“Old man’s car.” There it was, the predictable cheap shot directed at the 2020 Volvo V60, and fired off like clockwork from elsewhere in the CarAdvice peanut gallery. And just before I returned fire with “Really? You think that looks like an old man’s car?”, it dawned on me that the jibe wasn’t so much directed at the Pebble Grey T5 Inscription parked up in the Sydney garage, but aimed at yours truly. The bloke who’d asked for it as a long-haul road-tripper over the summer holiday break: me.
Nowhere is auto-bigotry such a widespread sport as it is in Oz. And if Volvo has long been a recipient of the odd foul, an almost-champagne-coloured wagon wearing a Volvo badge is a clear shot at an open goal.
Clearly, my own colleagues aren’t hesitant with swinging the boot in: with our V60 international launch review, we’d described a prospective owner as the wagon apologist “at dinner in the V-neck” that “no-one really likes” who “refuses to sell his soul to SUVs”.
Ill-conceived or otherwise, the context of the commentary was questioning why you’d opt for Volvo’s mid-sized wagon, when you could opt for the rather excellent middleweight XC60 SUV and pocket more alleged ‘social acceptability’ for the same money.
Well, it turns out some of us prefer wagons to SUVs. And, further, it would transpire once the V60 landed in Oz, some time later, that a V60 T5 Inscription, as tested here, is at $62,990 list a whole nine-grand more affordable than an XC60 T5 Inscription ($71,990). Nine grand saved would buy a lot of bloody V-necks…
Volvo’s clearly playing the value-for-money card with the mid-sized wagon. Looking beyond the Swedish stable, the V60 is at least 10 grand more affordable than the Audi A4 Avant 45 Sport ($73,300), BMW 330i Touring ($73,900) and Mercedes-Benz C300 Estate ($75,140).
Beyond anything else, though, I’m a fan of the New Volvo’s styling and design direction, I like the cut of this wagon’s jib, and approached my three-week, 2600km tenure with our well-optioned test car quietly hoping it’d knock my socks off.
But it didn’t. The V60 T5 Inscription is really quite nice. And quite likeable. But despite its impressive on-paper credentials, particularly when it comes to standard equipment (more here), the experience pulls up short of certifiable rave-worthiness.
It’s not the fitted cost options dampening enthusiasm, which collectively jack the as-tested pricing up to $74,040 before on-roads. Added extras include: a $5200 Premium Pack of panoramic roof, B&W sound and tinted rear glass; a $1400 Versatility Pack of Four-C Chassis air suspension, power-folding rear headrests, an extra power outlet and grocery bag holder; a $2950 fine nappa trim and seat ventilation upgrade; and $1500 for metallic paintwork.
By the time I handed the key back after my three-week loan, I’d question whether any of these would be considered essential fitment, including the ‘active’ suspension tweaks.
To my eyes, the V60 is a real looker. It appears larger and longer than you expect a mid-size wagon would, though perhaps a visual deception of the low roof line and squat proportions. It’s actually not terribly longer (51mm) or wider (23mm) than a BMW 3 Series Estate.
Inscription grade brings tasty 19-inch rolling stock and nifty adaptive cornering functionality for the excellent LED headlights, minting the upmarket presentation. Call it ‘old man’ if you like, but the lack of chintzy sporting pretension is, for my money, mature and classy.
The same goes for the interior. The angular and streamlined approach to styling mightn’t depart much from other recent Volvo model lines, but it’s a pleasing antidote to the increasingly fussy and overwrought cabin designs by some of Volvo’s German rivals.
And from material choice – the real metal air vent fittings, the so-called ‘driftwood’ décor inlays – to the quality of execution and general fit and finish, it’s richly presented for a model of its low-sixties pricepoint.
The simple wheel design, the straightforward digital instrumentation skin, the legible controls and ‘one-swipe’ portrait-oriented infotainment screen with pinch-and-zoom functionality make for a clean, pleasing, and quite intuitive to use cabin space.
There could be a little more cohesion and less distracting submenu digging in the infotainment content, but it loads in all the essentials such as Android and Apple phone mirroring, digital radio and proprietary sat-nav without adding needless gimmickry.
While the soft nappa leather (in lieu of regular leather) and seat cooling add a little more of a luxurious sheen – most welcome during the sweltering Aussie holiday break conditions – the T5 Inscription would surely remain a class act without them.
The electronic four-zone climate control, four-way electric lumbar adjustment and cooled glovebox, all standard issue, reinforce the luxury skew – an unapologetic comfort focus. There are no sporty tokenisms such as carbon-fibre inlays or chunky seat bolstering, and all the better for it.
It’s a long car with a deep cabin, so space is generous in both seating rows everywhere bar perhaps rear toe room. It mightn’t have the outright head room of a high-ceiling SUV – the jury is out until we compare – but the low roof line is countered with seating low enough to keep the cabin ambience nice and airy.
