2019 Volvo S60 review

International first drive

The all-new Volvo S60 has dropped with a surprise 300kW+ Polestar model to get the blood flowing. But, is it M3 quick? Paul Maric finds out.

Are you bored of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Audi A4 or BMW 3 Series? Don't worry, you're not destined for a Lexus IS. Volvo may have just the car for you.

The all-new Volvo S60 is the last of Volvo's new cars to be built on the modular Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) platform. It's a platform that spreads across sedans, wagons and SUVs, and has given the brand an opportunity to consolidate costs and reduce complexity on new models.

Volvo invited us to California to test two models in the S60 range – the S60 T6 and the S60 T8 Polestar Engineered.

The wider range includes the T5, which uses a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that produces 184kW of power and 350Nm of torque. That torque is sent through an eight-speed automatic gearbox to the front wheels, and consuming 6.6 litres of fuel per 100km.

The tested T6 is powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged and supercharged four-cylinder petrol engine that produces 228kW of power and 400Nm of torque. It too uses an eight-speed automatic gearbox and sends torque through a mechanical all-wheel-drive system. It sprints from 0–100km/h in 5.6 seconds and uses 7.4L/100km.

Three plug-in hybrid models kick off with the T6 Twin Engine, which uses a 2.0-litre turbocharged and supercharged four-cylinder petrol engine that produces a combined 251kW of power and 590Nm of torque.

Next cab off the plug-in hybrid rank is the T8 Twin Engine that uses a more powerful version of the 2.0-litre turbocharged and supercharged four-cylinder petrol engine, producing a combined 298kW of power and 640Nm of torque, shooting from 0–100km/h in just 4.9 seconds, and sipping just 1.9L/100km.

Finally, the other vehicle we had the chance to sample in California is the Polestar tuned and aptly named T8 Twin Engine Polestar Engineered. It uses a more powerful version of the T8 Twin Engine and produces a combined 309kW of power and 670Nm of torque, moving from 0–100km/h in 4.7 seconds, and using 2.1L/100km.

Both plug-in hybrid models use a 10.4kWh battery pack that affords up to 45km of pure electric driving range.

Volvo Cars Australia is yet to confirm which models we will receive when the S60 launches locally in Q2 2019, or the pricing and specifications we will take, but it's highly likely that we will take a premium mix kicking off with the T6 and probably including the T8 Twin Engine Polestar Engineered.

In person, the new S60 has serious presence. Despite going head-to-head against the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, the S60 looks much larger in person. It measures in at 4761mm long, 1850mm wide and sits on a 2872mm wheelbase. Those dimensions afford it plenty of interior room, but shortchange it slightly on boot room with 442L of cargo capacity (compared to 480L in its competitors).

The T8 Twin Engine Polestar Engineered comes with some of its own signature items, including yellow brakes, yellow seatbelts and 'Polestar Engineered' hidden on parts of the car, including the exhaust outlets and wheels.

While the front looks quite similar to the S90, the rear uses a more aggressive light pattern that wraps around the top of the boot, helping it stand out in traffic. Whereas some of the S60's competitors are becoming more and more conservative, Volvo has delivered with sharp styling that gives the car a point of difference.

Step inside the cabin and it's all class. Minimalism and smart styling are key to the S60's cabin presentation. Every surface feels well built and solid, with design highlights like stitched surfaces and the crystal gear shifter on Twin Engine models.

Central to communications in the cabin is Sensus Connect, the 9.0-inch Volvo infotainment system. It uses a touchscreen with sliding and swiping commands to move between screens. It's fairly easy to use, but can be a little slow at times when moving between functions. Some of the buttons are also quite small, making changes while driving a little tricky to do at times.

It's available with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto with USB ports for audio and phone connectivity, along with Bluetooth connectivity for audio streaming and telephony. Additionally, there's a Volvo Connect application that allows the driver to remotely interact with the car.

We hit the road in the T6 first, getting the chance to sample it in traffic through Santa Monica before hitting the Pacific Coast Highway towards Malibu. As expected, it drives very much like the S90 and other cars on this platform.

Without air suspension or adaptive dampers, which our test cars had neither of, the ride was on the firmer side of comfortable. It picks up a lot of imperfections on the road and gives the car a sporty feel. The vehicles were fitted with the optional sports chassis, which includes sports suspension and a 12mm-lower ride height.

What impressed us the most was how responsive the engine was at low speeds and when on the move. The gearbox is smooth and uses the low-end torque supplied by the supercharger to allow it to accelerate freely in any gear. It doesn't need to hunt back through the gears to take advantage of the engine's torque band.

