Volvo S60 long-term test review: report one

Volvo's answer to the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series sells in much smaller numbers, but are the masses overlooking a hidden gem?...

Volvo S60 LT lead

The car Volvo S60 T5 Inscription Plus Run by Jim Holder, editorial director

Why it’s here To discover if you can break away from the Germanic norm without any compromises

Needs to Be different without major compromises; beat rivals for comfort and space and still be good to drive

Mileage 1572 List price £38,835 Target Price £35,575 Price as tested £45,535 Options fitted Xenium Pack (£1800), Intellisafe Pro Pack (£1625), metallic paint (£975), Harmon Kardon Pack (£850), 19in alloy wheels (£550), Convenience Pack (£400), Winter Pack (£350), spare wheel and jack (£150) Test economy 26.9mpg Official economy 39.8mpg (combined) 

14 February 2020 – First impressions of a brand that dares to be different

Dare to be different. It’s a mantra that gets played out a lot in our lives these days, as we seek to make the point that no one has to conform to a rulebook. The problem is, who wants to be different if it involves making compromises?

Not so long ago, Volvo fell very much into that camp. It claimed to make cars that rivalled the Audi, BMW, Mercedes hegemony with a Swedish twist, but in reality it was churning out vaguely intriguing vehicles that were priced against the Germans but then needed to be discounted to battle for sales with the mid-market rivals that they were closer to in terms of ability.

LT Volvo S60 - over-the-shoulder driving shot

Now, of course, it’s different. Operating with a certain freedom and flair under a different (and generous) owner, few car companies have the alternative, Scandinavian-chic allure of Volvo. Starting with the XC90 back in 2014, it has enjoyed a run of success like few others, perhaps best distilled by the runaway plaudits for the achingly desirable Volvo XC40, winner of the overall What Car? Car of the Year award back in 2018.

That Volvos are different from their bigger-selling rivals today is beyond question. A quick glance at the design of my new S60 inside and out confirms that in moments, especially when the interior is as flamboyantly (but still tastefully) decked out as it is here, resplendent with its elegant Inscription Plus trim flourishes (as opposed to the sportier, perhaps more in-your-face R-Design option). What we want to learn from this test, however, is whether the car has the substance to match the style.

Volvo S60 LT touchscreen

Speccing the car only hammered home that message of difference, starting with just two engine choices: the 245bhp T5 petrol engine we’ve opted for, or the T8 plug-in hybrid, which comes with a choice of power outputs and the promise of lower running costs but adds around £10,000 (or 25%) on the asking price.

In many respects, that’s a choice that reflects the real world these days, diesel’s appeal having come crashing down. But even if you don’t buy into the argument that modern diesels are cleaner than many recent petrol engines, there is a reality to this situation that needs considering: poorer fuel economy and CO2 emissions. My S60's official economy range is 35.3mpg to 39.8mpg, which so far is looking more like 27mpg for my typical motoring, and the commensurate official CO2 figure is 149g/km. Already, it's a shock to watch how fast the fuel gauge slides down.

That said, it is also a pleasure to drive a silky, powerful petrol engine every day. This is no firebrand, especially paired with an automatic gearbox that's inclined to stroking rather than firing you along, but it's extremely refined and – given the German obsession with sportiness – a rather refreshing change from the norm. It's just a pity that the ride over bumpy surfaces doesn’t quite deliver on that promise as well, because it's proving fractionally too firm to let me or my passengers ever truly luxuriate.

LT Volvo S60 panoramic glass sunroof

There are other compensations available through the options list, though, as well as the Inscription Plus trim appendages. I’ll give more detail on the £7000 worth of options in future reports, but the full-length sunroof bathes the interior in light, the 360deg parking camera makes parking that bit simpler, and the heated and cooled seats must be among the most cosseting on sale anywhere.

It will be interesting to discover whether the feel-good factor of all these add-ons last over time, not least because there are already a few concerns: the large, eye-catching centre screen is already acknowledged as something of a red herring, its size and initial presentation promising much more than its sometimes clunky operation delivers.

A small price to pay for daring to be different? That's what I'm going to find out over the next few months.

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