IAIN ROBERTSON

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Launched in T5 front-wheel drive R-Design Edition form, reports Iain Robertson, fresh from an excellent Scottish Highlands driving exercise, Volvo has turned the final page in its current ’60-Series’ model line-up and it is mightily impressive.

If you have not heard already, Volvo is installing speed-limiters on all of its cars from 2020. Restricted to 112mph, the company believes that its role as the commonly regarded ‘safest car brand in the world’ entitles it to heft some control over its drivers. Of course, the Sino-Swedish firm’s intentions are heart-felt; after all, to achieve its long-stated ’20:20’ vision that no human being would be killed by its cars, as ‘speed’ is referred to as ‘a biggest influencer’ in car crashes, it is an understandable move.

Yet, I feel it important to restate that ‘speed does not kill’…sudden stopping does. Whether it is a right, or wrongful decision, is up for lengthy discussion but I feel that some German customers may complain, even though their country’s road rules are being swamped by ‘Green Party’ influences, which suggest that killing the environment is a morally reprehensible crime, possibly worse than automotive death on an unrestricted autobahn.

DSCHowever, given the relative traffic freedom of a post-Easter driving route around the lochs and mountains of Scotland, to be frank, I can think of no better way to clarion the safety and security of Volvo’s latest and presently unrestricted S60 model. It has taken a while to get here, over which even its US-build location had zero influence. With SUVs taking precedence, XC60 had to come first in the model launch parade, followed by various estate car variants in both front and 4WD forms.

Saloon/sedan models still have value in many markets, otherwise notional rivals like BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz would not have the market shares they do. Yet, Volvo always does it differently and not without good reason. It is worth highlighting that this is also the only and first Volvo not to offer a diesel engine option, even though various forms of Volvo’s clever modular unit remain available in other models. In launch trim, the wondrous 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine benefits from turbo-boosting and develops a modest 250bhp, accompanied by a 258lbs ft slug of torque between 1,800-4,800rpm, just where it can be put to most beneficial use.

The result is a 0-60mph time of 6.2s, a top whack of 145mph and, even hooked-up to an 8-speed automatic transmission, a fuel return of up to 39.8mpg, with a CO2 rating of 155g/km, helped by ‘stop:start’ technology and gearbox efficiency. Given its head, on broadly deserted and moderately well-surfaced roads, I can tell you that you would not need much more, as the car is capable of getting into three-figure, potential licence-losing territory with tremendous alacrity. It is also worth highlighting that lesser and greater versions of the S60 will be available imminently, before an all-electric alternative will add further headline value to the brand.

DSCExploiting the S60 is a joy enhanced by superior chassis dynamics. While Volvo is renowned for its advanced ‘electrickery’ that is intended to keep most motorists on the straight and narrow, on Scotland’s ‘s&n’s’ S60 displayed nothing less than total driver support, despite its momentous 1,616kgs kerb-weight. Riding on 20.0-inch diameter alloy wheels clad in 235/40 section rubber, I can inform you that the car’s mechanical grip levels, even during a light shower, are nothing short of legendary. A crisp turn-in quality aids the car’s agility, which is entirely throttle-adjustable.

While firm, the ride quality is outstandingly compliant, keeping body roll under taut control, aided by first-rate steering geometry and a deliciously driver-controllable handling finesse, as mentioned in the previous paragraph. Chucking the S60 around some of The Highlands’ more enticing back-doubles, or whisking through long radius bends that feature heavily on some of the region’s glens and coastal routes, the car’s balance is never less than impeccable, while its straight-line stability is exquisite. You can tell within moments of first-driving a Volvo that its designers and engineers were determined to create an ultimate driving machine that responds faithfully to input at the controls. Get into the groove and a fast-driven S60 provides a masterful enhancement of almost any driver’s competence levels.

In fact, performance motoring scarcely comes in a better directed package. The front seats benefit from Volvo’s extensive studies into both support and safety. Induce the outer edges of its dynamic strengths and the seat belt tightens to hug you closer to its overarching safety. Supremely strong brakes provide unerringly positive retardation, again providing the driver with confidence at inspirational levels.

DSCAs a packaging exercise, Volvo has used all of the talents employed on the other versions of this platform. The gorgeous and well-equipped interior is cosseting and supportive. Yet, there is space behind me (a two-metre tall driver) for another me; in fact four ‘me’s’ and a fifth smaller occupant could fit comfortably in a flexible interior that extends to the S60’s extendible (via electric drop-switches) 442-litre boot capacity. With the back seats folded and an overall load length of up to almost 1.8m, very few family saloons are as readily accommodating.

The dashboard, complete with its vertically-mounted ‘touch-screen’ and minimalist appeal (no extraneous buttons) is a straight lift from other ’60-Series’ models and none the worse for that. Everything that needs to, falls neatly to hand and, even though the screen can be sluggish to react to a careless touch, sometimes demanding more attention than might be deemed ‘safe’ for the driver, plan correctly and input key details while at standstill and its performance is glitch-free.

If I have but one teensy issue with the S60 (and other models in the series), it lies in the shiny black encasement of the door mirrors. Other carmakers tend to use matt plastics in that area. The difference in their favour is that there are no distracting reflections surrounding the mirror surfaces that are picked-up by a driver’s peripheral vision. I have only one request of Volvo: please change that lovely shiny surface for one with matt values.

DSCBe under no illusion, Volvo has created an ultimate sports saloon for a modern world in its all-new S60, which (in test trim) costs £40,535 (inc. £400 for the split-fold back seats, £1,200 for the power panoramic sunroof, £850 for the wheels and £150 for the spare wheel). When the balance of the range becomes available, you can rest assured that prices will start in the region of a market-priced £35,000.

Conclusion:     It is so easy to become beguiled by Volvo for its attendance to driver safety but the S60, along with the rest of the range, is also a genuine driver’s car and probably one of the best all-rounders in the world.

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