- 2011 Volvo S60 D5 AWD; 2.4-litre, five-cylinder, turbo-diesel; six-speed automatic; four-door sedan
It's a whopping punch to the kidneys of the mid-sized premium market. A Volvo that you would put at the top of your shopping list. One that redefines the quality and desirability of the brand.
This is the Volvo S60, and it's by far the best product to come out of the Swedish company in years. There are three variants: The T6, a 220kW turbocharged 3.0-litre six-cylinder petrol with all-wheel drive; the T5, a 177kW turbocharged four-cylinder petrol with front-wheel drive; and this week's test car, the D5, a 2.4-litre, turbocharged diesel, putting its power through all four wheels.
It's the quality that gets you first. Every surface feels tactile, feels expensive. There are metal accents used throughout - most notably along the edges of the floating centre console, the gearshift surround, and the spiral-esque pattern on each door trim (echoing the XC60). It looks and feels expensive, and now with the console angled toward the driver, and the dash swooping across from left to right, the interior design is a standout.
The seats deserve special praise. While the grain may look a little coarse on first inspection, you'll soon realise the leather is buttery soft, albeit a little slippery, and the comfort level is outstanding. They're supportive across your entire back whatever your size.
The back seats are also comfy, and although there's not heaps of width - three will fit at a pinch - headroom and legroom are good for this segment. The space underneath the front seats could be a little higher, as footroom is a little cramped for adults. The rear air vents are mounted on the B-pillars rather than the back of the centre console, and work well in keeping passengers cool.
One option is the Clean Zone Interior Package. It's designed for asthma and allergy sufferers and apparently it's endorsed by the Swedish Asthma Association. The package also includes the Interior Air Quality System which automatically switches from outside to inside air if it detects pollutant levels coming through the vents are getting too high.
The biggest improvement is the satellite navigation. Unfortunately for Aston Martin, which no longer has access to the new Volvo's parts bin, the new screen is crystal clear high resolution (outclassing offerings from BMW, Mercedes-Benz and especially Audi), with a much easier interface than the previous almost unintelligible set-up. That said, it still takes a while to get used to - the scroll wheel on the steering wheel can be a little touchy, and there's a few too many menus to get through - thus is not as intuitive as BMW's iDrive for example, but once you get the hang of it, it works a treat. It's an expensive option, though - $4715 thank you very much.
Volvo has always been renowned for its fabulous stereos and the S60 with its 12-speaker Premium Sound is no different; plenty of bass, treble and zero distortion even at high volumes - John Williams' "Duel of the Fates" is simply awe inspiring. Once you connect your iPhone through Bluetooth, it'll begin streaming your music automatically, too.
Boot space is average at 380 litres, and the rear seats are a 60/40 split fold arrangement with a release inside the boot, which makes it fairly practical for loading larger items if need be.
Under the bonnet is a 2.4-litre, five-cylinder diesel which puts out 151kW and 420Nm. Maximum torque is made at 1500rpm and contiunues through until 3250rpm. It's just under that figure that the D5 engine really starts to haul. Despite its on-paper figures, the D5 is at its best with a few revs under its belt, pulling hardest from around 2500rpm. Under that and it feels like it's a bit lethargic, but surprisingly it doesn't run out of steam just before 4000rpm like most diesels. It's happy to rev until it upchanges at 4500rpm.
When taking off, it's best to allow yourself a bit of leeway due to the noticeable lag, but once rolling, the D5 feels positively punchy. It's not the most refined sound on the planet, however, possibly due to the uneven number of cylinders. The warbly timbre can induce a few vibrations through the cabin, and compared with BMW's 320d, it's not quite as sweet, however it puts out an extra 40Nm which you can feel during rolling acceleration. Really, it's the T6 engine (3.0-litre, turbocharged petrol) which suits the Volvo S60 better. It's quieter, quicker and has a better note.
Fuel consumption for the D5 is listed at 7.1 litres/100km - again, not that special, but through the week's test we saw the consumption climb to 9.2 litres/100km in city-only conditions. Considering the T6's ADR fuel figure is 10.2L/100km and that it's a much nicer powerplant, I know which I'd be going for.
The D5 feels more front-heavy than the T6 too, and it rides differently - not quite as firm, and with a little less body control giving it a slightly bouncy feel; it's never unyielding, however it can crash a bit on really rubbish tarmac. Compared with its rivals, it's better than the BMW 3 Series, miles better than the Audi A4, but not quite as good as the C-Class.
The steering has good weight no matter where the wheels are pointed, but loses feel as more lock is applied. This suits the chassis - you won't be flinging this car about too much. In the wet, though, the all-wheel-drive system still displays excellent grip and even when given a bootful at low revs and around corners it never breaks away or sends the front wheels scrabbling for grip while the backs play catch-up.
If you're a really keen driver, then a BMW will ultimately be more satisfying with its better balance and fabulously communicative steering. But for its intended market - an executive express with an emphasis on luxury rather than sporting ability - the S60 will be more than enough to keep its driver interested.
And that's really the crux of it - the S60 is a fabulous vehicle for making its driver feel special every time they hop behind the wheel. There are plenty of toys available to option, the comfort level is outstanding, the build quality is first class, it's stylish and it has enough space. If you've got the extra money, be sure to option up to the T6, though - it's the better vehicle.
And of course, being a Volvo, the S60 is supremely safe. How safe? Well, we can't tell you just yet, as Euro NCAP is yet to crash test this model, but Volvo tells us that'll happen soon. It's a pretty safe bet, though, that it'll receive the maximum rating.
Considering it has Lane Departure Warning with Driver Alert Control (drowsy driver monitor), a blind spot indicator mounted on the base of the A-pillars (BLIS), City Safety (click here to learn more) and Pedestrian Detection (click here to learn more) plus other systems, Volvo is living up to its formidable reputation as having the safest cars on the road.
If the S60 is indicative of future Volvo product, then the Germans had better watch out - this is one seriously good car.