What are you driving?
This is the Volvo S60 saloon and, try as you might, you'll not find a single molecule of diesel round hereabouts. Volvo has taken a distinctly forward-looking approach with the S60, banning diesel engines from its nose (even though you can get diesel versions of the otherwise identical V60 estate) and instead offering a range of turbocharged petrol engines, and some very-shortly-arriving plug-in hybrids. Will that work in Volvo's favour? It seems doubtful, given that 42 per cent of Irish buyers in 2020 are still buying diesel-powered cars, and its major rivals from Mercedes and BMW offer both diesel and plug-in hybrid options, but it's certainly a brave move.
Mechanically, the S60 uses the same 'SPA' platform as the larger S90, V90, XC90 and, of course, as the V60 estate and XC60 SUV. It gets the same interior as the V60 and XC60 (no harm in that), built around the big, upright 'Sensus' touchscreen in the middle. This one is a front-wheel-drive T5 turbo with 250hp from its 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, but you can get a more affordable T4 version of the same engine with 190hp. Our test car clocked in at a price of €55,704 thanks to a few choice options, which seems not outrageously expensive for a car with these looks and potent performance.
Name its best bits
I'm not shallow or anything (at least, I hope I'm not), but boy, this is a good-looking thing. I mean, of course I'm sure the S60 T5 has a sparkling personality and makes witty, intelligent conversation, but equally - woof! - it's a stunner from stem to stern. Basically, it looks very much like a shrunken S90 saloon, but the shrinkage, which sometimes leaves designers struggling for space in which to fit details and family-look affectations, has instead, here, acted more like concentration. Like reducing a red wine to a gorgeous, intense jus, the S60 just looks more chiselled, more handsome and more downright sexy than its bigger brother.
Right, now that I've had a lie down and patted my forehead with a moistened towelette, on with the rest. The cabin is as good here as it is in the V60 and XC60, which is to say it's delightful, albeit it doesn't quite have the confidence-inspiring solidity to its fixtures and fittings as you'll find in an Audi or BMW. The Sensus touchscreen remains a model of clarity and simple menu layouts (take note, others, Audi especially) and, as you'd expect from a Volvo, the seats (upgraded here in the T5) are sumptuously comfortable. So much so that you start checking the backs for Barcalounger labels. Space in the back is decent, if perhaps only class-competitive.
Up front, the 2.0-litre engine has more than sufficient power for most circumstances (seriously, if you think you need more than 250hp, you don't - this is a car with satisfyingly muscular performance) and the eight-speed gearbox works well with it to produce a rounded, pleasing performance envelope. It's perhaps not perfect (see below), but it is good, and that swell of torque that kicks in from low rpm is never anything less than enjoyable.
The chassis is impressive, too. The same R-Design stiffening and lowering that pretty much ruins the XC60 works rather beautifully on this S60. No, it's not going to worry a BMW 3 Series when it comes to steering response (the Volvo's rack is accurate and nicely weighted, but devoid of feel) nor chassis reactions, but it feels pleasingly firm, without being uncomfortable over poor surfaces, and the responses are sufficiently sharp that you can enjoy yourself when the road turns turn-y. Being a Volvo, it never feels anything less than planted and secure, which is in its own way equally as satisfying when the weather turns... well, just turns, really.
Anything that bugs you?
I would like to see some slightly better cabin quality. Everything looks and feels good, but there's just a sense that it's rather less solid than Audi's offerings. The 2.0-litre engine also sounds too gruff at times, and it can get very thirsty - we could only manage 8.0 litres per 100km against an official 6.6 litres/100km. Oh, and please come up with another name other than T5, Volvo - invoking the image of those classic 850 T5 BTCC racers is just putting the relatively sedate S60 on a hiding to nothing.
And why have you given it this rating?
You can make a number of arguments against the S60. It's not a reactive as a BMW. It's not a perfectly made as an Audi. It's not as economical as a good diesel would be. And yet, I still managed to find this S60 T5 enormously appealing. Doubts over the badge subside after a while to reveal a hugely likeable, enjoyable sports saloon that doesn't trouble the Germans in the handling stakes, but which ploughs its own furrow of satisfying solidity. If you can get past the lack of diesel, it's a tempting choice.
What do the rest of the team think?
Have to agree with Neil on the looks of the Volvo S60; it really is gorgeous, especially in R-Design trim. The interior is impressive to look at, too, though I have more of an issue with the (lack of) space than its build quality - it needs to better its German rivals, not just match them. This T5 model is enjoyable to drive, though, and quietly quick when you need it to be, but it will never interest keen drivers and, as there is low demand for D-segment saloons with petrol power like this in Ireland right now, it'll remain a rare sight.
Shane O'Donoghue - Editor