This is the third-generation S60 sedan following the second series from 2010 to 2018, and the first generation introduced in late 2000. It’s also available as a sleek V60 wagon. Point of interest: the sedan is made in the US, while the wagon is made in Sweden and Belgium.
The model tested has another twist: the 2020 Volvo S60 T8 R-Design is a high-performance plug-in hybrid, so it can travel up to 45km on battery power alone before the petrol engine takes over. Volvo also uses the electric motor to boost acceleration from a standing start, depending on which mode you’re in.
The pitch: you can finally have a fast car with green credentials, accessing all available power one moment, and enjoying conscience-clearing eco motoring the next.
The performance claims are impressive, promising thrilling 0–100km/h performance of 4.3 seconds – not far away from Porsche 911 territory. Does the Volvo deliver? More about that shortly.
As with most all-new designs, the S60 is bigger in every dimension – a move that makes it slightly longer and wider than its German rivals. (For the number-crunchers that’s 4761mm in length, 1850mm in width, 1437mm in height, and a 2872mm wheelbase).
With the growth spurt – and additional technology – has come a 10 per cent price rise. The S60 sedan was previously available from $49,990 plus on-road costs; the new model starts from $54,990 plus on-road costs.
That buys the S60 T5 Momentum powered by a 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder engine (187kW/350Nm) paired to an eight-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive, running on 17-inch alloy wheels.
The next model up is the $60,990 S60 T5 Inscription powered by the same driveline, but gains 19-inch wheels, a unique grille, real driftwood cabin highlights, four-zone air-conditioning instead of dual-zone, head-up display, 360-degree camera, and nappa leather upholstery.
The $64,990 T5 R-Design boosts the 2.0-litre petrol engine’s output to 192kW/400Nm (though the performance gain from 0–100km/h is just 0.1 second according to Volvo) and adds unique 19-inch alloy wheels, a subtle body kit, unique steering wheel and sports seats.
The flagship $85,990 T8 R-Design plug-in hybrid tested here has a high-powered 2.0-litre four-cylinder that is turbocharged and supercharged (246kW/430Nm) driving the front wheels, backed up by an electric motor (65kW/240Nm) that drives the rear wheels.
The car can be driven in pure-electric mode or petrol-only mode, but most of the time uses a combination of both delivering an all-wheel-drive mode.
Volvo claims an overnight charge should be enough to deliver about 45km of electric driving range before the petrol engine kicks in, though in reality the battery range is closer to 30km, especially when using air-conditioning and headlights. Fortunately, there’s enough petrol in the tank to drive a further 600km or more.
A wagon is available in each variant for $2000 more than the equivalent sedan.
Standard safety on all models includes seven airbags, front and rear autonomous emergency braking, lane-keeping assistance, blind-zone warning, rear cross-traffic alert, speed sign recognition, a rear camera or 360-degree camera, and tyre pressure monitors.
However, during our test drive of an S60 sedan (and, coincidentally, a near-identical V60 wagon), the speed sign recognition worked intermittently, and not as well as other similar systems offered by Toyota, Ford and Peugeot, to name a few examples.
Perhaps it’s because the Volvo system cross-references speed sign information from the camera with data stored in the navigation. Most other brands rely solely on the camera because the technology is now so good, plus they detect roadworks and school zones.
As is the case with an increasing number of electric cars, the Volvo S60 T8 R-Design has no AM radio. It was deleted to avoid electronic interference. Instead, AM listeners will need to use their phone data to stream an AM station, or rely on digital radio. Unfortunately, however, neither of these options works well in regional areas, where AM travels much further than phone signals and digital radio coverage.
According to technology experts, there is a way to shield AM radio from electric car interference but it costs money, and carmakers such as Volvo and Tesla aren’t investing in it because AM is on the wane in Europe and America. We’re flagging it here in case it’s a deal-breaker for you. For now, there are no plans to install AM radio to this Volvo model.
On the plus side, the S60 gets the large, vertical, tablet-style infotainment screen that has appeared on other new Volvo models such as the XC90 and XC40. It pinches and swipes in much the same way as a smartphone, but still requires some practice.
