Volvo S60 D4 (2014) review: Safety has never looked so good
Great economy from a capable diesel engine
- Great looking exterior
- Plenty of safety features
- Build quality
- Above-average fuel economy
- Interior console feels dated
- Poor voice control and text input
- Limited boot storage
Price$ 61,890.00 (AUD)
The Volvo S60 is an alternative to the mainstream luxury-sports sedans from BMW and Mercedes. The 5-seater is offered in a range of turbocharged petrol engine configurations, ranging from a 132kw 4-cylinder to an inline-6 producing 257kw.
Another engine is found in the S60 D4, which is the model reviewed by Good Gear Guide . It is powered by a turbocharged 4-cylinder diesel engine that has a civilised power output of 133kw and a reputation for above-average economy.
Distinct character separates the Volvo S60 from its chrome-nosed European rivals. The shape sets it apart with clean lines and soft curves. There’s no need for trinkets here because the S60’s shell nails the “less-is-more” approach.
Echoing its design philosophy is the wheels on our review car. The simple 10-spoke alloys are stretched to a large 18-inches and touched with glossy black insets. Two chrome, square exhausts punctuate the back, while only LED lights — which run during day-time — jazz-up the sedan’s front. These classic touches don’t dress the shape up as much as they act as an extension of its prevailing design.
The interior is another matter. Buttons litter the console in a move to eliminate the need for a touchscreen, while the air-conditioning vents, placed asymmetrically, look out of place in a luxury car.
Turning the car on is done by a plastic button that looks little different to the Volvo’s dial-pad. Other car brands typically design the start-stop button to prompt an emotional response. The prevailing sense here is that the start-stop button only needs to work.
Otherwise the interior cabin is sumptuously furnished and well equipped. Leather dresses five comfortable seats, each bordered by ample space to fit full grown men. The liberal use of aluminium on the dash adds a needed touch of craftsmanship, and the steering wheel, dressed in leather and accented in aluminium, is perfect in size, feel and form.
Rivals Mercedes and BMW pour energy into the technology, style and comfort of a car’s interior. Volvo prioritises safety. Everything else is secondary, and this extends from the interior dressing to the technology at work.
Performance cars often project a heads-up display on windshields so that drivers can glean information — like cornering G or speed — without taking their eyes off of the road. Volvo uses this technology in a different way. An orange light is beamed onto the windshield whenever the car comes into proximity with another in front. A case can be made for blind-spot or rear sensors — of which the S60 can be kitted with both — but we found the front collision sensor unnecessary and distracting.
Other safety aids resonate. The traditional speedometer has been swapped out with an electronic screen, one thankfully dressed in an anti-glare matte coating. Volvo makes good use of it by displaying local speed limits, feeding contextual notifications, or by graphically presenting which passengers do not have their seatbelt fastened. One of three themes can be nominated to complement the mood, including ‘classic’, ‘eco’ and the red-clad ‘sport’.
Managing the car’s infotainment system is aided by a 7-inch display. Most of its software is graphically rich and aesthetic, particularly the music player or car’s management system. A great deal of work is needed with the alphanumeric buttons, which are painstakingly slow to input, as well as the voice control system, which has no contextual awareness or refinement.
Here’s how an interaction with the S60’s voice recognition goes:
“Phone.” (Wait for it to recognise instruction and change to the phone menu.)
“Call.” (Wait for it to recognise instruction and ask who.)
“Andrew.” (Wait for it to recognise instruction and then find the contact.)
“Yes.” (Dials contact.)
Odds are many Volvo drivers will give up on the voice control system after one long week.
Another gripe concerns the boot. On the outside, the S60 appears to have a large, spacious and generous boot. However a space-saver tyre sits above the boot lining, eating away at the space meant for shopping or storage.
Under the S60’s hood is a turbocharged 4-cylinder diesel engine. The 2L engine delivers 133kw of power, has a maximum torque range of 1750-2500rpm and can go from zero to 100 kilometres per hour in 7.4 seconds.
The car’s fuel economy is more impressive at 4.2L/100km. That low figure, quoted by Volvo, is reserved for long drives on highways. Conservatively driving the S60 through the congested streets of Sydney averaged 7L/100km, and the number climbed to 8L/100km when we engaged sports mode and drove enthusiastically.
The diesel engine in the S60 makes for an eloquent cruise on motorways. The engine is quiet, sans for a hint of spooling turbo when the throttle is tapped, and there’s no shortage of power with 8 gears.
Overall throttle response is sharp and power is delivered with a sense of immediacy. Turbo lag will only be present when the car is decelerating and the needle is hovering around 1000rpm. Otherwise the S60’s engine is capable enough to merge into closing traffic gaps or overtake other cars if need be.
There’s even a lively side to the engine. Rapidly accelerating in sports mode demands attention as the car fights to keep traction. This alter ego comes as a surprise from the S60, which otherwise masquerades as utterly conscientious and sensible.
The direct steering has weight to it, is communicative and proves responsive. The brake pedal has little travel and feels numb, albeit the actual disc-brakes bring the 1614 kilogram to a halt admirably. The ride quality is great up until the S60 comes into contact with a poor road and potholes as the otherwise solid cabin takes the brunt and not the suspension.
Look beyond the superficial gripes and the S60’s idiosyncrasies will grow on you. It’s not bad voice control or inadequate boot-space as much as it is "the Volvo way" of doing things. The people who drive Volvo’s don’t necessarily do so for the joy of driving. Driving is a means of transportation and getting their safely is paramount — that’s the Volvo way. And for some, that’s the only way that matters.
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