A long time ago in a galaxy very much like ours, Volvo designed its cars exclusively with set squares and extolled safety over all else. Today, though, the set squares are gathering dust in Gothenburg and the company has veered to the other extreme. The new S60 sedan has such a slinky, coupe-like roof line that it seriously compromises rear head room for anyone just north of average height, so don't forget to take your hat off.
In addition to its gorgeous shape, the S60 sports plenty of lovely details, including its LED hockey stick tail-lights and the beautiful Sleipner 18-inch alloy wheels that are standard on the T6. LEDs are also used for the driving lights and the indicators on the wing mirrors.
The standard xenon headlights not only shine a piercing light into the night, they follow the driver's steering inputs. Boot space is just passable at 380 litres, with the usable area compromised by the boot lid's arm shields; the rear-seat split folds to enable larger items to be carried, although the seat backs don't fold flat. To save space and weight, there's no spare tyre under the boot floor, just a jack and an inflation kit.
If you gave us just one word to describe the S60's cabin, we'd pick gorgeous. Should you feel a little more generous, we'd also venture classy and luxurious.
The team at Volvo has taken a page out of Audi's play book and then added a few doses of Scandinavian flair for good measure. The dashboard is soft to the touch, plastic components have a solid, high quality feel to them and the instruments resemble watch faces with embossed lettering.
To our eyes, it helps that our review vehicle had a two-tone interior with cream coloured seats and door inlays, providing both contrast and a brighter ambience. The seats, door trim, arm rests and gear knob are adorned in different, yet wonderfully supple bits of leather that range in texture from coarse or fine grained to buttery smooth or rubbery.
Unless you pay extra the S60's interior is a wood-free zone. The floating centre section of the dash is covered in faux machined aluminnium. In combination with the splashings of matte chrome trim around the cabin, they give the S60 a real air of class.
At the base of the S60 tree is the mischievously named T5 (AU$51,950) that features a 177kW/320Nm 2-litre turbocharged direct injection petrol four-cylinder engine, not the five-cylinder one would expect. Next up is the AU$57,950 D5 that houses a 151kW/420Nm, a five-cylinder turbo-diesel under the bonnet and has all-wheel drive.
The AU$64,950 T6 sits atop of the S60 heap and comes well equipped with all-wheel drive, stability and traction control, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, electric front seats with memory settings on the driver's side, rain-sensing wipers, parking sensors front and rear, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, cruise control and leather seats. Externally, the T6 is distinguished by its standard 18-inch alloys, boot lip spoiler and a bit of extra chrome trim at the front.
Options fitted to our review vehicle include heating elements for the front seats (AU$325); blind-spot warning system (AU$1275); and an AU$4500 bundle containing steerable xenon headlights with washers, reversing camera, adaptive cruise control, collision warning with automatic braking, queue assistance and pedestrian detection.
Notable items not fitted to our car are grocery bag holders (AU$200), lane departure warning (AU$2075), Four-C adaptive chassis (AU$4175), and the R-Design package (AU$4200) that features sports suspension, five-spoke alloy wheels, body kit and racier interior elements.
The standard safety package on the S60 is pretty comprehensive, but aside from City Safety most of the cutting edge stuff is optional. City Safety utilises cameras and sensors mounted high on the windscreen and if it detects an imminent rear-ender, it will brake the car and is able to avoid accidents at speeds up to 30km/h.
Standard are the now regular safety features, like a full complement of airbags, seatbelt pretensioners, stability and traction control, and emergency brake assistance. There's also other Volvo staples, like whiplash protection and flashing emergency brake lights.
The S60's headline act is Volvo's new (and snappily named) Collision Warning with Full Auto Brake that includes pedestrian detection, queue assist and adaptive cruise control. Priced at a not insignificant AU$4175, it's much better value when bundled with xenon headlights and a reversing camera in the AU$4500 Teknik package or with all the optional safety features in the AU$4990 driver support pack.
This system uses a grille-mounted radar and the aforementioned windscreen sensors to add pedestrian detection to its repertoire. If it senses an imminent accident it will first arm the brakes and warn the driver, and if insufficient action is taken fully brake the car. Volvo claims — and last year demonstrated — that at a speed up to 35km/h it can completely avoid an accident, while at higher speeds the system will significantly reduce its severity and possible loss of life.
