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Monday, 25 May 2015

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A thoroughly modern Volvo

TO my mind, the Volvo car brand has long been valued for two factors. First is safety; second is that the cars are in a class of their own and are the sort of vehicles you might expect to find, spattered with mud, parked on the gravel drive of a country house.

I have had difficulty associating any of the earlier models with today’s younger generation of car buyers – that is, until now!

When the world might have thought they had seen the demise of this distinctive Swedish marque, Far Eastern investments have permitted the brand to rise up like a Phoenix, though not quite as hitherto!

Now the revitalised car manufacturer has clearly aimed its products at those upwardly mobile junior executives, and the about-town fraternity, as well as the established core of loyal owners, by creating a wider, and very modern range of vehicles.

An example of this new era Volvo line-up is the S60 saloon I have been testing. In my opinion, it pitches up against the likes of BMW 3-Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Audi A4, Mazda6, and possibly a few other well-presented products currently attempting to close in on the so-called Establishment.

I have to say my first impressions are invariably the most important when assessing any car and the Volvo S60 provides a very promising appearance.

It has modern, sleek lines, and is an almost aggressive-looking, fast-back car.

It is sized about right for most motoring situations, offering a spacious five-seat interior with a deep boot of generous dimensions, plus more capacity through the 60/40 split/folding rear seats.

The body styling is suggestive of a coupé. The rakish rear roof line is achieved without interfering with the rear passengers’ head space.

However, there is one downside. The rear window glass holds dew and rain water, and on my test drive I really longed for a rear wiper!

The mechanical line-up includes some potent turbo petrol versions, even an all-wheel-drive option powered by a 300+ bhp V6 engine.

Still, the car for the mainstream buyer will undoubtedly be this 1.6-litre turbo diesel example.

It performed impressively with the optional 6-speed powershift automatic transmission, driving through the front wheels.

This engine is a very good example of how the motor industry has forged ahead in overall efficiency.

It shows a reduction in both running costs and emissions, while extracting previously unheard of degrees of power.

From this engine comes 115 bhp, produced from a lowly 3600 rpm and at amazingly quiet noise levels.

In automatic form, Volvo claims a top speed of 124 mph with 60 mph reached from rest in a respectable 11.2 seconds.

Mind you, it is how these speeds are translated into driving performance, how that transmission responds to the throttle demand and how the power is delivered to the road that is important.

My verdict is that the fully-independent suspension, very responsive steering, strongly-balanced braking system and strongly-gripping road holding, that make this a highly competitive, yet stable-performing vehicle.

So much so that it makes for a very safe and easy drive. And for the really discerning drivers there are other models in the range to choose from.

Well worth noting is how frugal this car can be. Forget the official, oft criticised figures. The combined figure of 68 mpg, or the extra urban figure of 76.3 mpg, would take some achieving.

I suggest an enjoyable driving consumption of 55+ mpg should be more realistic.

This is a very modern motor car with, apart from the obvious safety DNA, not much else linking to Volvos of the previous era.

Yet there certainly are the same high standards of seating and ergonomics that have been Volvo’s forté for about as long as they have been making motor cars.

This is a car that the driver should feel that he/she is part of. A car that can provide an ideal driving position via the 3-setting, memory-powered adjustment system.

The fascia is a delightful array of mainly digital instrumentation coloured in black, red and white with satellite navigation and an information panel.

A lot of thought and research has obviously gone into creating this car. For starters, the build quality and standards of trim materials are up there with the best premium brands. The dimensions, comfort, and attention to detail, are all noteworthy factors.

Examples of the thought that has gone into the practical aspects include the adjustable baffle panel in the luggage area and the accessible release mechanism for the rear seat backs. Even the boot lid struts and hinges are tidily encased.

As with most press test cars this example was kitted out with a number of cost-extra packages to show how an owner can prioritise preference.

However on this SE Lux model, standard items include soft leather trim, auto park brake, keyless entry system, stop+start, plus the usual, taken-for-granted, bits and pieces. There’s no spare wheel though!

This is my second experience of a product from the regenerated Volvo range and I suggest they warrant very serious consideration.

Yes, Volvo is most definitely back!