Volvo S60 review

3.5 out of 5
From 23,000

For

City Safety, Driver Support Pack

Against

Central console is confusing

They're boxy, but they're good, goes the quote from Crazy People starring Dudley Moore to describe the Volvos of yesteryear. Trouble is, that was a long time ago and the company has changed somewhat since then. So much so that we struggled to find a boxy element to the new S60 when we were given a chance to spend the day test-driving the car in the Scottish Highlands - some of the most demanding roads the UK has to offer.

But has the company forgotten its roots in its quest to challenge the likes of BMW and Lexus, or does it still stand for the same values, even though the design has drastically changed?

We've driven three Volvo S60 models: the S60 5D automatic, S60 5D manual, and the S60 3D manual. All models were the SE Lux edition and this gives you a range of "luxury" features like Power Driver seat and memory, leather upholstery, active bending headlights and headlamp cleaning above and beyond a range of toys, gadgets, and useful features like cruise control, Bluetooth and auto dim rear view mirror.

Furthermore all three cars we tested featured the Driver Support Pack (£1250) that adds a stack of safety features, which we will come to later. Outside the three cars (pictured) also had an exterior styling kit (£625) that adds front and rear skid plates, two frames in the lower valence, side scuff plates and a exhaust tailpipe finishers. All three models where diesel.

Designed with safety in mind, but also with the idea that you'll want something that looks good, the Volvo S60 features smooth curves and plenty of swish. It's not completely rounded however and you'll soon notice that the front bonnet is both high and square, while the rear of the car swoops upwards, but not dramatically. It's a design that is safer says Volvo (a higher bonnet for example means more flex when you hit someone, which in turn means they are likely to survive), but one that isn't going to get you stick when you pull up to a meeting or be overly polarising in that you'll either love it or hate it.

While the exterior styling kit added to the design to the front and rear of the car we aren't so sure about the effect it has on the side of car with different colours playing against the additional chrome, changing how the car looked from afar. It looked good on the white model, not so much on the Flamenco Red one.

Get inside and cockpit is spilt into three distinct design areas - the dashboard dials, the 5- or 7-inch LCD information display and the central console that comes with a brushed metal or wood veneer affect that features a mass of buttons to supposedly control everything that you could possibly want.

The dials are incredibly minimalistic, overly so in some cases, giving you just what you need. A rev counter and speedometer are the main focus with two dozen or so warning lights hiding out of sight, jumping into action alerting you to a problem.

Within the dials themselves is further core information like trip counter, consumption and range. Set-up, and managing further information is done via the large matte LCD colour display (not touchscreen) in the central column. Here you can set-up the different features the S60 comes with as well as access media settings, like iPhone/iPod control via Bluetooth, AUX in, DAB radio, media from a hard drive or USB stick and of course the now ever-present built-in satnav.

As the display isn't touch enabled, you get a rather complicated and by no means intuitive array of buttons to press and dial your way through. It's a shame and shows that whoever created this expects Volvo S60 users to either be incredibly clever or have plenty of time to read the accompanying manual - the latter being something that we had to do.

To put it bluntly, it's ghastly. With that many buttons they would have been better off putting in a full size QWERTY keyboard - it would have certainly made it easier to manage the GPS functions as well as searching through the iPhone menu system.

The design faults unfortunately don't stop there when it comes to the cockpit. Two water bottle slots directly behind the gear stick make getting to the gear stick difficult if you've got tall bottles installed, and for those that opt against the rather complicated to use satnav, the cigarette lighter/12V socket is so far back towards the centre of the vehicle that all those buttons will be draped with a cable anyway.

Add that to the fact that the gear stick in both the automatic and manual models was so close to the central console and if you've got a passenger fiddling you're going to end up shouting at them. It's not all bad though. Visability is good. The seats comfortable and the air conditioning flow (i.e., getting it to your face) very good indeed.

Those keen to take advantage of the Bluetooth connectivity as standard will be pleased to see Volvo has placed the mic just above the driver's seat. In our phone call back to the office with a connected iPhone the call was clear and well received. Likewise our Reviews Editor came through loud and clear through the car's stereo system that was good enough to produce a well balanced and bass-tastic tunes if we wanted it to.

The technology doesn't stop at Bluetooth. You'll get City Safety as standard and the ability to add the Drivers Support Pack that we would highly recommend if you opt to get this Volvo. City Safety works in connection with a radar and camera mounted in the front grill and behind the rear view mirror. It works to stop you crashing into other cars on the road by automatically applying the breaks if you get too close.

