Volvo S60 T4: Bjorn Again

Long abandoning its boxy design and on the cusp of comeback as a premium brand, Volvo's compact executive combines both safety and style.

Having abandoned its previously ‘square but safe’ school of design and dynamics during the past decade and instead developed a line-up largely consisting of stylish, elegant and discretely sporty cars with great interiors, dynamics and engines, the Volvo name remains for some people quaintly and indelibly associated with sturdy and boxy semi-prestige estate cars. With that in mind and having been a previous driver of one of the last late 1990s examples of the boxy breed of Volvos, driving a modern Volvo leaves one with the impression that one is privy to a secret and stealthily sporty car not quite getting the attention and recognition it so richly deserves.

In fact, one would posit that Volvo is in fact on the cusp of becoming one of the coolest prestige car brands around. While Alfa Romeo enjoys a halo of hot-blooded flair and sporting heritage, Mercedes and BMW are perhaps the most established of prestige brands, and Audi’s cool factor becoming weighed down by the hyperbole surrounding its ‘coolness’ as an alternative, Volvo however flies low under the radar, and is car appreciated best by those in the know. If cool is to be unique, capable, confident and yet un-boastful, and going by a recent and most satisfactory test drive of the new S60 mid-size executive saloon, Volvo is next the prestige brand to watch.

Sexy and sophisticated, the new Volvo S60 looks particularly good from front angles where its complex yet visceral front section has a bold and seemingly pouncing look that is at the same time elegant. A wide and protruding snout-like grille with an enlarged Volvo emblem is flanked by slim vertical running lights separated from large swept back headlight clusters by strips of bodywork, while V-shaped moulds emphasize the prominent new grille. Under the fascia sits a more sporting and wide air intake, while a bulging bonnet is flanked by curvaceous front wheel-arches. The S60’s roofline is flowing and coupe-like, while prominent sills add a sense of dynamism, and stylish boomerang-esque rear lights remind one of the ultra-sexy Maserati 3200GT. However, one felt that more rear wheel-arch definition or bigger alloys would benefit rear three-quarter views.

Offered with a wide choice of powerful petrol and diesel engines, the featured T4 variant features an ultra-modern and efficient 1.6-litre turbo-charged direct injection 4-cylinder Ecoboost engine sourced from Ford. Yielding prodigious specific power and torque output, the second from entry-level model greatly impressed in its ability to deliver sprightly performance, frugal efficiency and elegant refinement from such a small engine for a 1487kg junior executive saloon. Remarkable for punching above its weight, the Volvo T4’s Ecoboost engine develops 180HP at 5700rpm and 177lb/ft throughout 1600-5000rpm and up to 199lb/ft on overboost, while returning just 7.5 litres per 100km combined cycle fuel consumption and 173g/km combined CO2 emissions.

A smooth and refined engine, the Volvo T4’s firewall doesn’t completely smother its pleasant engine note but instead walks a fine line of keeping noise well suppressed for regular driving but visceral when pushed hard. With its turbocharger spooling up swiftly, the T4’s engine exhibits almost no lag and feels at its best between 1000-5000rpm, when its torque-rich wave of force delivers responsive overtaking and confident hill climbing abilities as power builds up with fervent yet progre3ssive linearity. An eager and revvy engine up to around 5000rpm, the T4 engine speed accumulation only slows down marginally past then. Swift, eager and responsive, the T4’s engine is a powerful yet efficient small and rare gem, which when pushed hard feels like it delivers a slightly quicker 0-100km sprint than the quoted 9-seconds. Top speed is 225km/h.

No strangers to smooth, powerful and versatile turbocharged engines Volvos of the old school were however less accomplished in terms of handling prowess and driver engagement – talent with which the new S60 satisfyingly has in abundance. One of the most enjoyable front-drive saloons of its class, the Volvo S60 feels special and unlike many disconnected, overly firm and vague cars of this class, and instead offers precise and direct handling with great feedback, as well as smooth and stable high speed capabilities. With a lower waistline and subtly elevated seating, one drives the S60 with an excellent view of the road and can accurately place it through corners and in traffic. Fitted with Volvo’s dual clutch Powershift transmission, the S60’s gear changes are quick, smooth and responsive in both manual and automatic modes, while its unconventional combination of gear ratios and two final drive ratios work well for responsive acceleration and fuel efficiency.

Complementing its engaging driving position, the S60 features a light steering action with just 2.58-turns lock-to-lock and most functions accessible from steering buttons, for a sporty yet safe driving style with hands kept firmly on the wheel at quarter-to-three position. Best yet is the S60’s nuanced steering road feel for angles, load and texture, and its precise feedback through corners, which is both enjoyable and instills confidence through fast snaking lanes. Sinking the throttle from standstill, the S60’s powerful engine elicits slight torque steer, which settles quickly as the tires dig into the tarmac. As well as it goes, the S60’s brakes also operate with a progressive, and accurate fashion with good feedback, while stopping abilities and fade resistance are also plus points. Fitted with ABS and electronic brakeforce distribution, the S60 stops curtly and with poise rather than dive.

