Richard Aucock | February 2014
Ever since its launch, Volvo has been honing and improving the S60. The range updates have at times seemingly flowed through several times a year, with the 2013 round introducing a quickly-facelifted front end look that does wonders for the car’s appearance. Much neater and less awkward.
Volvo’s worked on the engines since launch too, and its 2014 introduction is the most significant yet. The new 2.0-litre Drive-E engine is set to become a staple of the Volvo range: like the VW Group 1.6-litre and 2.0-litre TDIs, it’s going to appear in multiple Volvos, including the new XC90. The S60 marks its debut.
And what a debut. Because on paper, it’s a cracker: 181hp, 0-62mph in 6.9 seconds, plus 72.4mpg and 99g/km CO2. For the record, that means it’s faster and more powerful than the long-time class eco champ, BMW’s 3 Series EfficientDynamics, yet greener and more economical too. Remarkable.
It’s also cheaper than the BMW, starting from £23,195 for a well-stocked Business Edition (you even get sat nav thrown in there). It’s a great start but the proof will be in the driving. Is the 2014 Volvo S60 Drive-E good enough to finally do what the car’s threatened and become a genuine alternative to the all-conquering junior executive trio of Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class?
What is the 2014 Volvo S60 Drive-E like to drive?
Volvo’s old five-cylinder engines throbbed and rumbled. Enthusiasts liked them but others found them too grumbly. This four-cylinder Drive-E will please them. It’s smooth, subdued and very free-revving. It will cleanly pull from 1,000rpm and spin right round to 5,000rpm (and even sounds nice at high revs).
This is impressive: it’s appreciably quieter and less intrusive than BMW and Audi diesels. Its dynamic response stands out too though. Turbo lag is minimal and the bite of the engine is such that it makes using the ample performance rather satisfying. A swift machine that’s controllable with it.
The manual gearbox is a bit disappointing though. It’s too rubbery and long-winded. You’re better going for the brilliant eight-speed automatic, whose cultured sophistication suits this engine perfectly. There’s a CO2 penalty but it only takes it up to where the BMW 320d ED starts…
Ride and handling have both improved a lot since we first drove the S60. It’s crisper and more accurate through the corners, and the ride is both better controlled and seemingly more absorbent. A BMW still has the edge, of course, but the Volvo’s now a match for the Audi – we just wish the steering were a bit sharper.
Is the Volvo S60 Drive-E now a genuine junior executive car then?
The quality of this new engine has lifted the S60 as a whole. We really would look at one if we were in the market for an Audi A4 now: it’s good enough to stand up to scrutiny. Toppling the BMW is too much of an ask, and the new Mercedes-Benz C-Class will also be fearsome, but the S60 is at least in the same ballpark now.
What lets it down is its interior. It seems well built and solid, and fine seats make it a nice place to spend time. But it lacks executive attention to detail. There’s not the premium satisfaction you get from a BMW or an Audi. It doesn’t quite feel special enough.
The infotainment system is also baffling, with sat nav fiddly enough to give you a headache. There are far too many buttons on the centre console. Volvo has made even doing simple tasks far harder than they should be.
And while it’s very safe, feeling solid, tough and built for a lifetime, the award-winning City Safety function is alarmingly so at times. We’ve noticed before how it seems over-sensitive, flashing and bleeping frighteningly to apparent rather than actual danger. This hasn’t changed here – three false warnings in a morning is surely too many.
MR VERDICT: 2014 Volvo S60 Drive-E
We’re pleased to report how much improved the 2014 Volvo S60 is. The new Drive-E engine is a real highlight and we look forward to driving it in other Volvos (a quick spin in a 2014 XC60, alongside the outgoing five-cylinder, proves the difference is significant).
It completes a series of improvements since launch that have made the S60 a pretty competitive machine. No, it’s still not quite cut out to beat the establishment, but it’s jolly good all the same and merits consideration if having one of the most impressive diesel engines on the market appeals.
- BMW 3 Series
- Audi A4
- Mercedes-Benz C-Class
- Infiniti Q50
- Volkswagen Passat
Specification: 2014 Volvo S60 Drive-E
Engine 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel
Drivetrain Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Prices from £23,195 (Business Edition)
Torque 181lb ft
Top speed 143mph