SINGAPORE – Volvo’s revamped its entire family with a full model line-up wide facelift, including the S60 sedan, V60 station wagon, XC60 sport utility vehicle (SUV) and S80 big sedan all getting a nip-tuck. For the first three, it’s a case of the usual mid-life refresh, the S60,V60 and XC60 all being released from 2009-2011 and being in line for the standard going-over (see box).
We tested the face-lifted XC60 last issue and came away quite pleased with the results. The XC60 is the car which helped Volvo continue – the XC90 was its best-selling model and a huge lifeline for the company, the XC60 inherited that mantle and extended it, and brought the company into more-than-just-survival mode (look at Saab for the flipside of how it could have gone). Then the S60 sedan came along in 2010 and made a huge splash with the almost-German combination of excellent handling, a punchy turbo engine but executed with Swedish style and simplicity.
In terms of platform and technology, Volvo’s now branching out on its own, leaving its Ford past behind and as a result of a future secured by current owner Geely. But that was a future only recently secured, so the main question remains: is the facelifted S60 good enough to stand two or three years more on the market?
That itself is something of a trick question since the S60 has quietly received some improvements already – the introduction of the 1.6-litre turbocharged engine for example, as well as the replacement of the old five-speed conventional automatic gearbox for a six-speed dual-clutch unit.
Volvo claims there’s been around 3,000 changes in total across all the facelift models. In the S60’s case, you won’t mistake the old and new cars, unless you view the new one from dead perpendicular, so different is the front end. Like the XC60 it begins with a reshaped bonnet that has a little more clam to it (i.e. it’s more pronounced, with edges) and the windscreen washer nozzles are hidden away too. It leads down to the re-designed grille and lights (which are active xenon units), which now have LED DRLs placed further below, unlike between the headlight unit and grille, previously. Astride that is the new lower lip spoiler and air intake which Volvo dubs ‘the moustache’.
The test car pictured comes with the cost optional exterior styling kit ($4,950), which ads the front bumper bar, a rear skid plate and side plates with brown accents (Volvo dubs this ‘Terra Bronze’, with two other colours to choose ‘Iron Stone’ and ‘Silver’). It lends the car a distinct identity and a nod to Volvo’s penchant for colour contrast bodywork, like on the old C30 three-door hatch, especially if you choose the matching wheels in the same colour ($7,700).
The S60’s only sold here in D2 (1.6-litre turbodiesel) and T4 models, foregoing the T5 (2.0 turbo, 240bhp) and T6 (3.0 inline six turbo, 304bhp) models other markets get. But it does make sense, since a lighter front end seems to pay dividends for the S60 T4.
It is, for lack of a more concise description, rather German in its driving manner, although more Mercedes-Volkswagen than the lively Audi-BMW side of things (not that one is better than the other, mind you). Like most modern drivetrains, there’s little to complain about with the 1.6-turbo and six-speed dual-clutch pairing, although the engine sounds strained at higher revs rather than purring, the dual-clutch unit makes up for it with extreme smoothness unlike most other Continentals.
Refinement is good too, while it’s not as quiet as say, the VW CC we also test drove in this issue, it’s above average for an executive sedan. There is a fly in the cake, though, with the 18-inch rollers impinging on a serene, enjoyable ride. The ride quality is not particularly firm, but there’s certainly more lateral movement over bumps that lets down what is otherwise a comfortable car.
Like its brethren, and the new V40 hatchback, the key difference on the inside is the redesigned instrument cluster with an 8.0-inch adaptive TFT display which is delightfully lag-free, crisp and customisable, and there’s also re-designed sport seats. Space in the rear is getting to be relatively less, though, especially when compared to executive sedan rivals who’ve made it a priority, like the new Lexus IS and BMW 3 Series.
Indeed, in terms of price the S60 is edging rather close to them too, at close to $200,000 for a Volvo executive sedan. Admittedly the badge-boast for that kind of money is less than with other luxury brands (Volvo’s more evenly matched with Volkswagen, really) but the Swedish brand still has its safety trump card to play, with an envious load-out of air-bags (curtain and knee), vault-like reinforced body (side and whiplash protection) plus new systems to keep everyone around you safe – not only is City Safety still standard, you can now option a Pedestrian Airbag, Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection and Road Sign Information systems. The only other car with an equivalent to the former is the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class, to give you an example.
So the S60 remains a special Swede – it still looks unique (and you can choose to make it more so) and is still super safe, but with solid dynamic behaviour as before. As with the XC60 we tested last issue, it might not be as sporty as some of its upmarket German rivals, but its inherent difference and appeal remain very much intact. As will you, if you cross the road in front of one without looking.
Volvo S60 T4
NEED TO KNOW
Engine 1,596cc, turbocharged, 16V, in-line 4
Power 180bhp at 5700rpm
Torque 240Nm at 1700-5300rpm
Gearbox 6-speed dual-clutch
Top Speed 225km/h
0-100km/h 9.0 seconds
Fuel efficiency 6.8L/100km
Price $190,000 with COE
Also Consider: BMW 316i, Skoda Superb, Volvo S60
Photos by Derryn Wong & Volvo
BOX: Volvo’s tech stepping stones
A family-wide facelift leaves the question of the S80 and XC90. The S80 is already seven years old, and is going to continue for a few years more, but of course Volvo execs quizzed on the subject couldn’t say much about its inevitable replacement. Likely its research and development budget has been set aside for the most important Volvo – the XC90 – which is widely expected to debut in its second-generation form next year, possibly appearing in concept form at the Frankfurt show.
That model will run on Volvo’s all-new Scalable Platform Architecture and be powered by a novel drivetrain technology which the company recently announced, called ‘Drive-E’, and be made up simply by two four-cylinder engines, one direct-injetction gasoline and one common-rail diesel. Volvo doesn’t mention capacity just yet, but it’s possible the engines could be stroked-out to provide more capacity. It does confirm, however, that ‘several levels of turbocharging’ will cover the entire range. The next-gen S60, V60 and XC60, for example, will still get a 181bhp D4 diesel, 245bhp T4 gasoline and 306bhp T5 gasoline – it’s also obvious Volvo is benchmarking BMW here, with its 245bhp 328i and 306bhp 335i. We say it’s good to aim high!
Mated to the new engine is an eight-speed gearbox, likely to be from ZF’s brilliant family (see our feature this issue for more info) currently starring in everything from the BMW 1 Series to the Audi A8. Volvo says the gasoline engine will use ‘twin charging’, like VW’s 1.4 TFSI engine in the Mark 6 Golf Sport, combining a supercharger for low end and turbocharger for high-end boost. Provisions for electrification have also been made, with the engines designed to include a motor generator and centrally-mounted battery packs.