IAIN ROBERTSON 

For the past few years, Volvo has embarked on a reformulation strategy that is intended to drive it into the future, remarks Iain Robertson, and it is one that has worked most efficaciously and allows it to return to its heartland estate car market.

When it comes to making headlines, ever-so-conservative Volvo has preferred to let its product do the talking. Its most recent ‘statements’ have been progressively design-centred, rather than reliant on past glories. While the rest of the world has been supping from the SUV cup, Volvo included, in fairly close succession, XCs 90, 60 and 40 have hit the road running and done what their maker intended: to turn a few heads and earn a crust.

However, a high-end S90 saloon, accompanied by its V90 estate variant, provided more than a hint of the brand’s firm intentions to sidle up to the best in Europe and compete on a more level playing-field. While Ford Motor Company did invest in Volvo and gifted it the American ‘premium’ tag, it was never enough to actually allow the company to meet the parameters established by the Teutonic Holy Trinity of Audi, Merc and BMW.

Fortunately, Chinese ownership of the brand, after it was discarded by FoMoCo, which never truly understood it, has been precisely what was needed. To compete square-on with its perceived rivals, Volvo had to pass a number of tests, including quality, detailing, comfort, dynamics, dependability and class. That it has exceeded expectations, without being drawn into a slavish round of direct comparison, model-for-model, is much to its credit.

However, as beguilingly attractive as V90 is, it lacks a distinct convenience factor that has long been a Volvo hallmark. Its load deck is extraordinarily long but, sadly, its styling and access through an especially rakish rear door limits the car’s practicality. It looks fantastic but you will never get an antique chair in the boot, or a bed-frame.

Middle England and Middle America, let alone Middle Europe and core market sectors around the world, have been devoid of a modern load-carrier that has been central to Volvo’s model offering virtually since its inception: a practical mid-size estate car. All of those antiques shop owners, estate agents and stately piles that used to constitute the bulk of Volvo estate car ownership have been diverted towards SUVs, as the answer to their space requirements…but they can now revel in the true heartland Volvo; a V60 that both looks impressive and meets their flexibility requirements, without being a disparate style statement.

The production base for the V60 is the Torslanda plant, on the outskirts of Gothenburg, that is the traditional home of the Volvo estate. As Volvo is proving on-going, it is a brand that does not do ‘dull’. While it matches generously sector dimensional requirements, it shares the elegant breath-of-fresh-air styling nuances of the current crop of Volvo models, both inside and out. It is discernibly Volvo, yet markedly different to its aforementioned rivals in the class. In fact, what Volvo instils into its products is a warmth of both tactility and comfort, allied to strong Scandinavian character. Neither clinical, nor overt, the V60 extends a welcoming handshake to owners, who will appreciate and take for granted the brand’s allegiance to safety, connectivity and unremitting prestige.

However, the new V60 will be judged by its Tardis-like space provision. It may be jokingly referred to as ‘Volvo’s smallest estate’ but it can boast the largest boot of any midfielder, at 529-litres, with the rear seats up. Opt for the Convenience Pack and they can be lowered at the touch of a button to enlarge the carrying capacity to a most impressive 1,441-litres, aided by practical flat-sided and luxuriously carpeted trim, without a lip to detract from ease of access. In fact, access is the key word, as every V60 features a power-operated rear door, which can augmented by the optional ‘hands-free’ operation.

Yet, rear seat occupants are not made to suffer, as a result of a judiciously long wheelbase, comfortable seating and a massive panoramic sunroof that bathes the interior in natural light, when the electric blind is retracted. As expected, front seat occupants are well catered for in market-leading, orthopaedically supportive luxury. The driver’s seat adjusts in every plane, along with the rake and reach range of the steering column, to provide a perfect driving position, regardless of occupant size.

Fortunately, the standard equipment offering is generous from entry-level Momentum to R-Design Pro and Inscription trim levels. Every model benefits from the portrait ‘touch-screen’ in the dash-centre, sat-nav, dual-zone climate control and a 10-speaker hi-fi system. Of course, the customary drive-mode selector that operates via a machined and knurled roller switch in the centre console, allows the driver to select the most desirable quality of ride. I was happiest in Comfort setting, although Eco, Dynamic and Individual are also driver adjustable.

Volvo has become the consummate master of platform flexibility that allows it to meet economies of scale to perfection and the scalable architecture that underpins the aforementioned S and V90 and both XC60 and XC90 models, is used to exceptional effect in the all-new V60. Featuring double wishbone front coil and composite, transverse rear leaf springing, also shared with those other models, has proven to be an excellent dynamic set-up.

Whether riding on standard 17.0-inch, or up to 20-inch diameter alloy wheels, some of which are trim-dependent, although different designs can be chosen by the end-user, the ride quality is compliant and refined. Even testing the car on the give-and-take road surfaces of the North Yorkshire Moors, it was obvious that very little could upset the V60’s fluent composure, with minimal body-roll and first-rate directional stability. It is matched by steering that feels connected to the front tyres, with ample grip from the rest of the dynamic set-up.

Powered by either D3 147bhp, or D4 187bhp versions of Volvo’s modular 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine, the 0-60mph benchmark is completed in 9.6 to 7.6s, with fuel economy expectations of up to 61.8mpg. A 247bhp T5 petrol unit will be introduced soon, as will 4WD, Cross-Country and plug-in, electric-hybrid alternatives. All engines drive through a choice of a sweet-shifting 6-speed manual, or the optional 8-speed automatic transmissions. Volvo anticipates a high uptake rate by the company car sector, with the D3 responsible for around 60% of potential volume. Interestingly, the forthcoming (early-2019) S60 saloon model, which is built in South Carolina, USA, will not offer a diesel engine option.

Volvo is riding the crest of a wave at present, having recently posted record-breaking sales and profitability, as the company builds its global brand. Even though I realise that Volvo will continue to progress, it does so by being able to impress simultaneously at the highest levels. Prices start from £31,810, although you will be unlikely to acquire a V60 at that level, as the vast majority will be spec’d up. However, with Benefit-in-Kind taxation (for the business sector) starting at a lowly £147 per month and PCPs and PCHs starting at around £279 per month, access to the class, practicality and style of the important V60 mid-sizer (helped by strong residual values) makes the car an economic winner too.

Conclusion:    If you are in the market for a smooth, luxurious estate car, of a type with which you used to be familiar, Volvo is back and, thanks to keen prices its ownership proposition is unrelentingly attractive.