(Pocket-lint) - Think Volvo and what do you think? Our bet is that in among a top three list of words you'd have 'safety', 'Sweden' and… 'estate car'. Indeed, Volvo's history is littered with estate models (and safe ones at that). Its first arrived in the UK as long ago as 1953, and since then one-third of all Volvo cars sold have been estates.
But estates are out of fashion. In recent years it has been SUVs – or XCs in Volvo parlance – that have been powering the Swedish brand's revival. Not to be deterred, Volvo debuted the stunning V90 in 2016, but now it's moving the estate car game up a gear, and going back into its heartland, with the new V60.
What's a V60?
The V60 is Volvo's new mid-sized model, occupying a space that a car dealer might smarmily call the 'junior executive' segment. Yuk. This Volvo is way too classy for that kind of chat though.
The easier way to classify is to say it's the head-on competition for the BMW 3-Series Touring, Audi A4 Avant and Mercedes C-Class estate. These competitors dominate this market across Europe and are firm favourites with those climbing the corporate ladder, or well-heeled middle-class families who want the right badge on the drive (and the right wagon to move Henry and Olivia and the dog to the South of France come August).
The new V60 is a direct replacement for the last V60 – a car which never really hit the bullseye, because it was a bit too small (a Volvo estate with less space than other estates, the horror!) and a bit too normal in the way it drove, looked and was appointed. The new V60 goes bigger with what Volvo says is class-leading interior space and rear legroom, plus the biggest boot in the category (at 529 litres with the seats up; 1,444 litres seats down).
Momentum or Inscription?
The V60 launches in the UK in a piecemeal fashion. First up, you'll only be able to get the diesel D3 (150hp) or D4 (190hp) versions or a T5 (247hp) petrol. And only in Momentum (entry-level) or Inscription (luxury) trim. Beyond the first deliveries in autumn 2018, Volvo will add R-Design trim (sporty) and a CC (quasi-off-road) version, probably additional lower-powered petrol engines, and definitely at least one plug-in hybrid (T6) models.
All is not lost if you'd set your heart on something sporty, powerful and efficient. Volvo's D4 diesel – which is the one we review here – is nothing to write home about, but is the match of BMW's '20d' variants and Audi's 2.0 TDi. The V60 makes basically the same power and is a little quieter than either of those German models.
What's more, all V60 models are well equipped: there's a 9-inch screen, "Thor's hammer" LED headlights, and drive mode variability as standard. Inscription models come with leather seats, 18-inch wheels and front/rear parking sensors. And there are 'Pro' versions of each trim level, which add a chunk of extra equipment for less than it would cost if you ticked a load of boxes on the options list yourself.
Prices start at £31,810 for the D3 Momentum with a manual gearbox. A D4 Inscription Pro auto, like the one we drove, is £40,600. Finance deals are available for £279 per month. The V60 has the best predicted residual value after three years of any car in its class, so it's a solid investment for resale.
Real world chills
Press pack summary over, what's it actually like?
In the main, extremely nice. Built on the same scalable architecture as XC90, V/S90 and XC60, the V60 follows in the footsteps of its bigger brothers, with a highly sophisticated exterior and interior design that looks super smart but eschews the aggression of the aforementioned German models.
The V60 drives with real quality too. Majoring on refinement and a chilled-out, relax-you vibe, which might not provide the sporty thrills of a BMW, it is nonetheless pleasing and easy to get along with.
Our 19-inch-wheel-equipped Inscription Pro test car did give it a busy ride though. Despite being fitted with adaptive suspension, it never settled on the fragmented roads of Northumberland and North Yorkshire, which is a shame because otherwise the car is an exceptional mile eater, and in contrast to previous-gen Volvos, it doesn't fall to bits on a country road. You can row the V60 along at decent pace, it tracks straight and true, turns in well, has lots of grip and generally inspires confidence. A brief ride in a smaller, 17-inch wheeled Momentum car revealed a much better ride. But in our view its smaller wheel design spoils the handsome looks of the V60, so we'd put up with the shabbier ride for the sake of aesthetics (yuk, yes, we know).
The diesel D4 engine is refined and quick. Easy overtakes are a given, while it managed 44mpg on our test route. CO2 comes in at 117g/km, which doesn't sound leading until you realise it's the new 'WLTP' test (which needs to be certified by this autumn). And matched to the 8-speed auto gearbox it's smooth and quiet. We tried a manual D3 and found it to be better than expected, but watch out for the lack of true clutch foot rest, which is a serious omission for a car with premium aspirations.
Other Volvo features come as standard: there's load of space, refinement and lack of wind noise is great; the seats are ultra-comfortable and highly adjustable with a pull out thigh squab on the Inscription model; the dials are easy to see, the things you touch in the cabin feel nice quality; and there are three levels of stereo options (including the £3000 Bowers and Wilkins system, as fitted to our test-car, which sounds utterly amazing).