The cabin is roomier than before, but back seat space is not as generous as an Audi A4 or Mercedes C-Class. There was limited foot room under the front seats for back seat passengers. Knee room is also tight, which is odd given the larger distance between the front and rear wheels versus its rivals.
The cargo hold is not as large or as usable as it could be given the generous floorspace (100cm long, 104cm wide), because of the sloping roof line in the wagon and the narrow boot opening in the sedan.
The Volvo S60 T8 R-Design has 390L of boot space, which is modest compared to its peers. This is largely due to the battery pack and hybrid hardware under the boot floor and back seat.
By comparison, a Mercedes-Benz C-Class has a 435L boot, while the Audi A4 and new BMW 3 Series both have 480L cargo holds. The plug-in hybrid BMW 330e has a modest 375-litre boot. The Volkswagen Passat aces the lot with a massive 586-litre cargo hold.
As an interesting comparison – and a sign of how much practice Toyota has had at packaging petrol-electric tech – a Camry Hybrid has a massive 493L boot (versus 524L for a non-hybrid Camry).
The Volvo S60 T8 R-Design sedan comes with an inflator kit (so no spare tyre at all), while certain wagon variants come with a space-saver spare.
Warranty is three years/unlimited kilometres, the same as Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar, but less than Lexus (four years) and Hyundai’s Genesis brand (five years). Most mainstream cars have five-, six- or seven-year warranty coverage, so three years is at the lower end of the scale.
Service intervals are 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first. Pre-paid service packages can be bought within 12 months of purchasing the car for $1595 and cover routine maintenance for the first 45,000km or three years, whichever comes first.
On the road
As with all new Volvos introduced in the last couple of years, the S60 sedan is like a generational change.
The larger footprint helps make the car more supple over bumps, although if you want the most comfortable package opt for the base model on 17-inch wheels and tyres rather than this performance variant with its low-profile rubber.
The turning circle of 11m is a bit broader than most rivals, but not as cumbersome as other Volvos have been in the past.
It’s still very relaxing to drive and relatively comfortable on bumpy roads, but driving over expansion joins can feel a bit abrupt and the suspension thrums in the process.
This is not the only quandary facing the flagship T8 plug-in hybrid. It is not as fast as the manufacturer’s 0–100km/h claim of 4.3 seconds, and I’m genuinely curious how Volvo got to this number. The best we could get after numerous attempts was 5.3 seconds. This is still relatively perky (almost as quick as a Holden Commodore V8 or Kia Stinger), but one second away from the claim is in fact a lifetime at this end of the performance spectrum.
The T8 switches seamlessly and intuitively from petrol to electric – or runs both – but don’t expect to get anywhere near the official fuel rating average of 2.0L/100km. This is an anomaly of laboratory testing. In the real world, the T8 drinks as much as most other performance cars once the electric power runs out.
We saw average fuel consumption vary between 8.0L/100km and 11.0L/100km depending on how enthusiastic we were driving, which means it’s on par with most other cars in this class.
The fact that the Volvo S60 T8 R-Design weighs just over 2000kg (about 250kg more than other models in the S60 range) demonstrates the two-steps forward and one-step back penalty of this technology. The extra weight is almost solely down to the battery pack, electric motor and hybrid system.
It feels perky with very light throttle application, and is brisk around town, but it’s honestly not in the 4.0-second class of sports sedans. Unfortunately, this means the T8 is neither an epic performance car nor a brilliant hybrid.
If you want to save on fuel – and save money – put badge snobbery to one side and buy a Toyota Camry Hybrid.
If you want a nice luxury car that stands out from the crowd – and don’t need to carry much in the way of passengers and cargo – the regular Volvo T5 S60 and V60 models in the new range are the better choices.
Volvo has good intentions with the S60 T8 R-Design plug-in hybrid, and there’s nothing wrong with the way it looks or drives. If you have your heart set on one, we wouldn’t discourage you.
But if you are undecided, it’s fair to say this isn’t the best execution of performance hybrid technology. It's not as fast nor as economical as its claim. The cheaper models in the new Volvo S60 range make much more sense.