2019 Volvo S60 review, test drive

    It’s massively different from its predecessor – there’s a new platform, no diesel but a plug-in hybrid, and, of course, it has technology galore. We head to California to drive the new S60.

    Published on Dec 04, 2018 06:00:00 AM


    Make : Volvo
    Model : S60

    One look at the new S60 and it’s pretty obvious that this is an all-new effort. Compared to its predecessor, things are dramatically different both inside and out, and when it launches in India, it would have drawn up different battle lines too. For one, there’s likely to be a plug-in hybrid option, which will have an all-electric driving range of at least 40km, and there will be no diesel. Volvo has stated its intent to move towards full electrification, and, as a step in that direction, it’s shunning diesel globally. So petrol and hybrid will be the only two options available with mild- hybrids to follow later. The launch in India is still some time away and Volvo says we should only expect it sometime in the second half of next year. So we head off to California to drive both, the T6 and the hot Polestar-engineered hybrid T8.

    Plug-in hybrid will offer an all-electric driving range of at least 40km.

    While the older car used the Ford-based P3 platform, the new third-generation S60 has Volvo’s modular SPA underpinnings and its brimfull with safety tech. Volvo claims that its City Safety System with auto braking is the only system available that can detect pedestrians, cyclists and large animals too, plus, in a segment-first, auto braking also engages in the event of a potential collision. And there’s the Pilot Assist autonomous system, and what’s great is that it is safe to expect it all in our market.

    With Volvo already having SPA assembly capabilities in India, a locally built S60 is a possibility. In any case, however, locally built or imported, from its US plant, you can expect value-for-money pricing just like Volvo’s other offerings – a sub-Rs 50 lakh price for the T8 and a sub-Rs 40 lakh for the T6. And, yes, this is built in the US – the first made-in-America Volvo.

    Thor’s hammer headlight similar to the larger S90.

    Family Affair

    The nesting egg design has been my whipping post when it comes to the Germans, and having driven the XC40, I remember praising the unique approach adopted by the Swedes. But that isn’t the case here, and it’s easy to see the S60 as a scaled-down S90. Detail-wise, it’s all very similar to the S90 – Thor’s hammer headlights, the two-part grille up front, the doors and front fender creased at the bottom, and the C-shaped tail-lights. What gives it a different character, however, are the proportions; where the S90 comes off as stately, the S60 is sporty. There’s a nice flare at the rear haunches, and thanks to the long bonnet and relatively shorter cabin and boot section, the S60’s got a neat muscle sedan-like stance, which is further accentuated by the black paint and Polestar trim. What’s neat is that thanks to the sleek lines and soft curves it doesn’t come across as Arnold Schwarzenegger, the bodybuilder, but rather Arnold, the Governor.

    C-shaped tail-light design similar to the larger S90.

    Step inside and the S90 similarity is evident here too – the entire dashboard layout, the switches, handles, and even the Orefors crystal gear lever are all there. I would think a different approach would have been better but the high levels of styling and feel of the components don’t leave much room for complaint. The AC vents shut with a satisfying click, the knurled engine start-stop knob feels great to touch, the buttons are well damped and it’s got the killer Bowers & Wilkins sound system as well.

    As ever B & W handles audio duties.

    As for infotainment, its Volvo’s Sensus system on duty, which means the centrescreen is the tablet-like 9.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and the instrument panel features a full digital display that gives you the different gauges and information based on the driving situation and driver setting. My favourite is the tacho display in Hybrid and EV mode; it switches to indicate the throttle zone in which the car will remain under electric propulsion only – with this, I found it quite easy to keep the car in EV mode only for fairly long periods of time.

    As for seating you do sit a bit low and I found the seats to be a bit wide for my narrow frame, but the seats themselves are comfortable with the deep side bolstering offering good lateral support. Storage places are plenty here, but since the hybrids’ batteries are nestled in the central tunnel, the centre storage console is smaller compared to the non-hybrid model.

    Smaller storage for hybrid due to inclusion of batteries.

