Published on March 1st, 2013 | by Seán Ward0
Volvo S60 D2
Turbo. That word sat on the tip of my tongue for three or four days before the Volvo S60 arrived. I was stupidly excited about the idea of driving a big, comfortable saloon for a week, but the knowledge that a turbo would reside under the bonnet made it even better; Ferrari F40, Noble M600, Ford Focus RS – all are cars that have massive turbos under the bonnet, and all are cars that are exciting, fast, and slightly unhinged.
However, I knew there was one very big problem: the turbo would be tiny. Fair enough, I was getting the entry level car (the D2 model) so small bhp and good economy is what I should have expected, but I wondered if that would detract from the experience – grunt is good. Regardless, all that friends needed to know was that it had a turbo.
With the tiny-turbo issue out of my mind, I screamed with excitement as the car pulled up outside my house, sparkling clean and with just 602 miles on the clock. It sounds stupid, but I don’t think anyone who cares about cars doesn’t get excited given the opportunity to drive a new one, no matter what size it is, or how brilliant/crap it is.
Jumping inside, what was immediately clear was that Volvo designers spent a long time thinking about the quality of the interior. Everything, from the buttons on the steering wheel, the fit and finish of the dash, to the cover on the gear stick, felt sturdy, well made, and rather luxurious; no cheep-plastic-milk-tray box rubbish that you see garnished on most interiors. In fact, even the roof lining was complimented as being ‘super soft’ by a journalist as I chauffeured twenty or so of the creatures to a party on the evening of the first day.
Although, granted, if you’re in third or fifth gear, the lower buttons for the heater are almost impossible to reach, some of them have no markings on them at all and appear to do absolutely nothing (a sign you should have worked harder and bought a higher spec car), and for some reason there was no pause button for the stereo. But it looked nice, which is all that matters in this day and age. All of the seats, in both the front and back are excellent and supportive too.
Whether on the motorway or in town, the suspension is firm but well damped, and the steering accurate, and while the steering isn’t very talkative, rest assured there’s some chatter coming through the wheel, perhaps not from the grip on the tyres but definitely from the road surface. The biggest complaint with the steering, though, is that, mid corner with a constant steering input, small adjustments don’t really get translated to the wheels, so you have to make much more pronounced steering inputs to get it to turn at all – bad for those with a dodgy stomach.
Being a childish fool, my thoughts draw back to the turbo. Firstly, a few statistics: the D2 has a 1.4 litre turbo-diesel with 115 bhp, 200 lb/ft of torque, a 0-60 time of 10.4 seconds, and a top speed of 121 mph. Ok, but not breathtaking.
On the road, accelerating from a standstill in first or second gear with any sense of urgency requires the traction control to step in to stop you flying into other cars, but at speed the torquey diesel combined with the grunt of the turbo is really rather good. Doing a run from 0-60 feels slow, and yet when the need to overtake presents itself, it feels quicker than it really is. Just drop it down a gear or two and plonk the revs somewhere around 1,700 rpm and the car punches forward. That’s the key to this car: rev the nuts off it and it feels sluggish and underpowered, but keep it around 2,000 rpm, whatever the situation, and it’s fun, fast, and still pretty frugal (one tank lasted me 742 miles).
The rest of the car is nice too, particularly the brakes. If the turbo becomes too much and you find yourself careering towards a town centre Christmas tree or idiotic drunkard dressed as Santa, the brakes are sharp and strong, and while the ABS feels like it kicks in too early, especially in the wet or when braking down a hill, the pedal is firm and has very little dead travel.
What else is there to know? Well, the keyless entry is easily the most fantastic gimmick I have ever encountered – I never tired of looking smug when walking up to the car with the key in my pocket and stroking the back of the door handle, which would unlock the car, unfold the wing mirrors, and bathe the interior in a warm glow of light. Superb. And the stereo is excellent too, as is the massive fin on the roof, the unnecessary ‘Start’ button, and the TV in the SatNav.
However, the SatNav itself agitated me. It took me four days to work out how to enter the full postcode, before which I would enter some of the postcode when it would give me a selection of postcodes to chose from which would never match the one I’d written down. So I’d type the road name in, when it would do the same thing and give me a choice of road names to chose from which would never match the road I was looking for. And, when I knew I was near to my destination and the guidance had ended, there was no way to look around the map on the screen to see what roads were nearby, only to zoom in and out. Small things, I’m sure you’ll agree, but very infuriating when, for example, you need to do some filming 20 miles away in 20 minutes but can’t enter the address.
Should you buy one?
If you’re an enthusiast, the steering probably isn’t for you and neither is the performance, so an S60 with a bigger engine might be a better idea. But good economy, an attractive face, a nice ride, and an altogether un-German package is really rather nice, and will serve those who need a company car or just a big, low powered diesel very well.
So you can either follow the crowd and buy German, or be different and buy the S60.