Volvo S60 review: Luxury car at a family price
With the Volvo S60 T5 and S60 T8, the famed Swedish car manufacturer keeps the safety, then adds style, precision and economy.
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Volvo is a brand that's built its reputation on safety, functionality and reliability; to the point where it became cliché; or even, perhaps, a meme. One might sigh, "bloody Volvo driver", in acknowledgment that the owner of the vehicle in front is blissfully stress-free from the goings-on around them, cocooned safely in their European, family- tank.
But nonetheless, if you ever got behind the wheel of a Volvo, you'd have to admit to those who asked, "yeah, it's a good car."
From a distance, the new Volvo S60 sedan, which launches into the Australian market this October, doesn't shout Volvo. It's not a rectangular box on wheels; the iconic retro look that helped you spot a Volvo from afar in much the same way you could identify a Mini, Porsche or Beetle. Instead, the Volvo S60 looks stunning, modern and sleek. And for what it has lost in "Volvo character", it's gained in matching the feel of prestige, speed and style of a BMW, Audi or Merc.
I'm excited to jump in and take her for a spin around the beautiful, winding country rounds of the Barossa Valley. But first, I pop the bonnet.
Volvo S60: Under the Hood
The T5 is home to a 2L, turbocharged 4-cylinder petrol engine. This FWD model has a smooth – near impossible to notice – eight-speed automatic gearbox, which runs you through 184kW of power and 350Nm of torque. It claims 6.6L of fuel per 100km, but giving it some around Barossa – away from traffic lights, but playing it zippy – I was closer to 10L.
The T5 is a perfectly great entry-level S60. It's great how things like leather seats and similar "luxury" features come standard. But the T8 is where the interest is at.
Indeed, the standout model of the Volvo S60 range is the T8 and it's what I'll focus on here. This is the hybrid model, allowing the car to transition between fuel and electricity as dictated by your driving style, distance and general preference. It's AWD, using a 2.0-litre turbocharged and supercharged 4-cylinder petrol engine that unleashes 298kW of power and 640Nm of torque.
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The 10.4kWh battery pack plugs in to an everyday wall socket and charges in a couple of hours. It gets you about 45km, which Volvo suggests will drop your fuel consumption down to 1.9L per 100km. Of course, that would only be the first 100km you drive, and even though some residual battery charge can be gained when braking, it was unclear whether that will stretch you much further down the road.
Not to sound negative. For most of your daily driving and likely even your daily commute, 45km of relatively fuel-free driving is going to pay-off quickly. It's a great feature.
It's gorgeous the way Volvo as tetrised both the mechanical and the electrical components of the S60 T8 into the engine bay, too. There's barely a spot across the bow big enough for even a ferret to wiggle its little head: everything is packed in so tightly. And looking down these small chutes of space reveals second and third layers of machinery. It's like Coruscant.
It does make for a heavy vehicle, coming in well over 2T. Not that you can feel that weight. The engine can barely be heard while driving and the car sticks to the road like glue.
Volvo S60 T8: Battery Life
I was most intrigued to hear more about the relationship between petrol and electricity from the perspective of economy. As mentioned, the petrol engine on its own runs at about 9L to 10L per 100km (if you drive like you mean it). But in Hybrid Mode, you can get through the first 40 to 45K on the smell of an oily rag. If you're pottering around in traffic, you may not touch your petrol at all. It's only if you jam down the accelerator and demand some serious power that it will intelligently grab some fuel to get you the result you want.
The distance you can get on electricity is impacted by how many battery-draining features are simultaneously in use. For example, jumping straight in your car and taking off while the seat is heating up, the demister is powered on and a cold car is asking for juice to bring it up to temp, will eat into your battery life quickly. However, you can program it to do some of those things – heat the car, demist the windows, etc – before you leave in the morning while it is plugged into the mains, reducing the impact.
As mentioned, you can also grab a tiny bit of charge by engaging battery braking. As you brake, which feels like engine breaking in a manual, charge is restored to the battery. All told, a typical driver using the hybrid can expect their fuel consumption to drop to as low as 3L per 100km. Which sounds pretty good to me!
Volvo S60 review: Design
At the top I spoke of the Volvo S60 being a lovely looking car and certainly, it'll be the envy of the street. But it's also smartly designed. I'm not going to run through the long list of features here – you can head to the Volvo website and play around with its interactive build-your-own-car feature to dive into all the options available. But I will identify the components that really stood out during my time in the vehicle.
The first thing you will notice is the trim. Leather seats come standard and this little luxury gives the entire range an instant feel of class. Little details are everywhere you look, but there's a dialogue here that is strong and consistent, yet subtle. In particular, I love the way the Bowers & Wilkins speakers are worked into the door panels in such a way that they feel organic, yet powerful.
It's worth pausing on the speakers; Bowers & Wilkins offer premium sound and while you won't wake the street when you pull into your driveway late at night, the audio service is excellent. Even the lower price tiered S60 options still give you Harman Kardon sound, and as someone who appreciates quality tech tickling my ears, it's a feature I immediately loved.
The steering wheel feels great in your hands. Soft, but firm, with its various buttons discretely pocketed in easy to reach, yet out of the way locations. Not once did I accidentally bump a setting. I liked the petite little gear stick too, that despite its size, feels robust and smooth if you decide to take control of your gear shifts, or even when simply moving between forward, neutral and reverse.
The dash is excellent! The heads-up display that pops your speed onto the lower window is a nice touch, as is the GPS map that displays bigger than you might expect between your speedo and rev dials.
