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Review: Volvo S60

Dependable but staid, solid but stodgy – if that’s your image of the Volvo offering then be prepared to change your mind. The all-new S60 boasts a coupé like profile and sparkling performance while being a comfortable four-seater with a capacious boot.

That sporting demeanour is in no way a false promise. The all-new S60 is, at its heart, a driver-oriented car – more so than any previous Volvo. It is designed to be enjoyable to drive, have a commanding road presence and be totally predictable in its behaviour.

Engines range from the powerful British-built T6 – the first time this much praised powerplant has been used in the S60 range – to a 1.6-litre DRIVe that offers outstanding economy, with an astonishing 65.7 mpg on EU combined cycle.

The two five-cylinder diesel models and the top-range 304 PS T6 petrol offered at UK launch are being supplemented with a 115 PS diesel DRIVe version and three additional petrol models – the 240 PS T5, 180 PS T4 and 150 PS T3. Prices range from £20,295 to £36,745.

The petrol engines are potent new four-cylinder GTDi (gasoline turbo direct injection) units. The 2.0-litre variant is the first engine in the world to use a sheet-steel turbocharger, rather than a more conventional cast-iron version. Steel is lighter and has lower heat radiation, improving efficiency.

The GTDi engines will be available with a six-speed Powershift dual-clutch semi-automatic gearbox as well as a six-speed manual transmission.

Improvements over the old S60 include a smaller steering wheel, stiffer steering column, faster steering ratio, stiffer steering bushes and much stronger damping and control of the suspension.

It’s claimed to be the sportiest suspension Volvo has ever offered. The ride is firmer and yet much better controlled. Damper development was carried out in the UK, on B-roads renowned for their bumpiness and camber changes. “These are the most challenging driver roads in the world. If your car rides well and handles well there, it can do so anywhere,” comments Volvo engineer Egbert Bakker.

Advanced electronic controls further improve handling and the driving experience. These include Corner Traction Control, a device that boosts agility by automatically braking the inner driven wheel as extra power is applied to the outer wheel. This ‘torque vectoring' improves turn-in, thus reducing understeer.

The S60 has one of the world's most advanced stability control systems – part of Volvo's high-tech DSTC (Dynamic Stability and Traction Control) – reducing the likelihood of wheel slip or skidding.

In addition, Volvo's optional FOUR-C active suspension has been modified and improved for the S60, boosting handling and ride comfort. Drivers can also manually select their preference, from comfort, sport or advanced.

Yet it is also a practical, comfortable four-door saloon that pioneers a major safety innovation - Pedestrian Detection with Full Auto Brake. A digital camera and radar are used to scan the road ahead. If they sense a pedestrian moving into the path of the car, and the driver fails to respond to warnings, the car will brake itself.

Other advanced safety technology includes City Safety – which helps avoid low speed impacts; Driver Alert Control (DAC) to alert drivers who have become tired or distracted; a Blind Spot Information System (BLIS), which helps detect vehicles in the rear blind spots on both sides of the car; Lane Departure Warning; active Bi-Xenon lights that ‘see around corners' and numerous secondary safety features including seat-mounted side airbags, improved inflatable curtains and Volvo's patented whiplash protection system (WHIPS).

Peter Janevik, Volvo's manager of active safety functions, says emphatically: “All round, this is the safest Volvo ever.”

Belfast Telegraph