New Volvo S60 shifts a gear in sheer style
THE new S60 is the car Volvo Ireland is pinning its hopes on to revive its fortunes in a market slowly beginning to recover from the recession.
From sales of 182,000 in 2007 to the total wipeout of 57,600 in 2009, it's not an easy road for the motor industry. In that time, Volvo took a battering like everyone else, with market share dropping to its current level of about 1.2pc from 1.5pc. But it still has 10pc of the premium pie.
Now it’s putting its faith in the new ‘dynamic' design of the S60 to drive up sales.
Launched at the Geneva Motor Show in March, members of the motoring media pack got a chance to see the S60 in the flesh and put it through its much-vaunted paces in the hills around Sintra, close to the Portuguese capital Lisbon.
At first glance it's a decent looking piece of machinery that throws enough shapes to get itself noticed in a competitive and crowded field where it must battle it out with the BMW 3 series, Mercedes C-Class, Volkswagen Passat, Honda Accord, Lexus IS200 and Audi A4.
Sleek and curvy, it still looks very much a Volvo but it's a little more rock 'n' roll and sexy.
The interior has a classy console with the higher-spec SE LUX versions of the S60 featuring full leather upholstery. We tried three versions of the car. First up was the T6, an automatic 3-litre petrol model with 304bhp. It's a comfortable and assured operator, particularly on the motorway. But this won't be coming to Ireland due to the high taxes it would face.
Volvo is initially introducing the D3, a 2-litre diesel with 163bhp, and the D5 which has a 2.4-litre diesel engine and 205bhp. A 1.6-litre petrol will follow next year. We drove the manual version of the D3 which responded well to the hilly roads around Sintra and was a pleasure to pilot in the Portuguese sun. Though when dropping into second gear, it seemed to struggle a little before finding the requisite power to move on.
The automatic D5 was also a decent drive but lacked a little of the smoothness of the T6, but then that's always going to be one of the trade-offs when it comes to diesel versus petrol.
The traditional values of safety and solidity remain intact, with Volvo proclaiming another “world first” in the form of the “pedestrian detection system” which is a combined system using radar and cameras to watch for pedestrians in front of the car. In such a scenario, the brakes are automatically activated to avoid a collision. Volvo safety chiefs say it will stop injuries to pedestrians at speeds of up to 35kmh and lessen injuries at speeds above this level.
They also say it has the capability to cut pedestrian fatalities across the EU by 20pc if it is adapted to all cars. It's a fairly lofty claim but even if it succeeded in achieving half of that it would be another milestone in the concerted bid to avoid preventable deaths on our roads.
The most successful device of all time is the seatbelt which dates from the 1950s. It has cut fatalities by a whopping 50pc. Volvo dealers are currently taking orders for the S60 which will be on forecourts from September.
The S60 is aimed at executives and, in fairness, most will be impressed. But will it pass what's being described as the pub test? That's where the guy's having a pint in his local and tells his mates he's bought a new car. They ask: “A BMW or a Merc?” He says: “No, the cool new Volvo.” The mates don't look convinced.
So Volvo has to pass the pub test and they've got a fighting chance.
We'll know if they've been successful in Ireland if they reach their target of 350 S60 sales in 2011.