On the face of it, there’s much to admire about the Volvo S60 DRIVe SE. The level of quality is exceptional, the standard of safety is astonishing and on paper at least, the economy credentials are eye catching. Having given the C30 T5 Polestar a glowing reference, I was keen to see if the brilliance could be carried into the rest of the range, so where better place to start than Volvo’s 3-series and Mondeo rival, the S60?
The DRIVe badge is used to identify Volvo’s environmental/economical models and in the case of the S60 it means a 1.6 turbo diesel engine that produces just 114 g/km of CO2 and is theoretically capable of returning 65.7 mpg on a combined cycle. There’s no doubting the benefit the CO2 delivers, with no road tax payable in the first year and then a nominal £30 every year after. Impressive. As is the £52 per month Benefit In Kind figure for 20% tax payers. But in the great scheme of things it is the 65.7 mpg that’s going to be S60 DRIVe’s major trump card, so how does it perform in the real world?
I’ve read reports of the S60 DRIVe achieving up to 1,000 miles per tank of diesel and that’s genuinely impressive. But it needs to be stressed that these were largely under controlled conditions with an eye firmly on the objective of hypemiling. In the real world I failed to see such figures and after 478 miles of mixed driving, my final dashboard read out indicated that I’d achieved an average of 44 MPG. Even taking into consideration the relatively short distance travelled during my test, this figure is way below Volvo’s own 55.4 MPG for urban use. Such is the relaxed nature of the S60 DRIVe’s set-up that you can’t help falling into economy mode, but admittedly, I didn’t set out to hypermile and this car was nearly brand new, so it will improve with time. However, it’s worth considering that my week included a daily commute to the office, (25 miles each way, rural and urban), a 70 mile round trip to the airport (dual carriageway), along with various other longer drives, so this was quite a typical week in the life of a car. For a car of this nature, 44 MPG is no disgrace and considering the use, it could be seen as quite an achievement. But using the car’s on board instantaneous MPG figure it would appear that the only time you’ll achieve the claimed figures is by doing a constant 50-60 MPG on a flat road, so under different conditions my figures may have been better. Great news if you live in Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire or Norfolk. Or Holland.
As you’d expect from a car designed with optimum efficiency in mind, the performance is rather muted. The S60 DRIVe thrives on a relaxed approach to acceleration, with anything else leaving you disappointed. In general it is adequate, but on the odd occasion that you find yourself with three passengers and a boot load of holiday luggage, you’ll find it tiresome. I was beaten off the lights by a Nissan Stanza. This has never happened to me before and I’m sincerely hoping it doesn’t again. But in fairness, I can’t really criticise the performance. Mid-range punch is fine, but If you want to drive faster, simply don’t opt for the DRIVe model.
As you’d expect from a Volvo, the S60’s level of quality is quite exceptional. Opting for a DRIVe model doesn’t result in a compromise over quality. The interior is once again dominated by the brilliant ‘floating console’ which is fast becoming one of my favourite things ever. As are the sound systems fitted as standard in Volvo cars. The C30 I tested had the optional Premium upgrade, but on the basis of the S60, the standard set-up is equally impressive. Even at full volume, there’s no distortion, with the sound delivered with a crispness and clarity that would put some home entertainment units to shame. Once again the S60 comes with a USB port for the iPhone/iPod making it easy to sync with your tunes.
The only note of concern here is that I couldn’t seem to get the hands free telephone and iPod to work simultaneously. On far too many occasions I was forced to switch off the Bluetooth setting on the phone to be able to play music through the iPod. On the flip side, try and make a call using the Bluetooth hands free system and the connection would drop within seconds of making a call. I’d be tempted to blame the iPhone had it not been for the fact that it seemed to work fine on all the other cars I’ve tested recently. Not the end of the world, but there’s something deeply satisfying about a car that syncs with your phone as soon as you clamber in. But when it doesn’t work, and it should, it becomes a minor point of irritation.
