Driving with the S60 nanny
Boasting style and performance, the Volvo S60 has also made massive progress in addressing road safety issues, writes Campbell Spray
Published 29/08/2010 | 05:00
WHEN you are trusted with ferrying your two young grandchildren, aged respectively nearly three years and four months, you don't take chances.
So I was delighted to be driving the latest Volvo last week, the impressive S60 that is a very worthy competitor to and even beater of the BMW 3 Series, the Audi A4 and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
The brand has legendary status for its safety features and was the first manufacturer to put restraining belts in its cars, which must rank among the top life-savers in the modern world.
While the S60 I was driving was absolutely packed with safety equipment -- from pedestrian detection system with full auto-brake to lane departure warning and blind-spot information system -- the thing that most impressed me was the company's mission statement articulated by David Baddeley, Volvo Ireland's managing director.
Called Vision Zero it is the company's policy that by 2020 no one will be killed or seriously injured in or by a Volvo. This is both an absolute and is measurable and, in a week that has seen another horror crash involving young people, wouldn't it be wonderful if it became the norm for the industry?
Driving the S60 is a bit like having a nanny with you; what with all the lights and beeps that keep you awake and in line. However, in this case nanny really does know best.
The coupe looking style with a double wave waistline makes for an attractive car, which Volvo says is "sculpted to move you". I found it more positive to drive than its main premium sector competitors.
It isn't as exciting -- that title goes to the BMW -- but the control is absolutely top notch with first-class dynamics.
The pricing is very keen with the well-specced range starting at €32,250; but my test vehicle with its two litre 163bhp D3 diesel managed to ratchet up another €11,000 for the SE Lux trim, the driver safety support pack and larger alloys, heated front seats and metallic paint.
At that price you are really getting into 5 Series and E Class territory. However, the S60 is remarkably clean and manual versions all come into the €156 road tax band.
Yet for all my hopes, the plan for taking the two children and their parents away for a day out in the S60 came to naught. The car seemed very roomy but after two children's seats had been installed there really wasn't enough room for either their mother or father to sit comfortably -- and safely -- with them in the back.
I was a bit miffed, but as I said about the Mercedes S Class last week, manufacturers seem very loathe to make genuine five-seaters in the premium sector.
However, when children were safely in bed some good evening excursions could be made. In fact, over the past week the S60 has grown on me both in its looks and performance.
It could never be seen as really sporty but there's enough poke for me and Volvo wants a "power" advantage over its competitors. There is a V60 estate on the way which could prove to be really something special.
But not everything goes to plan in Volvo-land, although the marque's future is assured as it has now been sold to the Chinese car maker Geely.
The Pedestrian Detection with Full Auto Brake, which I have said is one of the big stars of the car, has had a few teething problems during demonstration. Available as an option, it uses radar in the car's grille and a camera in front of the rear-view mirror to sense a pedestrian crossing or about to cross the road and applies full braking force if the driver fails to react.
That's all very well but at a demonstration before we picked up our test cars it was difficult to let the automatic system work without instinctively slamming on the brakes. In one case, the demo dummy was flattened.
My colleague on the Daily Telegraph, Andrew English, writes that at a recent showing of its City Safety system things also went wrong. Instead of automatically braking and stopping when its Light Detection and Ranging system detected a truck blocking the carriageway, the S60 smashed, speed undiminished, straight into the back of it.
However, exceptions prove the rule and I do believe that the Volvo has made massive progress on safety issues.
I'll trust the S60 to deliver me and mine in one piece and I think the car has a great future. It has just the right balance between looks, style and really confident driving.
I hope it does well -- there's a feeling of class about it and it offers real competition in the sector at last.