There’s just no getting away from the fact that the executive/family saloon segment is dominated by the Germans. The BMW 3-Series, for all its aspirational middle-class appeal, is nearly more ubiquitous than anything with a Ford badge, and judging by the number of Audis that try to rub themselves against my rear bumper whenever I venture out onto a motorway, it seems Stuttgart’s offerings aren’t too far behind in the sales charts, either.
That’s all well and good, as these are fine cars. But it does create something of a problem: what do you do if you don’t want to look like an angry executive idiot?
In the old days, if you were a well-adjusted individual, perhaps with an appreciation of good design, the answer was simple: you’d find yourself in a Saab showroom being told how it shares its DNA with a fighter jet and why having an ignition key by the gear-lever was a good idea.
As it turns out, the company responsible for creating the world’s safest Labrador transport has got us covered.
Although the Volvo S60 has been with us for a while, in 2013 it had a fairly hefty nip and a tuck, with R-Design models wearing a suitably puffed-up set of bumpers with tasteful use of honeycomb grilles, a chunky rear diffuser and a suggestive pair of tail-pipes.
Since then Volvo have also been continually tweaking the oily bits to help keep things current. Today’s S60, for instance, is available with the company’s new D4 diesel engine, and it boasts a whole host of numbers that help it make a rather compelling case for itself: 181hp, 400Nm of torque, CO2 emissions of just 97 g/km, and economy up to 74.3 mpg.
If you like your sporting saloons to be heavy on the ‘sporting’ there is another option: the D5, complete with optional Polestar upgrade.
Out of the box, the 2.4-litre five-cylinder D5 knocks out 215hp and 420Nm of torque, but once Polestar have had a fiddle, peak power increases to 230hp.
The result is something really rather rapid.
Prepare yourself for the ability to spin the front wheels in third gear. While that may conjure up images of something that’s a little wayward (there’s certainly plenty of on-boost torque steer), in reality it makes the S60 feel slightly naughty. Rebellious, even. And we quite like that.
It sounds good, too, its five-cylinder layout giving it a definite deep-chested warble.
Luckily, the S60 has the chassis to cope with all this hooliganism, and in R-Design spec the car sits 10mm lower than the softer, more comfort-oriented models.
This allows the car to corner flatter and with more enthusiasm than you might imagine. Although we wouldn’t object to a little extra feedback through the wheel, the steering is still remarkably precise making the car easy to place.
What Volvo’s engineers have done well is to strike a balance between body control and compliance. R-Design models have a definite stiffness to their ride that lets you know you’re in something a bit sporty, but this hasn’t arrived at the expense of ride comfort.
In fact, find yourself on a motorway for any length of time and the S60 will make the miles positively fly by, so well has the cabin been insulated from both wind and road noise.
It’s also supremely comfortable, with some of the best seats in the business and an exceptionally wide range of adjustment.
Tall drivers might find the steeply-raked A-pillars make climbing in and out a little tricky, but once installed you’ll be greeted by Volvo’s now perfected use of tasteful materials, clever floating centre stack and a visually-appealing set of digital instruments.
All models have Volvo’s Sensus infotainment system, and this gives the ability to play music from a variety of sources, plus the option of navigation that includes lifetime map updates. The system also incorporates a bewildering array of customisation options and integrates with the car’s various electronic systems, an added neat touch being the built-in owners handbook.
Space for back seat passengers is respectable, although the sloping roof-line can eat into headroom for some people, and the S60’s modest proportions mean that legroom takes a hit if you’re sat behind a tall driver.
Saloon cars aren’t generally known for their practicality and the S60 isn’t much different. Boot space is a little less than some of its competition, largely because of the raised floor that results if you specify a spare wheel, but by releasing the rear seat-backs you can at least increase the available space to carry longer loads, something not all saloon cars can do.
Prices for the S60 start at £21,745 for the D2, with something like the new D4 R-Design coming it at £30,145. Our D5 Polestar test car is a fairly chunky £42,260 but it does wear nearly seven grand’s worth of options.
Our favourite among these are the active headlights which use a windscreen-mounted camera to detect other road users and shade out a corresponding part of the beam pattern to avoid dazzling them, and during our testing the system worked flawlessly, even detecting motorbikes and cars waiting to turn out of side roads.
Also worth a mention is Volvo’s excellent adaptive cruise control which maintains a set distance between you and the car in front, even applying the brakes if someone pulls in front, and what makes the Volvo system clever is that on manual cars it allows you to change gear without disengaging. On automatic cars, the system will follow stop/start traffic without you having to do a thing.
Of course, safety continues to be a Volvo strong-point, and all S60s are fitted with the company’s City Safety system that can apply the brakes automatically at speeds of up to 31mph to avoid an accident, and the system remains the only one we haven’t experienced a false activation with (you can read more about that here).
All of this adds up to a car that is immensely capable. While some of the German competition might have a slightly harder edge to them that appeals to many, the Volvo is much easier to live with.
And the D5 Polestar engine in our test car made the S60 not just serene and effortless, but also a bit of a riot to drive.
|Entry-level Price||£21,745||Price as tested||£42,260|
|Engine||5-cyl turbodiesel, 2400cc||Transmission||6-speed manual|
|Power||230PS @ 4,000rpm||Torque||>420Nm @ 1,500-3,250rpm|
|0-62||<7.4 secs||Top speed||143 mph|
|Economy||62.8 mpg||CO2||119 g/km|
|Dimensions||4635 x 1899 x 1484 (LWH)||Kerb Weight||1562 kg|