Sportier and more stylish, this more dynamic third generation S60 mid-sized sports saloon addresses the areas where previous Volvo executive cars have ultimately failed to deliver. It's engineered to be a far better driver's car than its predecessor and both quality and cabin design have taken a huge step forward. Plus it's the safest contender in its class. If you're looking for a change from your usual A4, 3 Series or C-Class, this S60's worth a look.
Does life really begin at sixty? If you're a potential Volvo owner, the answer may well be yes. The Swedish maker's third generation S60 saloon is, we're told, the most dynamic Volvo ever, both to look at and to drive, something of a departure for a brand that has built its reputation on substance and safety rather than style and sportiness. But then something pretty radical was needed to break the German stranglehold on the BMW 3 Series-dominated mid-sized executive market where this car must compete. This MK3 S60 has provided it. If in buying a Volvo, you expect all the design flair of a chartered accountancy firm, then this car will come as quite a shock, with sharp styling that sets it apart, both inside and out. The promise is that this will be matched with a greater emphasis on driver involvement than any model the company has produced in its history - a much harder thing to deliver. Particularly if, as we're promised, all this has been achieved without sacrificing the substance and safety part of the brand value proposition. Does it all add up? Let's see.
Volvos have tended to feel like the safe cars they are when you get them out on the road but with this MK3 S60, more emphasis than ever before has been placed on instilling some excitement. This third generation S60 design is the first Volvo car to be sold without a diesel offer, signalling the company's commitment to electrification and a long-term future beyond the traditional combustion engine. That's some way off yet though and for the time being, most S60 sales will be centred around the brand's usual conventional B5 mild hybrid petrol powerplant, which has a power output of 250hp channelled through 8-speed auto transmission. The B5 manages 62mph from rest in 6.7s en route to a maximum of 145mph. The alternative is to opt for the brand's Recharge plug-in technology. There's a top AWD variant of this car that uses that, the T8 AWD Plug-in Hybrid. This PHEV version uses a 310hp version of the 2.0-litre petrol engine, further boosted by a 145hp electric motor, this variant offering a 455hp total output and making 62mph from rest in just 4.6s on the way to the top speed that all Volvo models these days share of 112mph. All-electric driving range is rated at between 31.1 and 55.9 miles. Whatever powerplant you choose in this Volvo, you'll find it has a very laid-back demeanour - which is apparently entirely intentional. The Swedish brand reckons that many rival models in this sector are too stiffly set-up, robbing them in extremis of the security and predictability that create a really fluid drive. It's an arguable point, but we have to agree that you really do feel confident at speed at the wheel of this car.
This is one of the best looking Volvos we've seen for a good few decades and it's also notable for being the first model the brand has made at its American plant in Charleston, South Carolina. Style-wise, there are elements in the design of the larger S90 saloon, but with this mid-sized model, there are much shorter overhangs, a lipped boot lid and a racy standard body kit to emphasise the point that this Volvo is aimed at people who enjoy their driving. Under the skin, as expected, sits the same sophisticated 'Scalable Product Architecture' (SPA) platform that we've already seen, not only in this car's V60 estate showroom stablemate but also in all the brand's other most recent mid and large-size models. At the wheel ('the most important part of any car' according to Volvo's Head of Design) it's all very nice indeed, with a premium feel right across the S60 range that you only really get on the more expensive versions of BMW, Audi and Mercedes rivals. The brand says that when creating interiors, it applies the same principles that you would when designing a living room. High-quality materials, intelligent use of space and attention to detail work together to create a distinctly Swedish interior that's simple and elegant. As you might expect, the cabin directly mirrors that of this model's V60 estate stablemate, with a neat dashboard highlighted by a smart and sharp looking 9.3-inch portrait central touchscreen. There's a 442-litre boot in the B5 (it's 390-litres in the T8).
Around 85% of S60 sales will be accounted for by the B5 version, which costs around £46,000. If you want the Recharge T8 Plug-in hybrid (which has a 455hp output), you'll need a £57,000 budget. The B5 comes with base 'Plus' spec; around £4,500 more gets you plusher 'Ultimate' spec (which you have to have with the Recharge T8).. All S60 models come well equipped, with full-LED headlights, auto headlamps and wipers, active high beam and front and rear parking sensors. Inside, there's a 12.3-inch Active TFT Crystal Driver's instrument display to display conventional instrument binnacle dials. Plus there's 2-Zone electronic climate control, heated front seats. Infotainment's taken care of by a 9-inch portrait-style centre touch screen that gives you access to a 170-watt 10-speaker DAB audio system, Sensus navigation and a Bluetooth hands-free 'phone system, plus compatibility with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and 4G.
So to the WLTP figures. The conventional B5 mild hybrid petrol version manages up to 42.1mpg on the combined cycle and up to 152g/km of CO2. Obviously, the best returns come from the Recharge T8 Plug-in hybrid variant. With this model, a turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine is mated to a 145hp electric motor driving the rear wheels and powered by a rechargeable 11.8kWh battery pack. This delivers an all-electric driving range that's EAER-rated at between 31.1 and 55.9 miles, assuming you switch into the 'Pure' all-EV driving mode that's provided with the Recharge powertrain. The T8's CO2 return is nbetween 17-46g/km. And its combined fuel figure between 141.1 and 403.0mpg. More usually though, S60 Plug-in hybrid owners will be driving in one of the other provided drive mode settings - usually 'Hybrid', which sees the powertrain switch seamlessly between petrol and electric power, as required. There's also the option to 'Hold' the battery's charge for use later in your journey - say for town driving at the end of a long trip. Until that point though, you'd be at the wheel of quite a thirsty, mid-sized estate that'd become even less economical if you were to use the option to charge the batteries up the car on the move with the engine acting as a generator. It'd be much better of course, for an S60 Recharge T8 model owner to do as much charging as possible from the mains before setting off. Customers will be able to buy a wallbox from Volvo that will charge their cars on 16-amp power in about two and a half hours. If you're out and about and find a 10-amp pubic charging point, the charging time will be slightly longer - three and a half hours - while connecting up to a normal domestic three-pin 6-amp supply will take six hours.
Volvo executive cars have usually been safe, reliable and practical - but sporty and stylish? In the past, buyers with those things as priorities may have felt inclined to look elsewhere. This third generation S60 changes that kind of thinking. It incorporates the vibrant design that's been creeping into other Volvo products for a while now and accentuates it in a sleek four-door package with a driver-focused chassis and a range of high-tech engine options highlighted by the latest-generation 'Drive-E' engines. There's a roomy cabin and the bundle of advanced safety equipment we've always expected from Volvo is also in evidence. Overall then, what we have here is a less retiring Sixty, a highly impressive package that's an intriguing alternative to the mid-sized executive mainstream. You should try it.