What is it?
This is the all-new replacement for the first S60, which was launched back in 2000 and sold 600,000 units over its nine-year life span. Volvo says the new S60 ‘is the most dynamic Volvo ever …the emphasis is on emotional stance, sporty design and dynamic driving properties.’.
Although the car is based on the Ford Group EUCD platform (like the Mondeo, V70 and S80), Volvo engineers say that the changes made to the S60’s chassis are so extensive and far-reaching they could not, for example, be retro fitted to today’s V70 without considerable expense.
The S60’s emphasis on sporting performance is much more than the stock ‘lowered and stiffened’ formula. Indeed, Volvo’s chassis engineers spent nearly 20 weeks in Britain tuning the damping of the new S60. They were convinced that the UK’s roads posed the greatest challenge in the world. ‘Get it right in the UK, and the car will work anywhere’ they said at the launch.
Other highlights include a stiffer front subframe, stiffer strut top mounts, stiffer bushes, 10 percent quicker steering rack and a new steering column that’s twice as rigid as the unit used on other current models. The rods in the front dampers have been upsized from 22mm to 25mm for greater rigidity and the front end is lower than is the case for its existing sister models.
This T6 AWD is the range-topping model. The 3.0-litre straight-six turbocharged engine is familiar, but this unit has been updated to produce 300bhp and benefits from lower internal friction. Driving a six-speed auto it returns a claimed 28.5mpg on the combined cycle.
In the flesh, the S60 looks much better than it does in PR photos. It’s clearly the son of the original, which is no bad thing. The interior is, again, tilted towards the driver and the TV screen is now embedded in the dash. Chunks of the cockpit, though, such as the centre console layout and door trim and switchgear design seemed not to have changed. Which is all to the good.
Under the swooping roofline, rear legroom is much improved. The boot is a decent size, but there’s no spare wheel under the floor. Indeed, the car doesn’t even have a wheel well.
What’s it like?
There’s no doubt that this T6 is a giant leap over the old V70 T6 AWD that Autocar ran for a year on long term test. Perhaps the best aspect of the car is the engine. At normal speeds, it’s unobtrusively swift, but when stoked up the engine is very responsive and shifts the S60 will remarkable ease. It’s also turbine smooth when extended.
The T6’s AWD system uses the latest Haldex 4 combined rear diff and clutch, which is very quick to react to front wheel slippage, driving torque rearwards. The upshot is a car that feels well balanced, rather than just a nose-heavy front-driver.
The six-speed autobox has the option of normal and sports setting, and the option of a sequential manual shifting. Although the sports mode is preferable, the car tends to snatch away even when the driver accelerates gently.
And all that effort on the S60’s chassis tuning? Pretty convincing, actually. While it’s clear that this is a big, transverse-engined car and the underlying messages through the driver’s seat are of Swedish solidity and long-striding ease, the S60’s damping and steering accuracy are of a different order than any Volvo before it.
Normally, when you push a powerful transverse-engined car into a bend, the lateral forces cause the suspension and steering to flex and twist enough to result in a mushy and indistinct feel at the wheel rim. It becomes hard to place the car accurately and make fine, mid-corner, adjustments to the steering.
The beefing up of the S60’s front-end has clearly succeeded. Even on very narrow winding roads, the driver can hold the T6 to a chosen line and make wrist-level adjustments to avoid oncoming vehicles. Better still, on the right stretch of road, the T6 can be made to flow along rather nicely, stringing together a series on bends in a pleasurable whole.
Most impressive is the damping, which does a good job of holding the T6 in check, but with subtly and some élan. The car remains properly trimmed, allowing the driver to get a decent move on. The car’s ride was impressively competent, another consequence of Volvo using broken Britain’s roadscape as a worse case scenario.
One thing that does need attention are the brakes. They are the same size as those fitted to lighter, less powerful, diesel S60s. The underfoot response was not as effortlessly as needs to be in a car of this potential.
Should I buy one?
Ok, the S60 T6 is always going to be a niche model, probably making up around 3 per cent of sales. And, as a performance car, it completely lacks the purity and ideal weigh distribution of a BMW 3-series. However, if every driver wanted rear-driven harmony, BMW would sell ten million cars per year rather than one million.
If you fancy the idea of an S60 T6 AWD, it makes a convincing case as an effortlessly rapid, all weather, sports saloon. It’s also not beyond delivering surprising (if subtle) satisfaction on the right roads.
Elsewhere, the S60 family is a strong contender in the class. It has looks, has a well-made and originally sculpted interior, decent space, great seats and a sensible UK specification.
Later this year, however, a more accessible sporting model arrives. With a 180bhp turbocharged petrol engine hooked up to a double clutch transmission, the S60 T4 looks promising.