Volvo S60 DRIVe
Sprightly yet economical
Review Putting small capacity turbo-diesel engines in large cars seems to be becoming all the rage, so hard on the heels of Peugeot’s 508 e-HDI comes Volvo’s take on the concept, the S60 DRIVe.
S60: the best looking Volvo to date?
On paper, the similarities are clear: four doors, a 1.6 litre turbo-diesel engine; six-speed gearbox; low emissions - 114g/km here compared to the Pug’s 109; and very solid economy: over the EU combined cycle, the S60 should return 65.7mpg, slightly ahead of the 508’s 64.2.
But you won’t find a fancy electronic gearbox in the Volvo, and the start/stop system only comes into play when the car is in neutral and the driver's foot is on the brake. This makes it far less intrusive than Peugeot’s e-HDI system, which takes any old excuse to turn the engine off.
The sporting pretensions are clear to see
If, like me, you are in the habit of simply pushing the clutch pedal down at lights - something the absence of a footrest in the S60's rather cramped driver footwell encourages - the system never engages. This rather defeats the point of having it.
The combination of a small turbo-diesel and a manual six-speed box also means you'll be kept busy swapping cogs to keep within the relatively narrow torque band. This was a feature of the Peugeot too, but changing gear with a flick of the finger is much easier.
A well-balanced design
To be fair, there’s more to the DRIVe than just start/stop. Push the button to engage the system and the engine map reduces the ferocity of acceleration while the cruise control system is given more leeway to vary speed in the name of economy when heading up hills. It’s near enough impossible to detect these changes so the system is best left engaged.
Android in your car
While Volvo hasn’t ploughed a new furrow with its start/stop system, its embrace of the smartphone app is rather more cutting edge. Called Volvo On Call, it only works - on iOS and Android - if your Volvo has the optional On Call pack fitted. Mine didn’t, hence the demo screen grabs.
Assuming it works as advertised, there are some handy features, including the ability to remotely lock and unlock the car, fire up the climate control, see how much gas is in the tank, look up in Google Maps where you left you car, and check if the lights are on. Surprisingly for a car in its class, the S60 doesn’t have a lights-left-on warning buzzer.
Plenty of gas in there, but where's my Volvo, dude?
The Journal part of the app, which keeps a record of all the trips made in the last 40 days, I can see being of particular use to company car drivers and anyone who wants to keep tabs on their motor when they are not behind the wheel themselves.
Buy your S60 with what Volvo calls the Driver Support Pack - a £1485 optional extra - and you get all the trick safety features that Ford has fitted to its new Focus, including the self-explanatory Lane Departure, Blind Spot Information and Collision Warning systems. No real surprise here as the systems were developed before Ford sold Volvo to Geely.
Log your trips - and make sure you don't leave the car open
The Swedes have taken things a step further with something called Pedestrian Detection. This tunes the radar detector behind the front grill to spot users of shanks' pony. If it detects an ambulatory inattentive at speeds below 21mph you get a warning. If the alert is ignored, the brakes go on automatically, you stop and the local A&E has a quiet day.
Displaying a worrying lack of confidence in Nordic engineering, none of Reg Hardware’s editorial team seemed keen to stand in the car park and test the system. Luckily, I’d already done so on a track with some life-size dummies at a Volvo demonstration.
When I stormed up to Joe Crashtest Dummy at 35mph the system wiped off a good 30-odd miles per hours worth of speed before I ran the poor schmuck over. Had it been I real accident I’d still have ruined his day but the damage to his legs and my car would have been much reduced.
Volvo’s explanatory video is not exactly Bergman-esque in it’s scope - and I for one want to know where all that flying coffee ended up - but you get the idea.
Inside the Volvo S60 DRIVe
The instruments are clear and concise
Ikea style, BMW build
The parking brake should be here someplace
Lots of room in the back
On top, the inevitable shark's fin
Out on the open road, Volvo’s determination to poach customers from the likes of Audi and BMW is becoming clear. The new S60 has a much more sporty chassis set-up than the preceding model. The ride is firm but not uncomfortable, and the road manners do nothing to inhibit enthusiastic driving. The excellent brakes make sure you can get out of trouble faster than you got into it.
The gear change is very slick and positive too, but that’s just as well given how often you will be using it. If you are worried about performance, there’s no need: the 0-60 dash is covered in 10.4 seconds and the top speed is 121mph. Neither figure is an embarrassment for a car tuned for economy and low environmental impact rather than speed.
A tidy rear
Volvo’s 115bhp turbo-diesel may be a little more powerful than the Peugeot alternative, but it’s also more of a grumbler. In the 508 you could almost forget you were driving an oil burner - in the S60 that’s a harder trick. It’s a little odd since the basic engine was developed jointly by Ford and Peugeot and is essentially the same in both cars.
Moving away from the sedate and rounded shape of the previous generation of S60, the new car is a crisp and balanced piece of work that has purpose to it while avoiding the overt and irritating visual aggression of some of the German opposition.
Styled like a five-door but only has four
Inside everything is pleasingly Swedish in look but German in build, though the electronic parking brake control would be better located on the centre console rather than to the right of the steering column where a determined lean forward is required to reach it unless you have the arms of a large primate.
The S60 DRIVe range starts at £23,495 but add the SE pack, leather trim, and the few other bits and bobs found on my review car and that will rise to £27,250. That’s better value than the alternative from Audi - the diesel six-speed A4 starts at £26,730 and is a gas guzzler by comparison - but for the money I’m a bit surprised Volvo doesn’t throw a satnav system into the deal.
As a driver’s car, the S60 DRIVe has a lot going for it, including the looks, road manners and a surprisingly sprightly performance for a model tuned for economy rather than speed. But the start/stop system isn't the most advanced one around, and the manual gearbox means your left arm will get plenty of exercise. And Volvo really should have found room for a drivers footrest. ®
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