Monday 16 September 2019

Volvo’s S60: new departure or a last-chance saloon in world of SUVs?

 

Worthy option: Volvo’s new S60 executive saloon
Worthy option: Volvo’s new S60 executive saloon
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

Not so long ago I would have been drooling at the prospect of driving a powerful 2-litre petrol saloon. Not any more. Well, certainly not with this week's review car. I think the 'green gremlins' have got to my head - my fault if they have - or something got lost in translation with the car (not entirely my fault).

Let me be clear: I'm a huge fan of the new Volvo mindset. I love the large XC90 SUV for its fresh approach to how things can and should be done in the cabin of a large, luxury motor. I like the smaller XC60, too - what a wonderful midsize SUV. And even the 'baby' XC40 has impressed at many levels.

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But trying to bring that sort of mentality to a midsize saloon is another feat entirely. One that I think is fraught with risk.

I'm not so sure Volvo have managed to bridge that gap with their brand new S60 4dr.

As midsize luxury saloons go (BMW 5-series, Mercedes E-Class, Audi A6, etc are rivals) this didn't do it for me on looks/feel anyway.

Maybe the dark, dull colour outside and in put me off. I wanted something of a statement; something bold, even potentially divisive. At least that would give a focus; send a message saying this is different. I don't think the S60 did that.

Mostly I didn't feel cosseted when I plumped this old frame into the driving seat. I got a similar result when I looked around the cabin. Yes it was roomy and well-appointed, but it lacked that touch of something.

The chunky - and I mean chunky - nature of the dash and large central display seemed, to me, to be a bit out of character in the car.

In essence, I think there was too much of Volvo's SUV feel about the whole interior. Now the reason I'm dwelling on this point is because people who opt for a saloon - and they are in a dwindling minority - do so because they don't want an SUV or anything resembling one.

So to be reminded, as I was, of an SUV when I looked at the dash and central console, went a bit against the grain.

I'm sorry, I really am, that despite big comfortable seats, lots of pleasant touches, I never warmed to the S60.

That can happen sometimes. I wanted to, believe me. I think Volvo has achieved something special with its SUV range in particular.

My initial disappointment with the look and feel of it, thankfully didn't spill over much into my satisfaction with the drive.

With 250bhp on tap there could be no disguising the fact that energy was in plentiful supply. There was a time I'd be raving about it. But, to my shame, I'm afraid I posited it against the current 'green' reality and mentality: who is going to buy a 2-litre petrol engine in this day and age of fossil-fuel denigration?

Not too many, I would argue. But I promise those who do that there is a real treat lying in wait if they get the chance to unleash the spirit within. Do use the sporty end of the drive-mode options to get the best out of it.

For all that, though, I don't think it matches the grow-on-you chassis brilliance of the 5-series, the cabin-to-beat E-Class or the comfort and dynamics of the Audi A6.

It was a uniquely Volvo drive, comfortable, solid and fast when it needed to be; a lovely machine on the good motorway surfaces but poorer roads caught it a bit short on ability to smooth away the ripples.

There was loads of room for my rear-seat passengers, most of whom seemed quite happy with their lot. Some agreed they didn't feel they were necessarily in a super luxury saloon.

A couple totally disagreed and said we were missing the plot altogether in failing to realise that the décor was manifestly modern and in line with today's tastes. Goes to show you how subjective this whole exercise can be.

I know for sure the S60 is an excellent blend of technology and engineering. That goes without saying: maybe I should emphasise it more: consider it emphasised.

And I could keep you all day detailing the array of safety elements, driver assistances and collision avoidance technologies that lie within its large frame.

Few would argue that this is one of the safest cars in the world; something that should always get prime attention. I admire them for their commitment.

But would I buy it?

Despite the major plusses of safety and power, I think I'd veer more towards one of the rivals. It's certainly a worthy option but I think there are better.

Facts & Figures

Volvo S60 saloon T5:

R-Design, 250hp, 1,969cc, petrol, €390 tax. Price: €55,704. Range from €46,495. Cruise control, dynamic chassis, LED headlights front/rear park assist, 17in alloys, 12.3in TFT display; heated front seats, leather; range of alert/avoidance/safety tech, 9in t/screen, 2 USBs, 10 speakers, Sensus nav.

R-Design adds: sports seats, Nappa leather/textile upholstery, 18in alloys.

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