Car reviews, like review of the arts, are subjective. There is no right & wrong. Test drive the car and trust your own judgement.

29 April 2019
Logan Jones wrote:

Considering WhatCar? Is your sister site, I’d expect some consistency between reviews. Just been on their review of a similarly specced car, and they’ve only given it 3 stars with only 2 in the handling department. Similar story with the Peugeot 508 as well, given 4 stars on here and only 3 on WhatCar? Don’t really know who to trust between the two sites.

I guess different individual testers will have different views sometimes, even if they are from sister publications. So personally, I don't see an issue there particularly.

That said (and as much as I think Matt Prior is a pretty balanced and fair tester) I might just go with WhatCar's rating in this case! That's because I get the feeling that the latrest crop of Volvos are being slightly overrated in tests.

I could be wrong of course, but all this "Scandinavian cool" hooha and the fact that Volvo is not 'German' seems to suggest a subjective (even if not delibarate) overpraise. I just think, for the S60 to receive 4 stars, with its over-reliance on touchscreens for too many function, being limited to a 4 four cylindar engine (for a high luxury sports saloon) and its so so ride and handling, is a bit of a stretch.

29 April 2019

I’m leaning more towards the WhatCar? verdict too. Find it a bit hard to believe this would be a 4 star car considering the points raised about the so-so ride and handling mentioned in both publications. Seems a nice car overall, but have to agree with other comments as well about the Russian doll styling. The S90 is a fine looking car, but Volvo designs are becoming far too predictable. I find myself enjoying Peugeot’s design at the moment, similar enough to have the same brand image but different enough to distinguish between each model. 

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