Firm, stable and focused on the road, the Volvo S60 offers a highly connected drive in its category, and was one of the most pleasing front-drive saloons driven on tight winding and uneven but fast country lanes, where a combination of great steering and engine, and flat taut and poised cornering and body control delivered a visceral, fun and sharp driving experience as the S60 eagerly pounces from one corner to the next. A firm ride was not uncomfortable and allowed enough suppleness and fluidity for long distance comfort, while grip levels were admirable high. Of special note is the S60’s refined and light-touched stability controls, which seem to accurately react to steering lock subtly and deftly nudge the S60 into line when it over-steers, rather than cut power for frustratingly prolonged moments. With controls off, the S60’s under-steer is slight, progressive and very easily controlled by throttle lift-off.

Beautifully designed, built and laid out with particular attention to ergonomics and with the use of high quality materials, the Volvo S60’s interior is probably the most inviting in its class. Starting from a clear instrument panel and well-sized steering wheel with lusciously soft and smooth leather and rake and reach adjustment, the S60’s interior also features symmetric, stylish and user-friendly functions, including a highly intuitive infotainment system. Gorgeous soft textures and fitting adorn the S60’s dashboard, doors and elegantly simple floating console. Seats superbly comfortable and feature succulently soft leathers, but do need better side bolstering to better match the S60’s cornering abilities. Front space and comfort are faultless, while back seats are decently spaced, but can be a bit tight for taller passengers, if the front seats are adjusted for other tall occupants.

With an undisputable and renowned reputation for safety, the Volvo S60 comes with numerous safety features including driver aids like traction and stability controls, ABS and electronic brake-force distribution. Other safety items include a whiplash protection, tire monitoring and side impact protection systems, as well as adaptive brake lights, active bending lights, driver alert control, tire pressure monitoring system and a blind spot information system, as well as an energy absorbent interior, crumple zones, collapsible steering column, dual stage front airbags, side and curtain airbags. Also included is Volvo’s pioneering collision warning and full braking system, which uses radar to detect and avoid or mitigate an imminent collision with vehicles in front. The system is for city driving and works at speeds of up to 35km/h, and in the S60 has been adapted to also detect pedestrians.

Specifications: Volvo S60 T4 (auto)

  • Engine: 1.6-litre, transverse turbo-charged 4-cylinders
  • Bore x stroke (mm): 79 x 81.4mm
  • Compression ratio: 10:1
  • Valve-train: 16-valve DOHC, variable timing, direct injection
  • Gearbox: 6-speed dual-clutch automatic, front-wheel-drive
  • Gear ratios: 1st 3.818:1; 2nd 2.15:1; 3rd 1.407:1; 4th 1.029:1; 5th 1.118:1; 6th 0.971:1
  • Reverse ratio: 5.284:1
  • Final drive ratio, 1-4 / 5, 6 & R: 3.933:1 / 2.682:1
  • Power, HP (kW): 180 (132) @ 5700rpm
  • Specific power: 112.85HP/litre
  • Power-to-weight: 121HP/ton
  • Torque, lb/ft (Nm) / overboost: 177 (240) @ 1600-5000rpm / 199 (270)
  • Specific torque: 124.76lb/ft/litre
  • 0-100 km/h: 9-seconds
  • Top speed: 225km/h
  • CO2 emissions, combined: 173g/km
  • Fuel consumption, combined: 7.4 litres / 100km
  • Fuel capacity: 67.5 litres
  • Height: 1484mm
  • Width, with / with mirrors: 1865 / 2097mm
  • Length: 4628mm
  • Wheelbase: 2776mm
  • Track, F/R: 1578 / 1575mm
  • Overhang, F/R: 936 / 916mm
  • Ground clearance: 124mm
  • Head space, F/R (w/sunroof): 955 / 951mm
  • Legroom, F/R: 1064 / 852mm
  • Hip room, F/R: 1395 / 1359mm
  • Cabin width, F/R (at shoulder height): 1447 / 1401mm
  • Drag co-efficient: 0.28
  • Weight: 1487kg
  • Steering: Power-assisted rack and pinion
  • Turning circle: 11.9-meters
  • Lock-to-lock: 2.58-turns
  • Suspension, F: MacPherson strut, coil spring, hydraulic dampers, stabilizer bar
  • Suspension, R: Independent, coil spring, hydraulic dampers, stabilizer bar
  • Brakes, F/R: ventilated disc, 316 x 28mm / disc, 302 x 11mm
  • Braking distance, 100-0km/h: 37-meters
  • Tires: 215/50R17