Cars with Jan Coomans. Volvo S60 review: Good for your health?

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Volvo S60

Apparently, there’s no such thing as a cloud without a silver lining. Pandemics and lockdowns certainly aren’t much fun, but they do have the power to hugely extend the amount of time you spend with the press car you picked up just before the lockdown kicked in. As it happened, the car in this case was a Volvo S60.

Volvo is certainly a brand that has undergone something of a transformation in the past decade or so. In the not-so-recent past, they were synonymous with cars that seemed to be designed strictly with a ruler. There were straight lines as far as the eye could see, which earned them the loving nickname “brick”. Or “turbo brick”, in the case of the faster turbocharged versions. Fun facts: in 1985, the Volvo 240 Turbo won both the DTM and European Touring car championships and the estate version was the fastest “wagon” on the planet. Fast forward many years and a couple of ownership changes later, the Volvos of today are very different, though the general philosophy behind them is still much the same.


On the one side, they’ve gone from not really caring about what the car looked like to producing some of the best looking cars on sale today. That doesn’t mean that the famed Swedish common sense has been thrown to the roadside, however. Functionality still trumps form, but wherever possible you now get both. This has helped move them higher up in the market, to where I’d consider them to be the most unpretentious luxury car you can buy. Obviously, personal tastes will vary, but I think the S60 has the prettiest form yet of the design language which Volvo introduced with the second generation XC90 quite a few years ago now. The S60 looks, to my eye, even rather sporty. That’s especially true if you go for the “R design” trim level which brings with it a lower ride height and slightly sportier looking body parts.

Volvo S60

But there’s a difference between looking sporty and actually driving like a sports car. Volvo is very clear about where its priorities lie, and the S60 is still is very much geared towards comfort and safety. Most people, and certainly Volvo customers, haven’t got much appetite for unnecessarily harsh suspension and tricky handling. So the S60 rides smoothly over bumps, has very light steering and barely makes any noise inside or out. That is simply Volvo’s philosophy and they’re sticking to it. It has to be practical and it has to be safe.

Speaking of safety, more than half a century ago Volvo was the brand which introduced things like the modern 3-point safety belts. Later on, they invented technologies which are now ubiquitous in the car industry like side curtain airbags, automatic braking to avoid low speed collisions, seats with whiplash protection and blind spot warning systems. The list goes on, actually. But the point is that Volvo has always done its best to build cars that are as safe as possible, whether or not there actually was an official rule or specific crash test to be passed. As a result, the cars aren’t built to pass particular tests but for any unpredictable scenario that could play out in the real world. I agree that none of this sounds quite as exciting as discussing how quickly a car can lap the Nurburgring or the sound coming out of a hypercar’s exhaust, but I think you’ll agree this is probably more relevant in daily life.

Volvo S60

Volvo also gets top marks from me for making their product lines simple and easy to understand. In the case of the S60, you can have two different drivetrain configurations and three basic trim levels. From there on you can personalise further options of course, but it’s all pretty straight forward and easy to understand. Volvo said goodbye to diesel engines years ago, banishing them completely from their portfolio, so all its cars now have a 2 litre 4-cylinder turbocharged engine, in two different levels in the case of the S60. The least powerful T4 variant produces 190 horsepower and comes with front wheel drive only while the top spec T5 gets 249 horsepower and all-wheel-drive. Then you just need to decide whether you go for the most basic “Momentum” trim level, the sporty “R design” or the most luxurious “Inscription” variant. Simples.

Volvo S60

As is the case with just about any 4-cylinder engine, the sound it produces doesn’t exactly fill you with joy. So it’s a good thing that you can barely hear it working at all inside the cabin. The engine is smooth and has a good amount of torque in the mid-range, thanks to turbocharging, and does its job well without being remarkable in any particular way. We’re now living in an era where even a BMW with 35i badges on it has nothing more than a 4-cylinder under the hood, so downsized power plants like these are now the norm rather than the exception. In true Volvo style, you can’t really find the acceleration figures or top speed information on their website, unless you try really hard maybe. I didn’t. But the wider internet knows everything, so I can quote a 0 to 100 km/h time of 7.1 seconds for the T4 and 6.4 seconds for the T5. Top speeds are 220 and 240 km/h respectively, but we have to add an asterisk to that as Volvo recently announced that it would be limiting all of its cars to a top speed of 180 km/h. Which, even in my opinion, is probably fine. I mean, where would you drive any faster than that anyway? How many normal people ever drive their cars that fast?

Volvo S60

I do have a fairly long history with the Volvo brand, having owned a couple myself including the cult hero 850 T-5R from 1995. So perhaps that’s got something to do with it, but stepping into the S60 always felt a bit like coming home. It wants to be your friend, make your life easier, and my word are those seats comfortable to sit in. When it comes to pampering your backside, I don’t think there’s another brand that makes cars seats this good at this price point. The large central touchscreen which controls everything is not quite as cutting edge anymore as when it was first introduced, but it’s still one of the more intuitive systems to use. Would I prefer to have some physical buttons for some functions that have moved completely to the digital systems? Sure. But the entire car industry seems to be on a mission to ban all physical buttons for some reason or other, so, that’s hardly a unique issue.

Volvo S60

As it happens, I don’t really need to own a sensible car like this myself. Living in the center of Moscow, my transport needs are usually met by either walking or public transport any driving tends to be recreational more than anything else. If I did need a car, the S60 would be very high on the list. I love the looks, the practicality, and the complete absence of any badge snobbery. There are few things that irritate me more than people saying things like “for that amount of money, you could’ve bought *insert your favourite German car brand here*” as if choosing a badge over a car’s individual qualities makes any sense. Maybe, just maybe, the Scandinavian countries keep topping the world happiness report because they’ve figured out what one actually needs in life, and what you don’t. There’s a lot about the Volvo S60 that makes me think that the Swedes have had very much the right idea when it comes to what one actually needs in a car.

06 июля 2020
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