Steering feel is excellent too, with the electrically assisted rack offering concise communication through the wheel. A dial in the centre of the cabin allows the driver to switch between Eco, Comfort and Dynamic modes, each with its own set of drivetrain characteristics.

As we hit the twisty roads through the canyons outside of Malibu, we switched over to Dynamic to see how the all-wheel-drive system would cope with tight and twisting roads. The body sits flat through corners, and there's a generous amount of acceleration and noise when you get on the throttle out of a corner.

While the sound itself is loud, some of it is pumped into the cabin through the speakers. Volvo went to lengths to explain that the noise that comes into the cabin is the real engine and exhaust sound, it's just slightly amplified.

Brake pedal feel is excellent, and the car has a real dynamic feel to it as you get used to its dimensions and position on the road. It feels like a complete package that bridges the gap between the dynamics of a BMW and the razor-sharp cornering performance of an Audi.

Next up, we switched into the T8 Twin Engine Polestar Engineered. This is where things start heating up for the S60. The 10.2kWh battery pack gives the package added kick in the pants thanks to a combined torque output of 670Nm. The combination of a supercharged and turbocharged petrol engine plus an electric motor gives this an edge in the segment.

The petrol engine manages the front axle, while the electric motor supplies torque to the rear. That results in a net torque vectoring set-up that provides instant torque response at the rear that helps the T8 TE PE (it's just easier than constantly typing it out!) feel like a real weapon.

In fact, we felt like this test would be more at home on a racetrack. When you bury the throttle out of corners, it gets up and moves with incredible pace. So much so that it was all a bit quick for the winding sections of canyon roads we were driving.

While it may seem like the perfect package, it's let down by a couple of things. First is the brake pedal feel. The system uses the brakes to regenerate electricity and at the same time slow the car using the Brembo brake package, which uses six-piston calipers at the front with slotted 371mm rotors.

The downside to that is a requirement to blend the braking system between electricity regeneration and friction braking using the regular brakes. And Volvo has missed the mark in making it feel consistent when moving between the two modes. The result is plenty of bite at the start of travel, a dead spot, and then all of a sudden a lot of braking force. It's really hard to hit the sweet spot in the braking zone, especially when modulating braking force.

The other downside is the ride. The vehicle uses an incredible set of Ohlins shock absorbers with dual-flow valve and an aluminium strut tower brace. Additionally, the suspension rebound rate can be adjusted at the front and rear of the car using a knob at the suspension tops.

That's great news for a race car, but not great news for a road car. It means the ride is generally quite firm all the time with no variation while the car is moving. Unlike a vehicle with adaptive suspension that can be changed on the fly, you need to pull over, adjust the suspension at the front under the bonnet, find the adjustment point around the back under the bodywork, and set off again.

You would want to be a real sports car fan to live with a constantly fidgety ride like this all the time.

If you put the ride quality to one side, though, the T8 TE PE is a weapon through corners. It sits dead flat and the instant torque response from the combined petrol and electric system will leave you grinning from ear to ear. Grip is seemingly endless, as is the torque delivery.

Volvo says that it didn't benchmark the S60 T8 TE PE against its German rivals and finished by saying it sits within its own little niche. It feels fast, but we're not sure if it's M3 fast. We look forward to benchmarking it against its main price rivals when it lands in Australia next year.

When you're done having a fang, you'll be able to switch through several drive modes that take advantage of the electric system. A full-time four-wheel-drive mode allows the vehicle to retain the all-wheel-drive settings, which overrides energy-efficient modes and works well for snowy conditions, despite not having a physical all-wheel-drive system.

In its Pure mode, the S60 can run on full electric for up to 45km utilising reserve capacity in the 10.2kWh battery pack. Finally, a Hybrid mode allows the vehicle to decide when it should switch between petrol and electric or when it should utilise both.

As we mentioned earlier, pricing and specifications will be revealed for the Australian market in due course, with an expected on-sale date of Q2 2019. Before then, Volvo would want to get its servicing pricing in order given how expensive it is at the moment. Unlike a number of Volvo's German competitors, which offer pre-paid cost-effective servicing plans over 3–5 years, Volvo's pricing is often 2–3 times more expensive than the likes of Audi, Mercedes-Benz and BMW.

The all-new Volvo S60 is an excellent thing. It's engaging to drive, offers a beautiful interior with plenty of room, but it's let down by firm suspension and fidgety brakes on the high-performance S60 T8 Twin Engine Polestar Engineered. But, keep in mind that Volvo will offer the S60 featuring air suspension with adaptive dampers, which will likely solve the ride issues.