Volvo sold just 1,250 S60s in the UK last year, but has huge hopes that this new model, spun off the back of the sumptuous V60 estate, will step up to the mark in a big way when it lands in spring 2019. Significantly higher sales in Britain are targeted and globally this is a huge model for the brand, being the first car built at Volvo’s new Charleston factory in the United States, and squaring-up directly against big hitters like the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class.
Design wise the Volvo S60 sticks faithfully to the winning formula Volvo has established over the last three years, but it isn’t quite a shrunken S90, with its much shorter overhangs, lipped bootlid and racy standard bodykit hinting that this is a car Volvo is aiming squarely at people who want to drive.
That’s also why you’ll see that the first S60 we’ve driven is the flagship variant, which kicks off a new line-up of cars created with the help of performance wing Polestar. The T8 Polestar Engineered model uses the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and electric motor in the same plug-in hybrid setup you’ll find on all Volvos using the brand’s Scalable Product Architecture platform. Power stands at 399bhp, with a hefty torque figure of 670Nm.
The T8’s battery pack is 10.4kWh in size, and sends power to the electric motor driving the rear wheels, meaning that this all-wheel-drive hot saloon not only boasts 0.62mph in 4.7 seconds, but can run on electric power alone for 21 miles.
Arriving in the UK for the car’s market launch next spring, this version is a rung down the power ladder from the likes of the Mercedes-AMG C 63 and the outgoing BMW M3, but its position as a performance plug-in means it carves itself a unique position in the market. Those Polestar badges aren’t just to emphasise the extra 14bhp this car gets over the regular T8 Twin Engine S60 either – the Polestar Engineered model gets a set of Ohlins dampers and a larger set of Brembo brakes too.
The colossal torque figure means that when the road opens up this is a fast car between gears, and it picks up pace with minimal fuss and drama. However, it’s not without flaws and these leave you to question whether more capability is necessarily better.
For instance, the Ohlins dampers, in their default setting of 22 adjustable stages, can result in a rather choppy ride quite unlike anything you’d expect from a Volvo. The bumpiness creeps in noticeably on a less than ideal motorway surface and while it doesn’t wholly spoil the T8 Polestar Engineered’s credentials as a cruiser, but it is a large fly in the ointment.
This firmness makes a little more sense when things get twisty. The steering is sharp enough to give you confidence to exploit what’s on offer, and the trick suspension setup comes alive, keeping everything admirably flat. However, with most of the power and torque heading to the front axle, the S60 T8 Polestar pushes into safe understeer once you’ve used up the grip on offer. You can begin to feel the extra 200kg added by the plug-in hybrid powertrain too, and for a car of its size it feels a little hefty, and maybe not as quick as the 400bhp power figure suggests.
Those massive Brembo brakes provide the stopping power required to stop this two-tonne saloon sharply enough when driven hard, but aren’t neatly integrated enough with the battery recuperation system – at low speed you’ll find them to be very grabby and inconsistent, making the T8 Polestar Engineered a little laborious to drive in stop start traffic.
In contrast, we did get to drive something a bit more representative of what most Volvo customers will actually buy, but not a car that’s coming to the UK next spring. The T6 all-wheel-drive S60 does away with the hybrid system, the Ohlins dampers and the high-performance pretentions, and it feels much more on the money for it. The trademark pleasant ride quality expected of a Volvo returns with the car feeling a little lighter on its toes too.
It’s more than just a green shoot for the S60, in fact, it’s confirmation that beneath the slightly mismatched T8 Polestar Engineered a very worthy compact executive saloon lurks. UK buyers will have to wait a while past launch to get the straightforward and sweet, 2.0-litre petrol 306bhp T6 all-wheel-drive option, but the front-wheel-drive 247bhp T5 we will get from the start will more than likely be 99 per cent as convincing an option.
The T6 Twin Engine plug-in and the regular 385bhp T8 Twin Engine should play out as much better choices for day-to-day use than opting for the Polestar tweaked range-topper if you want a hybrid. If you just want a performance saloon, probably explore other options.
The S60 interior remains pretty convincing as well. Inside it directly mirrors the V60 and doesn’t feel out of step with anything Volvo has released since the XC90, but that’s a compliment, not a criticism. The dashboard layout is neat, the steering wheel is wonderfully plush and trimmed with soft leather, the metals and plastics are all top quality and it all centres around a slick and sharp looking 9.3-inch portrait touchscreen.
UK specifications are far from being finalised, but we’re promised that Pound for Pound the new S60 will offer more standard kit, safety and driver assistance features than the German establishment. Watch this space.