Of particular note is the large, vertical touchscreen that dominates the centre of the dashboard. Shaped much like the original sized iPad in portrait, it's a dominant display, but in all the right ways. The interface hides detailed information and options north, east, west and south, brought to the fore with swipes from said directions. I'd hold off on calling it intuitive, as it does take a little bit to get your head around, but when you click with it, you'll find a lot of depth.
Dedicated Android and Amazon syncing apps allow easy smartphone connection and access to both apps and AI voice control. Syncing up an Android Phone, I quickly and successfully used voice commands to locate The Tesky Brothers on Spotify, and had some blues blasting out the speakers for the last half of the drive.
The overall feel of the Volvo S60 is that you're driving a car at the tip of technology's spear. There's plenty of depth to the features and settings for those who want it, but for the most part it is secreted away only to be accessed when required. There will be a learning curve I feel as there is so much displayed that I did resort to the manual a few times, but surely that is part of the fun?
It's not all roses. The driver and passenger doors have a particularly high sill. If you like cruising around with your elbow out the window and the wind blowing in your hair – which I can guarantee you'll want to do on 27-degree spring day in the Barossa Valley – it's not as natural a position as you'd like. And I'm tall!
And speaking of wind in your hair; the sunroof doesn't open all the way back. It's a huge shame given that it spans the near entire length of the Volvo S60's roof. You'd almost get the feel of a convertible. Instead, you can roll back the lining to reveal the glass, popping up a section at the back to let heat out. It's still a nice feature and smartly the glass is tinted to ensure Australia's baking sun doesn't find your bald spot, but it would be nice to have the option.
Volvo S60 review: Performance
Few cars are as easy to drive as the Volvo S60. It glided along the off-camber, under-maintained backroads of the Barossa Valley as if it was motoring down the runway at Mascot.
Despite the fact the Volvo S60 T8 has a significant weight deficit to the T5, it can be little felt on the road. While I was extremely impressed by the stability of the T5 when throwing it through the lefts and rights of the country roads (in a manner that must have entertained the cows), the T8 was only just behind. Yes, you can feel that extra weight, but the overall driveability wasn't compromised.
You have to hand it to Volvo for the balance it has produced with the S60. The cockpit stayed stable throughout with such little roll I felt completely in control, even at speed. It's stable to the point where "energetic" drivers may even want to look at the upgraded suspension option to get a bit more of a sense of Gs.
The automatic gear shifts are also delightfully smooth. Only a handful of times when powering out of steep hairpins did I notice any catch or delay in receiving the power I demanded. Few enough times to suggest it could have simply been driver error.
I wasn't thrilled with the get-up-and-go. It's got some oomph, but the Volvo S60 never reefed me back into my seat as I might have expected. I'd like to have tested that more and played with the various driver assists to see if that could be improved given I'm the kind of bloke who likes that sensation.
Speaking of driver assists, the Volvo S60 isn't short on options. Bringing them up on the touchscreen and toggling them on and off while experimenting in various conditions will no doubt be part of the fun for new owners. Personally, I turned the majority off, preferring to veer away from the oncoming tide of autonomous driving and to stay firmly in control.
The Lane Assist in particular, which identifies when you're veering out of lane and manhandles the steering wheel to put you on the "correct" course, I found particularly jarring. You might not. I also found the blinker sound annoyingly loud, even though another journo stated they could barely hear it. We're all unique in the end.
Talking to the team from Volvo, I was told of all the subtle differences you'd feel in the car's performance as you shifted between its three main drive modes. Those modes, effectively Eco, Everyday and Performance – the latter called Polestar, a nod to the merging of Volvo's family and racing brands into the S60 – are toggled via a mouse-like wheel on the centre console. It changes not only the way the car shifts through the gears and holds gears in and out of corners, but also how the brakes are engaged.
I didn't get enough time in the car to really get a feel for these differences, but I've no reason to believe it isn't as they say. If I can get more time behind the wheel in the future, I will update this review accordingly.
Is the Volvo S60 good for tall people?
As a tall and broad human, I've sat in my fair share of cars that simply can't deal with my frame. So, when I say I was pleasantly surprised by the spacious interior of the Volvo S60, those of average size will consider it opulent. In fact, sitting in the driver seat, I had space to spare, using the responsive electronic adjusters to prop the seat closer and higher than its capacity. My head was still a good inch away from the sunroof above.
However, the back seat wasn't quite as forgiving. While leg space was okay, the sloping nature of the roof was confining and sitting normally, my head hit the roof. While most vehicle owners are unlikely to find themselves in the back often, if you've got teenage kids that tower over you, then that is something to consider. It's here that the aesthetic compromise to fit in with the fashionable sedans of the modern era, as in curved back roofs and slimmer windows verses that classic Volvo box look, gets a furrowed brow.
So, who should buy the Volvo S60?
The Volvo S60 isn't about to win over young families five-point turning their SUVs into tight school parking spots. The boot capacity is just about acceptable for a sedan at 442 litres, but that will still struggle to hold a pram and a load of shopping, or a kid's bike, or a naughty kid, with ease. And I'd even be concerned that some taller booster seats may feel cramped in the back seat with its downward-sloping roof.
However, this is a great downsize option for those who have moved past those years and into teenagerville and beyond territory. Or indeed those middle-aged city slickers without kids or nearing retirement and wanting the feel of luxury and the full breadth of vehicle technology without the full financial sting.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the Volvo S60. At a starting price of $54,990 (plus on-road costs), it undercuts cars of similar ilk – such as the Mercedes-Benz C200, Audi A4 and BMW 320d – substantially. Depending on the options and model you get, that price will change, of course, but at the very least, it's absolutely worth a test drive.
In my opinion, at least, it's great bang for buck.
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