Aston Martin is celebrating its 100th anniversary with the CC100 – but it’s not the first to do this…
What - Volvo S60
Where - Sintra, Portugal
Date - 24 May 2010
Price - £23,295 - £36,745
Available - July 2010
Key rivals - Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Lexus IS, Mercedes C-Class
"Sportiest Volvo ever" claim unlikely to cause German rivals any sleepless nights.
We like - Best seats in the business, calm, understated interior
We don't like - Five-cylinders engines don't measure up, some awkward interior fittings, not as sporty as Volvo claims
Gallery: Volvo S60
Volvo is unfeasibly excited about its new compact premium model. Aimed at thrusting, ambitious 35- to 45-year-olds, it combines coupé styling with four doors and the promise of the most dynamic drive ever from the Swedish manufacturer.
That driving promise is based around a chassis developed specifically for European drivers, directly aimed at the core values that make BMW and Audi market leaders.
The S60 is "an unmistakeable representative of Scandinavian design at its best" and there's no argument that the new Volvo is different. Whether it's outstanding is a matter of opinion.
There's a wide range of engines, with 85% of UK buyers likely to opt for a diesel. There's also an estate derivative, the S60, on the horizon for later in 2010.
Prices currently start at £23,295, but cheaper models with smaller engines arrive soon. Standard on all is Volvo's City Safety system, but the new Pedestrian Detection system is on the extensive options list.
In place of the rather good Ford/Peugeot two-litre, four-cylinder turbodiesel that Volvo has used in other models, the S60 uses a new lower capacity version of its five-cylinder diesel.
It's hard to fathom out why, apart from the personal pride of in-house manufacture. We've never been sold on Volvo's five cylinder idea. These engines aren't as smooth as a good four cylinder, while economy, despite the published figures, rarely measures up either.
And if you thought D5 denoted a five-cylinder diesel, think again. This two-litre is the D3, and there will soon be the whole range of numbers that merely signify more or less power.
To its credit, the 163hp D3 is smoother than the D5, and is pleasant enough when cruising or if you don't ask too much. But it's hardly sporting, getting to 62mph in 8.7 seconds.
One issue is that there's too much lag from the turbocharger, with a resulting delay in throttle response, though in truth the D3 never feels brisk even when extended to the full.
The 2.4-litre D5 is a more enticing drive if you can live with the warble from under the bonnet. The claimed economy and C02 figures are the same for both diesels when equipped with manual transmission.
Ride and handling
It's hard to reconcile the driving experience of the S60 with Volvo's enthusiasm for the dynamics of its new car. More stiffly suspended than any previous Volvo, it rides with the purpose of a sports saloon, which means bumps get though to the cabin.
It's a compromise many will be familiar with on competing cars. We're largely happy with the way the S60 rides, but if it's the usual levels of Volvo comfort that you expect, you'd better look elsewhere in the range.
Or, specify the FOUR-C chassis option and there's active suspension that can be set to comfort, sport, or advanced depending upon your mood. It works well.
In standard form there's a whole suite of electronic systems to keep the Volvo on track, including the usual stability control plus Corner Traction Control.
This momentarily brakes the inner wheel as power is applied to the outer wheel, so that you can accelerate out of corners while still retaining grip.
Sound good. You can tweak the weight to the steering too. And yet despite all this, and the improvements to the steering, subjectively the S60 simply failed to grab us as the dynamic saloon Volvo wants it to be.
At the Geneva reveal of the new S60 this March, the interior seemed a disappointment. Too plain with little panache. But with longer acquaintance it turns out to be a major selling point.
The simplicity feels fresh and uncluttered, calming even. There's the now traditional ultra-thin Volvo centre console stowage space behind. No wood in the UK (unless you really insist), brushed alloy is the 2010 image for the S60.
The seats are about as good as they get. Sculptured sports items, the initial softness is deeply cosseting but there's great all-round support too. You'll still feel good after ten hours behind the wheel.
In the rear the seats are also heavily shaped, which is great for two, but less so with the third person in place. That swooping coupe roofline is cleverly designed to confuse the eye - there's ample headroom in the back despite the impression otherwise.
But now we come to list of details where Volvo hasn't quite got it right. Knee room might be OK in the back, but there's hardly any room under the front seats for feet.
The gearlever is too far back, not a problem on cars with automatic transmission but shorter drivers in manual cars will find it awkward. As for the lumbar adjustment on the driver's seat, it's virtually impossible to get at.
Volvo has moved away from the satellite navigation system that rose out of the dashboard to a more conventional position lower down.
It's also more straightforward to set up, although we secretly admired the old system that the driver adjusted with hidden buttons behind the steering wheel. And now you can't set a destination without the car being stationary.
Luggage capacity is average, with a rather small boot opening but a very sensible shape for cases. The backrests flop down to extend the space.
Economy and safety
The economy figures look good, 53.3mpg for both D3 and the more powerful D5 engines when fitted with the six-speed manual gearbox, and 47.9 and 44.8mpg with automatic transmission.
Yet while we accept that real life driving will usually result in economy perhaps 25% worse that the statutory figures in any car, Volvo five-cylinders engines do even worse in our experience.
BMW is especially strong in this area, and Volvo's C02 emissions, at 137g/km for the D3 manual, are good but far from class leading in today's market. Volvo has some greener cars in the can. 1.6-litre diesel and petrol models will arrive before 2011, the DRIVe producing under 115g/km. Great for company car users.
Moving on to safety, we can't ignore the embarrassing demonstration of the S60's advanced City Safety crash mitigation system see clip: http://www.which.co.uk/news/2010/05/volvo-s60-safety-demonstration-fails-214027.
Volvo has a valid explanation of why the S60 crashed into the back of the truck rather than stopping as it should have. This system, which detects the possibility of you rear-ending another vehicle, will genuinely stop the car without contact if you are travelling at less than 30km/h.
It's state of the art stuff standard on all S60s. And there's more. The brand new Pedestrian Detection System can identify humans in front of the car and will automatically brake the car to a halt if deemed necessary.
That's part of a £1,700 option that includes adaptive cruise control. Like others in this premium segment, the list price is just a starting point for optioning up the car. But being a Volvo, high levels of safety are guaranteed no matter what you pay.
MSN Cars verdict
Somehow the S60 misses the magic of its rivals. The steering may have various settings, the chassis tuned to maximise sporting appeal and the engines have plenty of power.
Yet you never fully connect with the road. The engine response of the D3 isn't fast enough to make this car stand out. So the S60 falls short of the manufacturer's target, a sports saloon.
None of this matters if it's luxury or class you are after, though. Here the S60 score better, the seat comfort and sophisticated interior design being high points.
But it also has other weaknesses, notably the five-cylinder diesel engine. In the final analysis, the S60 isn't a winner in either area.
|Need to know|
|Engines - petrol||1.6*, 2.0*, 3.0|
|Engines - diesel||1.6*, 2.0, 2.4|
|Torque (lb ft)||295-324|
|Top speed (mph)||134-155|
|CO2 (g/km)/Tax (%)||139-231/18-34|
|* later in the year, no data|
|Rating||Volvo S60 D3 SE Lux|
|Ride and handling||****|
|MSN Cars verdict||***|
related stories on msn
Latest Cars videos
MSN Cars' Steve Walker takes the UK's cheapest new car for a test drive to see if it's worth parting only £5,995 for.
Date 4 hrs ago, Duration 4:17, Views 102