Volvo creates a box on wheels that’s not boxy

New V60 carries plenty, but looks more stylish than most

Make: Volvo

Model: V60

Year: 2018

Fuel: Diesel

Date Reviewed: May 17, 2018

Thu, May 17, 2018, 18:59

   

It is so hard for any car company to shed an ingrained public image that dogs with bad names speak in whispers of how stubborn-minded car buyers can be. Volvo is a particular case in point. We are more than two decades on from the design revolution (not too strong a word), led by Peter Horbury, got going at Volvo but I bet if you close your eyes and think of a Volvo, you’re still thinking of a practical, safe, box on wheels. That little-heralded Dudley Moore film, Crazy People, has a lot to answer for; it created the immortal phrase ‘Boxy But Good.’

The new V60 is not boxy, but it seems almost redundant to point that fact out. You can see quite easily for yourself in the photos that the V60 is far more swoopy and sculpted than it is boxy, and in fact no Volvo estate has been truly boxy since the early 1990s. This one takes the styling of the larger V90 and shrinks it down to compete with the likes of the Audi A4 Avant and BMW 3 Series Touring. It takes and shrinks the V90’s modular SPA chassis as well, so in spite of broadly similar prices, the V60 rides on a much more sophisticated and expensive platform than the recently-launched XC40 crossover.

Best luggage loader

Actually, Volvo has pulled off a neat trick with the V60. In spite of styling that’s more sleek than it is vertical, the V60 actually has a pretty big boot - at 529-litres it has the 3 Series, A4, and Mercedes-Benz C-Class estate all beaten for luggage capacity, and is actually a mere 30-litres shy of what the big V90 offers. This being a Volvo, there are nice touches in the boot too, such as flip-up floor sections that allow you to partition, say, smelly sports gear from sensitive shopping, but it’s not quite as clever as the adjustable boot floor you get in the XC40.

Actually, the XC40 looms rather large in the V60’s mirrors. Close on price, but with the far more popular SUV bodystyle, the XC40 is going to flatten the V60 when it comes to outright sales, and that’s in spite of Volvo’s claim that the V60 is going to re-popularise the wagon. Irish buyers traditionally shun estates (foolishly, it must be said) but actually the old V60 did quite well - nabbing 20 per cent of sales of Volvo’s 60-range (ignoring the XC60 SUV) which is above average in Irish terms. Can this one beat that figure?

It deserves too, and not just for how it looks.

Future engine options

It’s no surprise to find the big ‘Senus’ nine-inch touchscreen sat in the centre of the dashboard, nor the 12.3-inch TFT digital instrument screen in front of the driver. Both are standard, starting on the €40,750 Momentum model and both are parachuted in from other Volvo models. It is somewhat surprising to find a diesel engine nestling under the bonnet. Just this week, Volvo said that it was suspending investment in new diesel engines, and that the new S60 saloon (which launches later this year) won’t come with a diesel option.

The V60 does, partially because the two cars are built in separate factories (the S60 is going to be built in a new plant in America, the V60 in Volvo’s home-town of Gothenburg, before switching to Ghent in Belgium) and partially because Volvo still sees a market for diesel estates in Europe, especially in the fleet market.

Thus the V60 will launch in Ireland in June with only two engine options - 150hp D3 diesel and 190hp D4 diesel. That’s likely to prove at least a little confusing to customers (especially those who’ve read the headlines regarding the S60) and will be further muddied by the arrival of not one but two plugin hybrid models - the 340hp T6 and 390hp T8.

The hybrids won’t start production till November though, so they’re for 2019 really. For now it’s diesel all the way, and the D4 is the best option. Volvo has been building this engine for half-a-decade now, and it remains one of the most hushed and refined of the four-cylinder diesel brigade. It’s noticeably quieter here in the V60 than it is in the XC40, for instance. In fact, the loudest sound in the cabin during a motorway cruise was a metal coffee cup clanking softly against the side of the cup-holder.

Cruiser, not a corner demon

Motorway cruising is what the V60 does best. That way it can show off its refinement, its mostly decent ride quality (big expansion joints do upset it, though), and the comfort and space of its cabin. There’s the Pliot Assist system which helps keep you in lane and a safe distance from the car in front (and is most definitely NOT a robotic driving system - you need to keep your eyes up and your hands on the wheel) and Volvo has added a new emergency braking system which kicks in to help mitigate the effects of a head-on collision.

What it’s not is a handling champ. The V60 is very, very pleasant to drive but if you push it hard on a twisty road, it doesn’t do so well. The steering is a little too slow, the optional eight-speed automatic gearbox too reluctant to kick-down, the suspension just a touch too soft for fast direction changes. Relax your grip a little, accept that it’s not a sports car, and you can still cover ground very effectively (even more so in the 310hp T6 turbo petrol all-wheel drive version, which presumably no-one in Ireland will buy…) but the V60 doesn’t entertain like a BMW, or even an Audi A4.

While we’re being realistic, it’s also worth pointing out that the likes of the VW Passat and Skoda Superb have much, much bigger-booted estate options for much less money, if practicality is your be-all and end-all.

It never is though, and that’s why the V60 is so darned appealing. Roomy and useful it most certainly is, but it’s oil-painting handsome too (inside and out) and so comfortable that a two-hour journey through the mountains near Barcelona saw us return with nary a hair out of place nor a bead of sweat twixt shoulder blades. For my money, on-board relaxation like that trumps driver engagement in most everyday driving conditions, and to that you must add Volvo’s rep for reliability and, especially, safety.

It’s probably beating my head against a wall to try and suggest, to any Irish car buyer, that they should consider an estate car over and above an SUV, but the V60 proves worthy of a least a few bumps on the forehead.

The lowdown: Volvo V60 D4 Automatic Inscription

Power: 190hp

Torque: 400Nm

0-100km/h: 7.9 sec.

Top speed: 220km/h

Claimed economy: 4.5 litres/100km (62.7mpg)

CO2 emissions: 119g/km

Motor tax: €200

Price: From €40,750

Verdict: Others are sharper to drive, but nothing else in the class looks this good, is this practical, nor soothes so well.

Our rating: 4/5