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Volvo S60 T5 R-Design

 

A high appeal sports sedan that breaks the brand’s mould.

One thing you can take for granted in a Volvo is cutting-edge active and passive safety.

Mention Volvo even to non car buffs and the usual response is: "very safe cars." The brand is perceived as safe but dull, an image reinforced by boxy styling and conservative lines and typified by the car that springs into many minds at the mention of Volvo, the angular 244 sedan of the 1980s.

Few people ever think of Volvos as high-performance, driver's cars even though the 240 Turbo won Touring Car championships in Europe and Australasia. But Volvo's new S60 mid-sized range is shaking off the safe but dull perception and replacing it with safe but exciting. For the S60, especially the T5 R-Design model, is sexy-looking, hard-accelerating, fast and agile and can hold its own among the best luxury sports sedans.

And it does so without sacrificing cutting edge safety. The potent T5 R-Design bristles with safety kit that ranges from the expected (ABS, electronic brake force distribution, stability control, a full suite of airbags, side impact and roll over protection systems) to the unexpected like the nifty BLIS early warning system.

BLIS (Blind Spot Information System) may be the smallest item in a vast catalogue of safety equipment but it's way cool. And very useful on inner city segments of the Auckland motorway system where drivers duck and dive between lanes, pass on the inside or outside or both at the same time (different vehicles of course). Cameras monitor the T5's rear blindspots, and if another vehicle is there, a light by each exterior mirror lets you know. It's small thing maybe but typical of the attention to detail that permeates the S60 range.

For $4950 you can add Adaptive Cruise Control with Collision Warning with Full Auto Brake which will halt the car from even high speeds before you hit the car in front, an inanimate object or bowl a pedestrian; another $2280 buys lane departure warning and driver alert control. "Sexy. Volvo. Same sentence"? asks Volvo in an untypically light tone on page one of the S60 brochure. Does the car have the chops to shift the perception of Volvo to safe, exciting and sexy? Unequivocally yes.

Engine and gearbox

The T5's 2.0-litre double twin cam turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine produces 177kW at 5500rpm; peak torque of 320Nm arrives at 1800rpm and stays to 5000rpm. It's a smooth engine, unobtrusive at moderate throttle openings but building to an exhilarating snarl as the revs climb. The six-speed automatic transmission shifts quickly and smoothly; kickdown is instantaneous. You can shift gears manually, but with the torque arriving so low in the rev range and staying so long, we left it in automatic save for some rapid running on ultra-twisty roads.

Performance and economy

The quite heavy (1524kg) T5 accelerates to 100kph in 7.5 seconds; top speed is 230kph. At open road speeds, demands for passing lane acceleration are met instantly and vigorously. Volvo quotes overall fuel economy of 8.6 litres/100km; we averaged 10.5 to 11.5 litres/100km in mixed running including plenty of full-throttle open road driving.

Ride, handling, brakes

The T5 R-Design handles excellently. Understeer is virtually undetectable, the car is extremely agile and the chassis is forgiving. It comes standard with the Sports-tuned chassis which includes a 15mm lower ride height, and 15 percent stiffer springs, stiffer anti-roll cars and uprated dampers. Ride is firm but supple, especially at open road speed.

Braking power is phenomenal. In very hard downhill use on a relentlessly-twisting road where other good-braking cars we've tested have virtually lost their stopping power, there was some softening of the pedal but no detectable fade. At the bottom of the hill, the T5 stopped impeccably.

Equipment and comfort

The R-Design package includes unique exterior treatments, leather-upholstered, power-adjustable sports-style seats for the driver and front passenger, leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel and gear lever knob, unique floormats and crystal-clear, easy-to-read watch-dial style instrumentation. The seats are extremely comfortable, giving excellent lateral support. In very brisk driving on a winding road, they held driver and front passenger securely in place without needing to brace knees or arms against the door. The interior design is thoughtful and tasteful, with a classy centre console; the dashboard is elegant, with perfectly-placed controls. A navigation system is standard. Road noise was never too obtrusive even on coarse-chipped surfaces and overall the car offers unostentatious luxury. The high-performance entertainment system is iPod and Bluetooth compatible, there's an excellent climate-control air-conditioning system, electric windows and folding exterior mirrors (the offside mirror tilts to help parallel parking when reverse is engaged) and the front passenger seat as well as the driver's is electrically adjustable.

Conclusion

Volvo calls the T5 R-Design S60 a "sporty saloon created to thrill" and we'd agree. It offers strong performance, acceptable fuel economy, a taut chassis, a high level of agility, forgiving handling, good looks, good standard equipment and strong value for money at $70,990. You could inflate that with a tempting array of optional equipment but in standard spec the car still offers plenty. Our only quibbles were the lightly pitter-pattering low-speed ride and a slight tendency for the wide low-profile tyres to tramline on uneven surfaces at city speeds, but we'd trade that off against the car's superb open road handling. Volvo NZ's biggest problem is getting luxury sports sedan buyers to overcome their prejudices about the brand and try out this extremely appealing car: the T5 R-Design doesn't deserve to become the best-kept secret in the luxury sports saloon market, because it's a star in the making.


Auto Trader New Zealand