Volvo S60 DRIVe R-Design Driven

It’s certainly a very handsome car, the Volvo S60, even in what could easily be down as ‘ADHD Red’ on the options list.  This particular example has been specified with Volvo’s R-Design kit, a near-£3000 price hike over the standard DRIVe model, which adds a surplus of pseudo-serious body options as well as a stiffened chassis and modified power-steering rack.  

I say ‘pseudo-serious’ because, unfortunately, there’s no getting over the fact that twin-exhausts, 18” wheels and a diffuser that wouldn’t look out of place on this year’s Mercedes DTM challenger do not belong on a Swedish 115bhp diesel eco-saloon.  No matter how good the car may look as a result (and, as mentioned, the S60 does look rather enchanting).  It may not come as a surprise, then, that the Volvo S60 DRIVe R-Design is something of a sheep in a wolf’s clothing and let’s ditch the notion that it’s a sporty car.  The S60’s merits lie elsewhere.

After only a few days alternating between the central London’s relentless stop-start traffic and the characterless monotony of the M1, the S60’s virtues become apparent.  At the risk of sounding nonchalant, the S60 is extremely easy to live with – what initially seems a childlike, even simple, cabin soon reveals itself to be a well-sorted, uncluttered driving environment.  Dials are straightforward yet interesting, the car’s computer is intuitive and clear, and the interior as a whole is spacious but not at all vacuous.  The driver feels cosseted, which is unsurprising as, as always with Volvo, you’re paying for what you can’t see.

A fundamental 5-star NCAP rating is supplemented by various preventative safety measures including ‘BLIS’ – a system that alerts you via an orange light in the A-pillar when something is in your blind spot (it works), as well as a deliberately intrusive collision warning system (which also works).  Perhaps the neatest trick in a fairly deep bag, however, is Volvo’s Adaptive Cruise Control system.  Set your target speed and the S60 will do its best to achieve that, although it will brake smoothly (if sometimes firmly) if it senses cars up ahead before speeding up again when the traffic opens up.  You can also set the distance at which it reacts.  Sounds ridiculous, but what’s more ridiculous is that it, too, works, and brilliantly.

The S60 certainly feels more at home on the motorway than in the city, but that’s not to say that it’s a fish out of water in the urban jungle.  Volvo’s stop/start technology works very well and the S60 belies its considerable size on crowded residential roads.  The light steering feel that hinders the S60 as a driver’s car on open roads also comes into it’s own when confronted with three-point turns and multi-storey car parks.

On the motorway the S60 offers a relaxing, inert experience from both the front and back.  It’s a fantastic mile-muncher for the price, but drawbacks include a bit of wind noise from the impressively narrow A-pillars and a real excess of tyre roar from thin rubber wrapped around the needlessly big alloys.  Ride quality is also compromised by the stiffened chassis.  Vis-à-vis, the S60 is nowhere near as compliant BMW’s new 320d.

Aesthetically, the S60 is defined by its front and rear graphics.  Örjan Sterner and his team have tried to superimpose a coupé stance onto the S60’s four-door body and, by-and-large, it’s a success.  An example of this coupé philosophy is the draw-out C-pillars that that flow into the boot.  The car’s sporting pretensions are further evidenced by the ‘X’-themed front bumper that almost draws the S60 into the road (much like Honda’s CRZ).  Boomerang rear lights help to emphasise the width of the car (another sporting nod) and a rear-to-front falling shoulder line, although softer than those on Volvos past, implies a racecar-esque rake on the S60.  The S60 is desirable in a way that many others in this segment are not.

The car’s interior is really characterised by its seats, which are sporty (more so than the engine) and purposeful whilst the centre console is neat with a ripple-effect fascia.

According to Volvo, the S60’s combined mpg is 65.7.  In reality, we managed 47.1mpg from a mixture of city and extra-urban driving, which is respectable if not outstanding.  As an overall package, the S60 DRIVe R-Design represents a competitively priced, distinct saloon that offers a lot across the board – in looks, economy performance, and driving experience.  It is not, however, as cohesive as some of its main rivals and, in reality, the DRIVe would probably benefit from losing the R Design add-ons.  Ultimately, you can’t have your cake and eat it with this one.

Volvo S60 DRIVe R-Design Specs

Engine: 1560cc 4-cylinder diesel engine Gearbox: 6-speed automoatic gearbox Power: 115bhp @ 3600rpm Torque: 199lb ft Top Speed: 121mph  Economy: 65.7mpg combined  Emissions: 114 g/km CO2 Price: £26,400


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