    Clean sweep

    So, there isn’t going to be a diesel, which means the economy-driven will have to live with the petrol-hybrid. The Polestar-engineered hybrid T8 puts out 318hp, which gets a boost of another 87hp from the electric motor, bringing the combined output to 405hp. The all-electric range isn’t official just yet but Volvo says it should be around the 40km mark. In terms of setup, the engine powers the front wheels while the electric motor powers the rear, effectively making it a four-wheel-drive setup. As for the petrol-only T6, it makes 310hp and is coupled to a four-wheel-drive setup, while the T5 makes 250hp and is coupled with a front-wheel-drive system.

    There’s a choice of petrol/hybrid and multiple power outputs, but all powertrains get the same 2.0-litre, four-cylinder block that is both supercharged and turbocharged, with the exception of the upcoming T5 model which will be a turbo only. Both turbo and supercharger are active below 3,500rpm, beyond that only the turbo stays active.

    Interiors very similar to the larger S90 and thus smack of Volvo’s excellent quality and flair.

    Let’s talk about the T8 first, and driving it is very interesting, to say the least. There are three broad ways to do so – Pure mode uses electric-only power, Hybrid mode uses both electric and petrol power for maximum efficiency, and Power mode uses both propulsion systems for maximum performance. I was quite keen to check out the EV-only performance and I have to say, it was impressive – silent obviously – and at city speeds and during normal motorway cruising, it didn’t feel wanting in performance. There is also a ‘B’ or enhanced braking mode that increases battery charging, and during accelerator lifts, increases the electric motor braking effect.

    If you keep things nice and smooth it’s quite possible to motor along using just one pedal, hitting the brakes only when a little faster stopping is required.

    Tacho shows EV-only throttle zone in hybrid, EV modes.

    The Polestar T8 uses Brembo brakes that come with neat-looking gold-painted calipers. While they deliver good stopping power, they come off as being quite grabby with an inconsistent pedal feel. Volvo says this is due to the combined braking from the rotors and the electric motor, but it is something that should be ironed out.

    Motoring with the combustion motor you realise the engine is refined enough but the audio note is coarse at the middle and upper end of the rev range. And while the 405hp figure is impressive and does provide the S60 with decent shove, it never really feels peppy and energetic – paying the price of the 2-tonne weight perhaps, and remember this has an EV-only mode and heavy batteries. As for the petrol-only T6, it has a performance similar to that of the T8 but is dialed down a notch; it may not feel fleet-footed but it isn’t sedate either.

    Orrefors crystal gear lever adds to premium feel.

    ‘A true driver’s car’ is what Volvo calls the new S60, and on both the T6 and Polestar T8, the suspension is tuned a bit towards the handling end, the ride is firm and not really plush, and part of this is down to the low profile tyres on both cars – 40 section on the T6 and 35 on the T8. India may see taller sidewalls. Besides the Brembo anchors, the Polestar T8 also gets adjustable dampers from Öhlins. Driver engagement isn’t class-leading but the exotic Swedish dampers, along with the nicely weighted steering, deliver a rewarding drive experience through twisty sections.

    Leaps and bounds

    All in all, the new S60 is a huge step forward. Of course, it’s been eight years since the launch of the second-generation car and given the form Volvo is currently in, this progress over its predecessor is no surprise. The S60 isn’t perfect – it’s not as lively as its looks would suggest and those brakes on the hybrid need some tuning – but, on the whole, it is pretty impressive. It looks fantastic, delivers enough on the driving side to delight most owners, the interiors look and feel like they are from a segment above (and that’s because they are). It’s also well loaded and it comes with Volvo’s suite of safety systems that the others in the segment will find hard to compete with.

    Rear comfortable enough, is good to seat four.

    The lack of a diesel could be a hindrance, but then you do get a proper plug-in hybrid variant, and with the future of diesel under a cloud this could turn out to be the ace of the S60 pack. To top it off, expect a value-for-money pricing, typical of Volvos in India. So, is this the car that can take the fight to the German holy trinity? For sure, this trooper can, but even if our market doesn’t look past the establishment, the S60 is certain to boost the Swedish firm’s sales in India – it really is that promising.

    Volvo Cars

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