As the car is able to brake for itself, the adaptive cruise control system is able to maintain your desired speed on steep hills, as well as keep a safe distance from the car in front. In gridlocked city traffic the driver can set a maximum speed and leave all the braking and accelerating to the car; all one has to do is steer and press the Resume button on the steering wheel whenever the traffic starts moving.
Also available is a blind-spot notification system (AU$1275) that uses cameras mounted into the wing mirrors. Whenever it detects a car in your over-the-shoulder blind spot, an orange light is lit next to the base of the windscreen.
Entertainment and navigation
If you've ever cussed and cursed at a previous Volvo entertainment or nav system before, then be prepared to be pleasantly surprised. The S60 and its V60 wagon twin are the first models to feature the company's new Sensus system that will, in time, roll out across the rest of the range.
While there's no on-board music storage, the T6 has a pretty full complement of entertainment options, including AM/FM radio, auxiliary jack, iPod/iPhone-compatible USB port, Bluetooth music streaming and a CD/DVD slot. The 12-speaker Premium Sound system does just that, with nice music reproduction regardless of whether you're listening at sensible or detrimental volumes.
If you're in love with a particular AM radio station, you might have to reconsider your habit, as AM reception is reduced to static when the engine's chugging away. When parked, the S60 is a nice place to watch a video (either on DVD or from DivX files via USB) on the high-resolution 7-inch screen; as an added bonus the Premium Sound system features Dolby surround decoding.
Searching through large music libraries on iPods, especially ones running iOS 4 and above, is a patience exercise that would weary even the most ardent of monks. Bluetooth hands-free works well thanks to the quiet cabin, and the voice recognition system allows you to call people from your phone book without any fussing about with pre-recorded voice tags.
Oddly you can't use the voice system to enter new sat-nav destinations — it will let you choose from previous destinations though. In an annoying twist, the system defaults to adding destinations to an itinerary. Although the system can supposedly learn your preferred routes, it lacks text-to-speech, speed limit info and traffic messaging. Lane guidance and junction view is limited to highways and freeways.
Sensus' interface is nicely designed and, generally speaking, well laid out. Navigating the menus is done either via buttons and a dial on the dash, or a scroll wheel and button combo on the steering wheel, with the latter being our preferred method. There is, however, no home menu nor a mode button on the wheel, so switching between sections or devices requires finding for the appropriate button on the dash.
There are a few other oddities about. For instance, it's not immediately obvious that you can use the T9 number pad on the dashboard to more easily enter nav destinations or search your phone book. Or that switching folders or albums requires you to scroll the wheel or dial whilst on the music info screen, and the press Exit when the current song list comes up.
For more information, check back soon for our full review of the Volvo Sensus system.
On the road
Weighing 1680kg, and with 224kW of power and 440Nm of torque at our right foot's disposal, the S60 T6 is fast, but despite the turbocharger lighting the 3-litre straight-six's wick it's not explosive.
Thanks to the on-demand all-wheel drive (AWD) system, torque steer isn't ever a problem. Chuck the Volvo into a corner, any corner and at almost any speed, and you'll notice plenty of body roll. Keep your nerve, though, and the S60 will cut a swathe through twisty stuff at ungodly speeds. That's more than partly thanks to the AWD system that sends more torque to outside wheels during cornering. The steering is well weighted and keen for a bit of action, but it's not big on communication.
The suspension blots out most of a road's small imperfections, although bigger bumps aren't quite as well handled. Starting and stopping the car is marred somewhat by the poorly located and easily forgotten electronic parking brake. The four-wheel disc brakes pull the S60 up very neatly, but are quite keen on squealing.
Fuel economy varies quite widely, with highway runs naturally being the lightest on the planet — 8.1L/100km was the best we managed on the open road, brisker driving saw consumption rise to 11.4L/100km. On clogged inner city streets the S60 drank an alarming 20.5L/100km, although in much lighter traffic this fell to around 16.7. Add suburbia into the mix and the Volvo slurped consistently at a rate between 13 and 14.6L/100km.
Volvo's billboards bait its German competition by boasting that the new S60 is not only naughty, but more powerful and better value. While that's true, it can't quite match the establishment cars for outright poise and finesse.
If outright handling nous isn't an issue, the new S60's impressive interior, optional cutting edge safety features, value for money, and a usable entertainment and nav system make it a winner.