November 25th, 2010

Driven: Volvo V60

As much as I love Volvos, I realise that a lot of people don’t. Amazingly, Volvo also realise that I’m not everyone too so they’re transforming their model line-up. Remember that 400bhp Polestar-tuned C30 shown earlier this year? That might become a production reality, and so too might a 5-door all-new C30.

But that’s all supposition. The first model to get Volvo’s new attitude is the S60 and V60; a car that is, apparently, naughty.

Don’t get blinded by the talk of this being a naughty Volvo though. Even if a naughty car could exist, a Volvo wouldn’t be one. No matter how mad and sporty a Volvo is, it will always have a veneer of practicality about it. If you know the Volvo T5-R you will know what I mean.

So while Volvo’s new V60 may have athletic looks to stop Linford Christie in his tracks, it’s still a Volvo and it still aims to be practical.

That’s why in terms of boot space the V60 sits between the 50 and 70, and is titled as a sports wagon as such to justify its small boot. It comes in an array of petrol and diesel engines, but the one I had on test was the £32,490 2.4-litre D5 SE Lux Geartronic – and I became really quite fond of it.

In order to have a chance of competing with the Germans – yes, you all know of them, Messieurs Beemer, Audi, and Merc – the Volvo chaps had to do something different. I never tired of people giving it a second glance, particularly the black Audi A4 Avant driver who stuck his thumb at me (I think it was his thumb…). Switching off the day-running lights and resorting to the side-lights became a frequent ‘must-do’ before driving off. You see, by doing that, you make use of the vertical side lights just beside the grille which shine blue and, long orange ‘eye-brows’ also light up in the main headlamp units. It was great fun looking at them in the reflection of C-Class tailgates.

It looks good too. In actual fact the V is better looking than the already handsome S60, and makes the perennial 3 Series seem very conservative and last week – if you know what I mean. The sloping roof finishes tucks into the now traditional high Volvo shoulder line so perfectly, no doubt helped by the rear light clusters that bend and contort around the edge of the tailgate to make the car look wider and more muscular.

Inside, the V60 has moved slightly away from the minimalist interiors we have seen from recent Volvos. Along with the S60, the V60 is the first Volvo to have the sat-nav screen integrated into the dash meaning that the buttons to operate it have now been pushed down on to the centre floating console. The operation is particularly uncomfortable for the air-vents it would seem; one of them has been squashed, whilst the other has been awkwardly pushed to the passenger side meaning there’s now two vents for your co-driver.  But it’s still a master-class in design. It may look a little austere but, in comparison to the A4 Avant’s offering, the Volvo’s is delightfully intuitive. All you need is there on one part of the dashboard; with the Audi’s it’s all over the place.

All over the place is what I was expecting the handling to be like; more comfortable than sporty. Sure it’s no 3-Series but the V60 wasn’t too bad. You can feel the taught and planted chassis and the suspension has the right balance between harsh and floaty, but it’s the steering that lets the 60 down. While being well-weighted there’s no feel, meaning that you can’t push it through the twisty stuff with as much confidence as say…errr… a 3-Series.

Which is a shame really because the seats, climate control and stereo were all fabulous, and the 6-speed geartronic gearbox was smooth and good kick-down in S mode. And even though the 205PS diesel was not quite as powerful as I was hoping from a 2.4-litre, 5-cylinder unit, it made a pleasant noise – a splendid concoction of the typical Volvo 5-cylinder howl tamed by the gruff of the diesel.

You know there’s a but coming don’t you? Yes… it’s the price. This SE Lux came with a whole host of extras – £1400 worth of metallic paint and alloys, and £2700 worth of packages including the Blind Spot Information System and Pedestrian Detection System – which put the final price to a stonking £36,590.

And that, coupled with the way it handles, is not going to help the V60 in its quest to topple the Germans. Unfortunately for Volvo I love it. But I’m not everyone.

James Batchelor

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