Can Volvo do 'sporty'? It claims the new S60 is its sportiest model yet, but does it sacrifice Volvo's more traditional attributes supreme comfort and interior quality as it aspires to sharper-handling rivals from BMW and Audi?
On paper, the D5 version looks like the best option for putting these questions to the test. We've already group-tested the 161bhp 2.0-litre D3 (What Car? September 2010), but the D5's 2.4-litre twin-turbo diesel produces an extra 41bhp, so it certainly has the power to back up Volvo's claims of improved sportiness. It's a punchy engine, too, delivering brisk acceleration from low revs no matter what gear you're in. By comparison, the 2.0-litre D3 feels a little flat low down there's a power surge from around 1800 rpm and runs out of puff earlier, so you'll find yourself changing gear more often.
The D5's refinement is less impressive: it's louder than the D3, particularly when you rev it. However, average fuel economy and CO2 emissions match those of the smaller engine.
So, with the performance box ticked what about the handling? Former Touring Car champ John Cleland helped Volvo develop the S60's chassis and, overall, he hasn't done a bad job. The steering is a bit too quick, which means you often find yourself turning into a corner and then having to adjust the amount you've turned the wheel, but body movements are tightly controlled and, on-the-whole, the S60 manages to successfully combine comfort with composure.
The S60's interior also impresses, with top-notch materials and comfortable seats. It's an oversight, though, that there's no rest for the driver's left foot, and the remote control for the car's multimedia system takes a while to get used to, but overall the S60 is a fine place to be.
City safety where the car can sense a slower-moving vehicle ahead and apply the brakes if you get too close is standard on every S60, while for £1200 you can add a Driver Support Pack, which includes a world-first system that automatically brakes the car when a pedestrian wanders into the car's path.
As well as the diesels, Volvo is offering a wallet-emptying T6 3.0-litre petrol at launch, but petrol buyers will get the option of T3, T4 and T5 2.0-litre models in November (with 148-, 177- and 237bhp respectively).
An efficient DRIVe model, which comes with a 1.6 diesel engine and a host of fuel-saving features, will also join the line-up in February 2011.
However, for now, most S60 buyers will be choosing between the D3 and the D5. We'd stick with the D3. It has enough power for most situations and is more refined as well as being more than £2000 cheaper than the D5.
What Car? says
A lot to like, but the D3 is a better bet