Chic new Volvo shows sedans still worthy

Peter Atkinson
The stylish new Volvo S60 is a welcome boost for sedans in a market awash with SUVs

On the very day that Holden sounded the death knell for Australia's beloved Commodore, it was fitting - and perhaps a little comforting - to find ourselves behind the wheel of this car.

Volvo's all-new, all-singing and all-dancing S60. A welcome reminder that, amid an ocean of uncertainty in a world awash with SUVs, the family sedan still has a small place in the motoring landscape.

It's a rare example of a car that can actually ride close to the ground, handle and perform accordingly, while offering seating for five and a secure, lockable boot to swallow up a family's worldly belongings.

Goodness knows it's a slightly tattered, dog-eared recipe these days.

And ironically, despite this new arrival, Volvo remains one of the prime culprits in driving the inexorable rush by motorists into the SUV embrace.

The Swedish maker has delivered not one, not two but three of the very best SUVs on the market in the form of their flagship XC90, award-winning XC60 and the adorable baby of the Scandi family, the XC40. Interesting, then, that in launching the S60 they claimed that the "transformation is complete for Volvo Cars".

So sedan lovers take heart. Not only is the new S60 oozing with style and full of the latest technology, it might ensure the sedan is around for a few years yet.

Initially it will be offered in three trim levels - Momentum, Inscription and the athletic-looking R-Sport, tested here - with prices ranging from an enticing $54,990 for the entry level versions.

It arrives in Australia with only two engine choices, both of them impressive.

The T5 model uses a two-litre, turbocharged four-cylinder engine to deliver a sharpish 187 kilowatts and 350Nm of torque and it represents the volume seller. Those with deeper pockets (and a stronger sense of global citizenship) might opt for the T8 "Twin Engine" - a plug-in hybrid that not only reduces fuel consumption and emissions, but also turns the S60 into quite a weapon with its combined 311kW and 680Nm. So you can save the planet while having a pretty good time at it.

As is Volvo's habit, the car will also be offered in wagon form, with the V60 bringing a $2000 price premium over the sedan versions. Not to mention adding at least some of that roomy practicality.

In its previous incarnations the S60 has been a decent looking, nicely put together machine but it struggled to match the appeal of the likes of Benz's C-Class, BMW's 3 Series and the Audi A4.

This latest S60 takes aim at that bunch once again, armed with a good dose of style and tech, not to mention some additional interior space over its rivals.

It gets the latest version of Volvo's Pilot Assist semi-autonomous driving system, as well as an upgraded version of the City Safety self-braking technology that the Swedes pioneered.

Equally influential on the safety front is the fact that all S60 models will boast all-wheel-drive grip - particularly nice if you happen to be driving on Sweden's often snowy roads - and a welcome addition for Aussie drivers, as well.

Blind spot monitoring, cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist help round out a strong safety suite, while auto-dimming mirrors, keyless entry and a gesture-opening boot add some convenience.

This is the third generation of the S60, which has filled a space in the Swedish maker's range without ever quite setting the world on fire. This version, though, seems more than capable of making it a real player in this competitive luxury segment.

Like those celebrated SUVs we've tested from Volvo of late, the S60's functionality owes much to a vivid, ultra-clear central command point (fittingly it's ipad-sized) that reduces most tasks to a quick poke at the touch-screen.

The all-digital instrument panel, too, is beautifully presented with colourful yet tasteful graphics, a blizzard of useful information and very smart presentation of speed and engine performance..

Three driving modes include Eco (of course, it's a Scandinavian car), Comfort and the sporty "Polestar Engineered " setting - recognising the role played by Volvo's performance arm in tweaking this model.

It looks the part and, with its uber-stylish, minimalist cockpit, feels the part as well.

The S60 matches its good looks with an athletic character on the open road, yet also manages to deliver a refined, nicely-resolved ride and handling.

Is it good enough to compete with the likes of BMW's 3-Series, Benz's C-Class and Audi's A4? On the face of it, yes. Particularly for the price.

At $64,990 the T5 R-Design undercuts most of its class rivals on price, while still feeling premium in every respect.

Our only complaint came, funnily enough, with the size of the Volvo's boot.

At less than 400 litres, it's on the puny side - ironic for a car that we're hoping might help turn the SUV tide. Then again, there's always the wagon, I suppose.

VOLVO S60 T5 R-Design

HOW BIG? Despite its sleek design the Volvo manages impressive interior space - shading most of its European rivals. Sadly the boot is a bit of a let-down.

HOW FAST? The four-cylinder turbo model tested here delivers smart performance and a lusty exhaust note. But the real surprise is the flagship T8 model - which combines a turbocharged and supercharged four-cylinder engine with an electric motor for dazzling acceleration (0-100km/h in 4.5 seconds).

HOW THIRSTY? The turbo four sips a slightly thirsty 7.3L/100km while the hybrid can get by with as little as 2L/100km - or even less within its 45km battery-only range.

HOW MUCH? Prices for the S60 range from $54,990 for the basic model up to $85,990 for the T8. Our test machine splits the middle with a price of $64,990.