IT SEEMS a long time since Volvo made a transition from designing boring boxes on wheels to genuinely attractive cars that are among some of the best looking on the market. But it was the Volvo S60 that really broke the mould.
It’s a stylish family hatch back that has sold well and its svelte looks that did such a great job of wooing new buyers to the Swedish brand has stood the test of time very well.
The latest version benefits from little more than the odd styling and performance tweak and some freebies added on to the standard kit list - but that’s fine because it’s still a car that feels fresh and ready to take on its rivals.
In fact, very little about the S60 feels especially dated until you line it up next to its most modern sibling, the V40. The newcomer uses some equipment that works better than the S60 and its estate-based variant the V60.
The blind spot system, for example, has a much more intelligent sensor on the newer V40 and this means the lane departure warning is less likely to sound when it’s not really necessary. That still happens on the S60 quite a bit.
Some of the infotainment options aren’t as clever on the S60 either but I’m nit-picking now. The overall package is still great.
Another particular highlight of the S60 is its line up of diesel engines. Starting with the lowly but extremely frugal D2 option, a 1.6 litre, the next option is the pokier two litre D3, followed by an even more powerful D4 variant and all the way up to the 2.4 litre D5.
The D3 and D4 are five cylinder lumps with bags of character and, driven right, will deliver big numbers in the MPG stakes. I’ve driven a few Volvos with D4 engines and it’s a very well balanced engine with sensible economy, plenty of grunt and a welcome dose of character - but the D3 in my test car was no less impressive.
Although it’s quick off the line, the D3 lacks power as the revs progress - but there’s enough there for most situations and it’s one of the most economical two-litre diesels I’ve ever experienced in a proper, real world test.
To say it’s lugging around a big, heavy car - don’t forget the S60 comes with all the safety systems you can possibly imagine - I managed to average at least 50mpg everywhere.
Driven sensibly, on a motorway run, I saw this figure progress well into the 60s and, even in town, it never dropped below 40mpg.
Allied to a big fuel tank this basically means that the S60, driven well on a full tank, will keep you chugging along for more than 600 miles with fuel to spare. And that’s useful.
The D3 and D4 are also quite tuneful engines. I’ve met many people that aren’t keen on the five cylinder ‘thrum’ they emit but I love it. Admittedly, at high revs it can start to become a bit wearing but, stay in the more productive echelons of the power band and its throaty ‘warble’ is really quite pleasant. Sporty, even.
The engine marries up well with the six-speed automatic gearbox but there’s a manual option if you so choose and the S60 is not only one of the most attractive Volvos ever made, it’s also one of the most dynamically impressive.
Press on into a corner and you’ll find there’s bags of grip. The powerful brakes will have done a great job of shaking off a chunk of speed and the steering, although a little vague, is light and the chassis responds well.
It’s no sports car and a BMW 3 Series is still likely to show it a clean pair of heels but it’s not a bad effort. In real-world terms it feels secure and it’s not what you’d call boring.
In fact, with the range-topping D5, it’s a very quick car and, it can be made even quicker by opting for one of two petrol-powered engines, the T5 and T6. As great as they are, neither of these have proven as popular in the UK though.
Comfort has always been a big plus-point with Volvos and, in the case of my test model, which featured a desirable R-Design spec, that was something of a disappointment.
R-Design is great for making the car look sporty with its choice bits of exterior and interior trim, bigger wheels, low profile tyres and sports seats - but that largely adds up to a spoiled ride and weird upholstery of questionable origins.
It’s no bone-shaker though and, as odd as the seat material is, the driver’s seat is still a nice place to sit. From here you’ll appreciate the simplicity of all the controls and how easy it is to make the car do what you want it to do.
While the infotainment system in the S60 is one of the few things that is starting to feel dated it does at least do its job. You can opt to have a digital TV installed but that’s pointless because digital TVs don’t work in cars and the screen’s a bit too small anyway.
The floating dashboard that has found its way across all but the XC90 in Volvo’s current line-up still hasn’t really aged and still looks like a really nice design feature and the controls - all the way from the heated seats to the adaptive cruise control - work exactly as they should.
Often when I drive a car for a length of time something annoys me about it. I don’t like it when climate control settings are buried in menus and sub-menus on screens, for example. And I don’t like not being able to type things into satellite navigation systems either. Who wants to have to hunt for buttons on a display when you can prod at letters on the centre console?
The S60 is a well-thought out car with all the safety systems a modern Volvo should have and everything works well. This year’s model has seen tweaks that keep it fresh and frugal and it’s still a worthy competitor for some of the motoring world’s biggest sellers.
For some people Volvo will never do enough to tempt them away from their BMWs and Audis but that’s a shame, because they’re missing out on a great car.