We spend a week with the now quite venerable Volvo S60 D4, but this one has the new Drive-E 2.0 litre diesel with 181PS and improved economy and performance.
Most of the Volvo news of late has been about the new XC90, and Volvo’s new range of engines – the Drive-E range – which look to offer improved economy and emissions with better performance and more flexibility.
It’s a bit early to get our hands on the new XC90, but Volvo has sent us the S60 D4 SE Nav with the new 181 PS Drive-E engine to judge for ourselves just how big an improvement the new D4 Drive-E engine is over the old D4.
Of course, the 2014 S60 may get the all-news Drive-E engine, but it is still a five year old design and runs on a platform that came from Ford in the first place, so although we get a good idea of what the new engines mean for Volvo going forward, the basics of the S60 are far from new.
That said, the S60 did get a facelift last year (along with the majority of the Volvo range) with tweaks that made it look bolder and wider with smaller lights and more prominent lines and tweaks to the bumpers, with upgrades to the interior and extra tech too.
But can a new engine – even if it’s very good – give the Volvo S60 good enough to compete in a competitive market place dominated by the BMW 3-Series?
Volvo S60 D4 SE Nav – inside and out
The S60 has been with us since 2009, and it’s starting to show in how it looks, but the updates Volvo made for 2014 have made it look fresher and more appealing.
That’s thanks to new, slimmer headlights (like those on the V40), LED running lights and slightly tweaked grill which, although minor changes, do make the S60 look wider and more purposeful even if the angular design is now starting to look a little dated from some angle.
Just as the interior of Volvo’s German rivals is Germanic in style (and Jaguar’s is still quintessentially British), the Volvo’s interior does have a real Swedish feel.
It’s lazy to say it has an ‘IKEA’ interior, but it’s as good an analogy as any, with a clean and simple cabin (once you’re used to it), appealing ‘floating’ centre console, stylish (and comfortable) seats and a feeling that the S60 is definitely a cut above mainstream, if not quite new Mercedes good.
There’s also plenty of space in the S60, with ample room for four full-sized passengers who have not just good headroom, but good elbow room too. The middle passenger in the back doesn’t fare quite so well thanks to the seat design, but we had five-up for a trip in to London without too many protests from the middle sitter. Space in the boot is also decent, if not exactly class-leading.
As a model well up the S60 food chain, the SE Nav model we’ve got comes pretty well-equipped straight out of the box, with stuff like SatNav, Volvo’s Sensus Connect with voice control and 7″ display, Internet, DVD player, Auto lights and wipers and folding mirrors all standard.
Volvo has specced this S60 up with extra toys – which make it more appealing – including Driver Support Package (Cruise, Collision warning, Pedestrian Detection, Queue Assist, Lane Keep, Road Sign info, Blind Spot Info and Active High Beam), Winter Pack (Heated front seats, windscreen and washer nozzles plus headlight cleaning), Security Pack (Keyless, Personal Car Communicator, Laminated windows and water repellent side windows) plus leather, metallic paint and TFT drivers info.
That all conspires to turn the S60 SE Nav from a car the right side of £30k (£29,645) to one that almost hits £35k (£34,645).
Volvo S60 D4 – Performance on the road
Not a lot may have changed in how the Volvo S60 looks, but the big change – no, the huge change – is what’s going on under the skin with the arrival of the new Drive-E D4 engine.
The new 2.0 litre diesel D4 manages to offer 178bhp and emissions of just 99g/km, enough to make it a real contender for business users and private buyers alike (it also make the D5 – which still uses the old Volvo 5-pot engine – a pointless buy) with the promise of great economy and low running costs.
That alone would make the S60 D4 a strong contender on your buy list, but the way the new D4 engine delivers makes it perhaps the best 2.0 litre diesel engine on sale.
Thanks to high-pressure fuel injection from Denso, more efficient exhaust gas treatment and reduced internal friction, the new D4 engine is a real star with punchy, torquey delivery, a decent noise, strong performance and real world economy – even when you don’t resist the temptation to push on as the new diesel cajoles you to – of around 50mpg.
Even the new Volvo six-speed gearbox is good too, perhaps with a but more throw than we’d have liked but with a nice action and a proper feel, the steering is nicely accurate with some feedback and the ride – probably helped by the ‘sensible’ 17″ alloys – soaks up bumps and ridges with alacrity in a way the German competitors can’t really manage.
All on its own, the new D4 Drive-E engine turns the S60 from a slightly odd ‘not quite mainstream but not quite premium’ option to one that arguably offers a more appealing mix of driving grunt and economy than anything else you can think of in the sector.
No mean feat.
Volvo S60 D4 Drive-E – Verdict
There was already a strong argument for the Volvo S60 to be on a potential ‘Buy’ list as a slightly left-field option to an Audi, BMW or Mercedes as it offers a roomy, comfortable experience with decent road manners and a level of style and quality that lifts it above the mainstream – even if it is now very much and ageing model.
But the arrival of the D4 Drive-E engine has transformed the S60 so much we now consider it not a left-field choice at all, but very much a mainstream one – even against Germany’s might in this sector.
That’s because it has better performance – 0-62mph in 7.4 seconds – and significantly lower emissions and better economy than even the class-leading BMW 320d EfficientDynamics which also means lower BIK rates for company car drivers.
That the new D4 engine in the S60 is enough to catapult the car in to direct competition with the Germans is impressive enough, but it does make us wonder just how good the next generation S60 will be with its new platform and new Drive-E engines.
Volvo really do seem to be making themselves in to a very appealing Swedish ‘Premium’ brand.
Volvo V70 D5 R-Design Quick Tech Specs
Engine: 1969cc, 178bhp
Performance: 0-62mph 7.4 seconds / Top Speed 143mph
Economy: 74.3mpg – Official / 50.1mpg – Test
Price: £29,645 / £35,645 as tested
Test car supplied by Volvo UK