While it's not going to stop a high speed collision, it will promise to stop you nudging the car in front if you think they've moved off from a roundabout and in fact they haven't (one of the most common road accidents there is). Add in the Driver Support Pack and it will also do the same to pedestrians, automatically coming to a complete halt without your intervention if it spots anyone over 85cm in height stepping out on to the road and you're doing under 22mph.

Over 22mph and it does its best to slow down. We tested the system on a secured track and didn't manage to hit the dummy in front of us even though we had our eyes closed and foot on the accelerator. We also witnessed the car slamming into a dummy at 38mph and noted that it did slow down. The technology works, and while you will hopefully never get to use it, it's comforting to know that it is there. Shame it is not standard on all cars.

Something you will use a lot more however is the Blind Spot Information System that features two cameras underneath your wing mirrors monitoring what's in your blind spot. If something appears a light shines from the wing mirror column (on the inside of the cockpit) to alert you. You can then decide to acknowledge that or ignore it.

In reality, and while it works, it's a bonus rather than a must have. After all, you could just turn your head quickly, but none the less it's handy for those that do a lot of motorway or dual carriage driving, as is lane drift. No it's not there to help you take corners quicker as if you are in Fast and The Furious, but a system that monitors when you are drifting out of your lane. Zzzzzzzz.

Fall asleep, drift off, or get stuck in a daydream about your next promotion and the car will quickly start beeping at you. Yes it is clever enough to determine that if you have your indicator on you mean to switch lanes and so therefore won't beep.

This idea of helping you be a better driver is featured in yet another technology in the car that helps inform you whether you are driving too close to the car in front. You can set the distance you want it be, and then it will do its best to warn you, based on your speed and your distance to the car in front, whether you are driving correctly. Yeah we don't think you'll have it on too long before you turn it off either, but it will be handy to use to annoy your partner.

The next one is not a biggie, but shows the attention to detail when it comes to safety in the Volvo S60. Slam the breaks on to perform an emergency stop and the hazard lights will automatically come on. All of these features combine to make this the safest car on the road.

The car is well built and solid. And yes closing the doors sounds exactly the same as closing the doors on the Volvo's of yesteryear. Boot space is ample - big enough for me to climb in it, suggesting it's big enough for a good week of baggage, or your golf clubs. 

Keeping you safe is one thing, but that's as useful as a chocolate teapot if the performance and ride doesn't measure up. Of the three models that we tested we enjoyed the 3D the most (incidentally the one that Volvo believes will be the most popular model of the range).

It was responsive with a hard rather than soft drive. It corners well - certainly on the roads we tested it on - and overall considering its weight (1785kg) would serve you well on motorways and city streets alike. Numbers for those who are interested are 0-62mph in 7.8 seconds with a top speed of 146mph for the 2.0-litre D5 engine.

The D3 manages it in a slightly slower 9.2 seconds, although will give you considerably better mpg (around 38 on our test day) and overall we preferred the performance of the D3 over the D5. It was surprisingly nippy and felt more agile. Braking is quick although not abrupt like many of the newer Volkswagens, but enough to stop you getting into trouble (to the old lady in the Nissan Micra sorry if we scared you). Road noise is a problem however, this isn't a quiet ride.

It's clear from the approach of this car the Volvo S60 is aiming itself as the middle management road warrior looking for something different to the BMW 3-series.

While the D5 models for us doesn't really cut it when it comes to that challenge, the D3 was a feisty beast that comes in a couple of grand cheaper even if you add in the Driver Support Pack which, let's face it, is a must if you are going for this car.

Verdict

The S60 features plenty of tricks, technology as standard, and comes with a ride that was enjoyable as it was drive worthy.

It might weigh a lot, but once you got the girl fired up it motors along very comfortably.

It's also worth mentioning that you'll get a discount on your insurance, although only if you insure the car though Volvo's own insurance offering. 

"Your insurance is only lowered with Volvo Car Insurance (VCI). VCI (through RSA) offer 10% discount on S60 (and XC60) with City Safety. On the all-new S60 with the Driver Support Pack and City Safety VCI offers 15% discount in premiums quote," a spokeswomen for the company told us. 

Gripes? Unfortunately for us it's the central console and the mishmash it is that let the side down. It tries to be all encompassing, but ends up being confusing and overly complicated.

If safety is your main goal you are unlikely to beat it, however all those buttons put us off.

For more pictures check out our PHOTOS: Volvo S60 (2010) hands-on