In terms of outright practicality, it might come as some surprise that the V60 wagon’s 529L boot space is roomier than that of the XC60 (483L) to the top of the seat backs with the second row in play. Drop the seat backs and the wagon holds the outright volumetric advantage of 1441L against the SUV’s 1410L to their ceilings.
Whether there’s any difference in real-world stowage remains untested, though our test car certainly didn’t struggle to accommodate a family of three and associated holiday addenda – two travel cases, various small bags, scooter, toys – for interstate long-hauling.
It feels like a satisfyingly substantial car, down to the weighty heft of the doors, though the penalty is in its significant 1805kg heft. It’s a quarter-tonne heavier than its 330i Touring rival.
The Inscription, like the entry Momentum, fits the low-output version of the petrol 2.0-litre turbocharged ‘T5’ engine producing 187kW and 350Nm. That’s 5kW and a significant 50Nm down on the T5 used for the R-Design variant, which is more lineball with the German competition in parity variant trim.
Performance isn’t the T5 Inscription’s strong suit. Its maker claims a 0–100km/h best of 6.5 seconds, and it barely feels that swift one-up with no luggage. The engine offers good initial response, yet lacks the kind of mid-range surge you need for rolling acceleration, merging and brisk overtaking.
It works hard for its keep and makes an almost diesel-like din under full-throttle load, though it's mated reasonably nicely with the eight-speed automatic, albeit with a touch of off-the-mark hesitation at times.
It’s a decent if unremarkable powertrain – one benefitting from the tractive surety of all-wheel drive for mixed conditions, if rarely eager enough to break traction on dry, sealed stuff.
The 2.0-litre’s hard-working nature in defiance of inertia means that around town it’s quite a bit thirstier than its advertised 7.3L/100km combined claim – it’s habitually into double figures. The best we saw from the car’s trip computer was 7.7L/100km on the long haul between Melbourne and Sydney with the adaptive cruise control activated.
It’s a pleasant, unfatiguing open-road machine, though the ride from the optional Four-C Chassis air suspension is perhaps not as pliant and disciplined as it could be. It’s quite a bit better than what I remember of the terse, standard-issue Dynamic steel-sprung system sampled in the S60 in the past, if short of being truly impressive.
Worse still is that the V60 is noisy. Those narrow 235mm Continentals put out a fair racket and a bit more sound deadening wouldn’t go astray. But it’s actually the noise from the suspension, which thumps and clunks quite conspicuously, that undoes so much of the plush refinement the cabin treatment and general ambience go some way to build. The upshot is that the V60 feels much more upmarket parked up than it does on the move, as if it missed finishing school on the topic of on-road comfort.
The decent 360-degree camera system and sensors make it easy enough to park, and its 11.3m turning circle is average of a device its size. But there are some other niggling annoyances on-road.
The intrusive stop-start system and speed warning system (that flashes overspeeding signals in the head-up display) default to ‘on’ at start-up and you’re constantly turning both off, the latter mostly because it’s constantly inaccurate.
That said, the V60 is absolutely jam-packed with active safety and assistance systems, and unlike some rival marque’s features, they all mostly work unobtrusively and free of frequent annoyance.
The active lane keeping is a perfect example: no unwarranted tugging and fighting, but it’ll chime in with steering and/or braking aid if the car senses a proper off-road excursion. It also gets forward and reverse AEB, and includes pedestrian, cyclist and large animal detection.
Recently assessed by ANCAP (August 2019), the T5 versions of the V60 boast a full five-star rating, including a commendable 96 per cent result for Adult Occupant Protection. It fits seven airbags in total.
Ownership-wise, the V60 is covered by a slim three-year (if unlimited-kilometre) warranty, though Volvo has finally done away with perhaps the biggest ownership deterrent for those interested in the Swedish marque: excessive servicing costs.
Volvo offers basic capped pricing of $1595 for the first three years/45,000km on a 12-month/15,000km schedule, which is not only competitive in the premium segment, but interestingly some $200 more affordable outright than the petrol XC60.
Complimentary roadside assistance is offered for the duration of the warranty, though this can be extended on a per-year basis (to a maximum of six years) provided you use Volvo-authorised servicing.
Volvo Australia’s expectation that the V60 will be something of a niche seller is reflected in its seductive pricing, and I think it’s fair and reasonable to disclose my personal tastes fit neatly within that niche.
It’s a car this admittedly older male here really wanted to love, but after three weeks and 2600 kays under its tyres, it’s merely likeable in a good many areas and disappointing in a handful of respects – if respects that really do count in a machine so unabashedly focused on luxury and comfort.
That said, it’s only a handful of ‘fixes’ away from being truly impressive: the fitment of the high-torque T5 engine, and a bit more polish in the ride comfort and noise-suppression departments. If these aspects aren’t high priorities on your premium wagon shopping list, the V60 T5 Inscription is well worth your consideration.
But it’d be remiss not to consider the extra four-grand splurge for the higher-output R-Design version, with standard Four-C suspension, while you’re at it.