Volvo's sexy S60 a safe bet

Volvo's new S60 - its most dynamic model ever - is the driving force for a sportier, youthful image, says ANDY RUSSELL.The fleet of old, chunky Volvo saloons was not what we had expected at the launch of the all-new S60 but the message was clear.

Volvo's new S60 - its most dynamic model ever - is the driving force for a sportier, youthful image, says ANDY RUSSELL.

The fleet of old, chunky Volvo saloons was not what we had expected at the launch of the all-new S60 but the message was clear.

Volvos' longevity has become something of an Achilles heel for, with so many still giving sterling service, that is the image younger drivers in particular have of the Swedish marque. But a few miles hauling around a pristine 20-year-old 240 GL makes you realise that while Volvos wear their age well, they don't age gracefully.


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That's why Volvo, while respectful of these illustrious past models, is keen to promote its younger, sexier image. The hugely-popular Twilight saga films have helped make Volvo cool with a younger audience... and now Volvo has a new star in the S60.

It's a Volvo but not as we know it - sleek, athletic… dare I say desirable… with sporty coupe-like styling. This is the car Volvo feels can finally go head-to-head with the Germans - BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class - while giving drivers of the likes of Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Insignia something to aspire to.

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While it flowing lines are sportier and more distinct than any previous Volvo, great efforts have been made to make it the most dynamic and fun to drive.

From launch there are two five-cylinder diesels - the new 163PS 2.0-litre D3 and twin-turbo 205PS 2.4-litre D5 and an uprated 304PS 3.0-litre T6 turbo petrol. Three new turbo petrol engines - 150PS and 180PS 1.6-litre T3 and T4 and a 240PS T5 - join the range in November and the low-emission, frugal 1.6-litre turbo diesel DRIVe unit in February. Diesels and fleet sales are expected to account for 70pc of sales.

D3 and D5, with standard six-speed manual gearbox or optional automatic, will account for the majority of sales this year. The flexible five-cylinder engines, in a market where four is the norm, stand out for their smoothness and are particularly quiet in everyday driving. Even under hard acceleration the distinctive noise from the five-cylinder engine in not obtrusive.

For most people the D3 has all the performance you need and this engine in mid-spec SE is expected to be the big seller. Power comes in a steady stream from low revs with good pull even in sixth gear although using the slick, six-speed manual gearbox in hardly a chore.

But it's the ride and handling that shows the lengths Volvo has gone to make its image more exciting. A newly-developed dynamic chassis with stiffer suspension and faster steering is standard on every S60 with engineers fine-tuning the dampers in the UK while former British Touring Car champion and Volvo dealer John Cleland used his racing expertise to evaluate the new dynamic performance.

This is the most entertaining Volvo I've driven - sharp and responsive with good poise and grip on twisty country roads but, despite the sportier feel, it hasn't been at the expense of comfort with the supple suspension ironing out pock-marked road surfaces smoothly and quietly.

Taller and wider than its German rivals, Volvo has created a spacious cabin and, even with that swoopy coupe-like rear profile there's plenty of head and legroom in the back. Sculpted sports seats front and back are very supportive but a middle passenger in the back loses out by having to sit on the raised centre section. The boot isn't as big as its rivals but it's well shaped with a wide, deep opening and a low sill and the seat backs split 60/40 and fold down.

Inside, the focus has been on upgrading the quality and materials and it's a pleasant place to be with soothing colour combinations and an understated upmarket ambience. The design is clearly Volvo with simple dials and straightforward, sensibly-placed switchgear while the trademark 'floating' centre console is angled towards the driver. The fit and finish cannot be faulted with polished wood inlays an option instead of the charcoal or aluminium cabin trim.

The S60 is available in ES, SE and SE Lux and the top two will take four-fifths of sales - C/D saloon/hatchback segment sales are down 12pc overall but premium manufacturers are seeing a 13pc rise. Volvo is looking to sell 2,400 S60s in the UK this year and 9,700 in 2011.

The dynamic S60 should end those misconceptions about Volvo's image, sending out a clear message - respect your elders but don't ignore the younger generation for they are the future.

GROUND-BREAKING SAFETY A LIFE-SAVER

There's something unnerving about driving a car at a pedestrian… even if it is only a stuffed mannequin.

The natural reaction is to brake but Volvo was so keen to show off its ground-breaking pedestrian detection system with full auto brake on a test track that we were encouraged to look away so had no chance to react.

The results were amazing. At up to 21mph - a typical speed in city traffic - a warning alerts the driver to the danger, the brakes are pre-charged and if the driver fails to react the car automatically brakes to a halt ahead of the dummy. At higher speeds it slows the car by up to 21mph to cutreduce the risk of serious injury.

A wide-angle radar unit in the front grille detects any object in front of the car and how far away it is while a high-resolution camera behind the rear view mirror determines what type of object it is. Able to detect pedestrians more than 80cm tall, the innovative technology is programmed to trace their pattern of movement and work out whether they are likely to step into the path of the car.

Unfortunately this life-saving system, combined with lights in the door mirrors to warn of vehicles in the blind spot, is a �1,250 option. Volvo looked at making it standard but it would make the S60's pricing uncompetitive against key rivals, but it's money well spent if it saves a pedestrian's life and the driver the trauma of hitting someone - regardless of who's to blame.

The S60 is Volvo's safest ever car - no idle boast given the brand's safety reputation.

The brakes can predict when emergency braking is needed and applies them lightly even before the brake pedal is pressed while hydraulic brake assist shortens the braking distance by applying full stopping power.

Also standard is Volvo's city safety system, first seen on the XC60, which elimates rear-end shunts at up to 9mph and reduces the severity of crashes of up to 18mph.

Optional safety features include driver alert control to warn drivers if they are tired or distracted and lane departure warning if you cross lane markers without indicating.

VOLVO S60 D3

Price: �23,295 to �27,095

Engine: 1,984cc, 163PS, five-cylinder turbo diesel

Performance: 0-60mph 8.7 seconds; top speed 137mph (auto 134mph)

MPG: Urban 39.2; extra urban 67.3; combined 53.3 (auto 35.3, 61.4, 47.9)

Emissions: 139g/km (auto 154)

VOLVO S60 D5

Price: �25,950 to �29,750

Engine: 2,400cc, 205PS, five-cylinder turbo diesel

Performance: 0-60mph 7.4 seconds; top speed 146mph (auto 143mph)

MPG: Urban 40.9; extra urban 65.7; combined 53.3 (auto 31, 60.1, 44.8)

Emissions: 139g/km (auto 166)

Warranty: Three years/60,000 miles

Will it fit in the garage? Length 4,628mm; width (including door mirrors) 2,097mm; height 1,484mm

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