Volvo S60 long-term test review: report two

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 fuel station

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 2084 List price £38,835 Target Price £35,575 Price as tested £45,535  Test economy 26.9mpg Official economy 39.8mpg (combined) 

6 March 2020 – Switching to petrol delivers a fuel economy shock

Sweden. Home of rolling countryside, lakes and fresh air pursuits. And Volvo, a car manufacturer that, on the surface at least, appears to mirror this clean-living, eco-orientated paradise, and which has forged something of a reputation as a trailblazer for what the kids define as a 'woke' attitude in recent years.

You might remember a few years back when it became the first car maker to set a deadline for when all its cars would be electrified, for instance – albeit neatly overlooking that this meant they’d actually only have at least mild hybrid systems in place, just like the rest of the industry.

LT Volvo S60 boot badge

Or you might recall that even before that, they ditched the cylinder race, committing to putting only relatively small four-cylinder turbocharged engines in their cars. Not so good for winning puffy-chested Top Trumps competitions with German rivals, but a neat way of committing to on-paper efficiency over brute force.

And today you might note that is blazing a trail by winding down the availability of its diesel engines, while simultaneously setting a decent pace in launching plug-in hybrids alongside its petrol motors. For the Volvo S60, British buyers have a choice of just two powertrains: straight petrol (badged T5) or a petrol-electric plug-in hybrid (T8).

Caveats aside, so far, so very Swedish. These are, undoubtedly, some of the reasons why I was attracted to the S60 and the Volvo brand in the first place.

But here’s the kicker: the real world is proving to be something of a hurdle to this vision of cutting-edge motoring with an environmental conscience.

Let me be clear: as far as my right foot is concerned, this so-called T5 petrol engine is a delight: powerful, smooth and beautifully refined. After years of driving around in diesels, it was quite a thrill to rediscover the upsides of petrol power again.

LT Volvo S60 drive by

However, the smile was soon wiped off my face when I started clocking the fuel readout ticking down – including while stationary in traffic. Digital readouts are notoriously unreliable, but they normally operate marginally in a car maker’s favour. I soon realised it wasn’t uncommon to lose 10 miles of predicted range in the time it took traffic lights to change from red to green.

While the majority of my driving is in far from ideal, clogged-up town conditions, this does mean that not one iota of my travels have involved any lead-footed charges. My official economy as I tip over 2000 miles on the odometer is not the result of over-enthusiasm but rather an average speed that barely tops 20mph.

The figure? On the car’s digital readout, 28.7mpg. According to my own brim-to-brim records, 27.1mpg. Ouch. Some people tell me this is not a Volvo problem, per se, but rather one of running a petrol engine in a reasonably large car. I would be interested to read more feedback from owners of such cars; an online search suggests Volvo owners are more angsty about this issue than most, though.

Volvo S60 fuel economy readout

Certainly there is an element of shock; my recent experiences with diesels – which I completely understand we do not want in our cities any more – have got me used to a 40mpg minimum. But I can also attest that I've got better economy in a (delicately driven) McLaren supercar than the S60. The only hint of a counter-argument has come on my limited motorway runs, when very careful driving has netted something closer to 33mpg – still well short of the official combined figure of 39.8mpg.

I will keep a close eye and keep reporting back, because the S60 is otherwise such a fine, sometimes thrilling, always enjoyable car that it would be a crying shame if this one specific but hugely important factor became an insurmountable issue.

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