Estate car skills
While the Volvo has both the space and the looks – not always a given these days, unless you're an estate car convert – you'll probably need convincing of the reason to buy an estate like the V60 over an equivalent SUV, like the XC60. The big headline is price: where a V60 is as big inside as an XC60 (and in fact, longer), it starts at nearly £6k below the SUV. Slightly unfair given the XC60 doesn't come with a D3 engine, but even compared like-for-like, there's about £4.5k difference. And that would buy you some really nice options, like the Pro pack, or that amazing stereo.
However, where estate cars really kick-ass is in the practicality stakes. BMW and Audi both include some really clever extra features, to tempt you into a Touring or Avant. Split-opening window glasses, clever nets and stowage functions, rear parcel shelves (which automatically power up and out of the way and then pull themselves back into place), are just some of the benefits you'll get on a 3-Series or A4.
Every V60 comes with a powered tailgate, which is a nice-to-have feature. You can get a net and flip-up the floor in the tailgate in order to bungee bags against. However, these are optional features, and although there are a couple of moulded-in hooks on the side of the boot for bags, there's nothing Skoda-clever here like a pull-out torch or Velcro dividers.
And although the V60's parcel shelf flips up out of the way like a 3 Series Touring, it doesn't power itself back down when you shut the boot like it does in an Audi A4 Avant. We lost count of the amount of times we got back in the driver's seat to see the rear-view mirror blacked out – blocked by the shelf still in the up position. These are all little things, but having lived with a few estates and families of various ages, we know how much easier they make life. And as the self-professed estate car kings, we think Volvo should be beating the competition at this kind of game, not bringing up the rear.
One hallmark of all recent Volvo cars is the quality of the cabin. It's a lovely place to sit in the V60 too – and we'd recommend you check out the city weave/charcoal blonde textile trim that's available on Momentum models, as it'll make you forget you ever wanted leather. The dashboard finishers are suitable Scandinavian too, including a nice driftwood trim.
The leather steering wheel feels quality, and everything shuts, moves and clicks with the precision you'd expect in a German car, but that actually misses on some of the lower-spec BMWs and Mercs. Go Sweden! Inscription models, which do have leather, allow you a choice of black, amber (blonde), dark brown and oyster grey leather, so the message is that you don't need to stick with the Germanic colour options of black-on-black with a touch of black.
As with every new Volvo, the Sensus, 9-inch colour portrait touchscreen is the primary interface. For a touchscreen system it works pretty much fine. You'll need to use it to do just about everything – from setting the nav, to heating your seat and picking a music track. But thankfully it's fast and responsive and, until you get third-level into the menu layers, the menu structures are pretty simple.
It's well specced too: navigation is standard, as is DAB, a brace of USB ports and a Bluetooth connection (which paired up straight away and delivered crystal clear sound). Volvo makes you pay £300 for Android Auto/Apple CarPlay connectivity, but hey at least you can have both (that's a dig at you, in case you were wondering, BMW).
Volvo certainly now considers itself a fully-fledged premium brand (not without justification, we should add), and with that comes an options list that's as long as your arm and easy to have a field day with (read: end up with a £55k V60).
We'd advise you try to avoid excess options, although there are key things to look at, like the £2000 Xenium pack (surround cameras, panoramic roof), Volvo's upgraded £1625 Intellisafe Pro pack (which adds blind spot detection, cross-traffic alert and Pilot Assist -an adaptive cruise control system that can also steer the car for short periods and in traffic jams), and the £525 winter pack (Momentum only) for heated seats, washer jets and a headlight cleaning system.
If you read a lot about cars, you might have heard people say that Volvo is on a roll at the moment. And the V60 gives no cause to change that statement. It is all the things a Volvo really should be – sophisticated, safe, a little left-field – and adds a stunning exterior, brilliant cabin, decent drive and impressive technology to its list of attributes.
Perhaps its over-exposure, but with the exception of a new seat trim, we wish Volvo had added something a little different for the V60. Because it feels very much of the XC/S/V90 and XC60 mould in estate form. Blindfolded you could be sat in any of these cars and know no different. Many people will like that – in some ways, with the V60 you're getting a £50k car for £30k – but it would have been nice to gain a few different trim, wheel and finish options.
The biggest let down is that – despite class-leading space – the V60 doesn't actually do the estate car thing better than an Audi, BMW or Mercedes these days. But this doesn't make it a bad car; and if you're after the antithesis of German sporty aggression, and are primarily after a fine-looking space in which to plough the motorways or transport your family, then look no further. With no estate version of the Alfa Giulia, Lexus IS or Jag XE, Volvo has the German alternative small estate car market sown up and all to itself.
Audi A4 (Avant)
The A4 Avant is probably the Volvo's closest rival. It's front wheel drive and has a similar quality cabin and refinement-over-sporty driving qualities. We like it a lot, but it's all about the options and optimising the right model. There's less space than in the Volvo, too.
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BMW 3 Series (Touring)
Ageing, smaller, and can't hold a candle to the Volvo for interior quality or refinement. However, the BMW is still the one you'll want if you're after a fun drive. It offers high-power, great-to-drive petrol variants that offer thrills the Volvo doesn't have. Again, options play a big factor in what you'll like, and the M-Sport variant 3 Series provide a distinctly more sporting orientation than Volvo offers... for now.