Aside from that, the rest of the interior is finished to the highest quality. You can tell a great deal about a car’s quality from the level of attention paid to the smallest details. Take the dampened grab handles for example. When released, they return back to their original position with softness and grace. If you ever chose a CD unit based on the quality of the loading mechanism, you’ll know what I mean. There’s also the deftness of touch required to switch from main to low beam. Little things like this go a long way. Just a shame that the overall effect is ruined by a ridiculous keyring that constantly knocks and scratches against the dashboard. It may look good, but I guarantee it will annoy you. Although it still sounds marginally better than the voice of Steve Wright in the afternoon. Steve, if you’re reading, I really don’t love the show.
But I did grow to love the exterior of the S60 DRIVe. On first glance, the body can look a bit awkward in places, but when viewed in its entirety, it just seems to work. Volvo claims that the S60 has ‘coupé style fused with four-door saloon practicality’ and I can see where they’re coming from. But while it works on the outside, it does make for a rather claustrophobic feeling for rear seat passengers and rearward visibility is also compromised. However, the S60 is an aesthetically pleasing break from the norm, even if it does have a certain Mercedes-Benz feel to it.
One area where the Volvo S60 scores highly is the subject of safety. Such is the power of the brand that there’s an instant feeling of security just being sat being the wheel of a Volvo. You simply don’t need to read the marketing blurb to realise that as you transport your family around the motorways and lanes of Britain, you’re doing the best for them by buying a Volvo. But look beyond the brand and you’ll see that the S60 is an incredibly safe car. As you’d expect, it has been awarded the maximum 5-star EuroNCAP rating, broken down as 94% adult protection, 82% child protection and 64% pedestrian protection. Impressive. The safety headlines are dynamic stability and traction control, dual stage driver and passenger airbags, side impact protection, inflatable curtain and ABS with emergency brake assist.
There’s a further development in the form of Volvo’s award winning City Safety feature. In short, the system uses infrared beams to avoid a rear end impact up to speeds of 19 mph. If the system senses a collision and the driver hasn’t reacted, it automatically brings the car to a standstill. This is all part of Volvo’s ambitious target that no one will be killed or injured in a new Volvo car by 2020. An admirable cause.
And admirable could quite easily be the word I’d use to summarise the Volvo S60 DRIVe. If you’re in the market for a family saloon and are prepared to take it easy with the ‘go faster’ pedal, I’m almost certain that you’ll eek more out of the tank than I did. Other reviews suggest that high 50s can be achieved on dual carriageway or motorway driving. As a commuting tool, the S60 DRIVe is hard to beat. The level of quality is a match for everything else in the sector and the car does a good job of smoothing out even the most torturous and laborious of journeys. There’s very little in the way of road and wind noise and the suspension is set up for a smooth and relaxed ride. There are a couple of minor irritations though, one of which being the lack of foot rest for your left foot. I did say minor irritations! The other point involves the stop-start system. It works well enough, but it all feels quite clumsy when combined with the electronic handbrake. You put the car in neutral for the engine to switch off, but rather than simply use your left hand to pull up the handbrake, you’re forced to reach across to the right hand side to engage the electronic brake. Not a huge effort, it has to be said, but enough to make you less inclined to use the system at every opportunity.
But these are minor irritations on an otherwise good car. At £25,595 plus options, the S60 DRIVe is a couple of grand cheaper than the standard BMW 320d Efficient Dynamics, but you will of course gain a 50:50 weight balance with the rear wheel drive BMW. The choice is yours. Just make sure you do your homework before opting for any of the efficient models being offered by manufacturers.
As highlighted by my week with the DRIVe, your circumstances might dictate that the claimed figures simply don’t add up in the real world. Economy driving requires a shift in mindset and behaviour and although I tried to be more frugal and measured in my approach, I just couldn’t get the results I expected. But under the right conditions and perhaps with a little effort on your part, you might find the S60 DRIVe is the perfect family car for you.