We now know why Volvo is so excited by its range of all-new four-cylinder engines. The D4 diesel unit is refined, powerful and yet more efficient than all of its direct rivals. Paired with ZF's automatic gearbox it transforms the Volvo S60 and V60 into real premium class contenders.
In the Metal:
We've driven the facelifted Volvo V60 already so there's nothing more to cover here from an aesthetic point of view. It's a cracking looking estate car that sacrifices outright load capacity for its sloping rear window. Most premium market buyers won't be concerned by such practicalities. They may be tempted by the larger alloys pictured though, as would we.
Inside, it's the same story, though the arrival of the new engines coincides with the introduction of a newly designed leather seat. It has much more side support than before, with bolsters all the way up to the shoulders, yet we can confirm that it's just as squishy and supportive in all the right places as ever. The new design hasn't narrowed the seat either, so it still accommodates larger occupants with ease.
We'll focus on the new engine and gearbox here, as little else is changed. For the record, that means the V60's chassis has been designed primarily for comfort, yet it makes a decent fist of a twisty road. The steering is linear and well-weighted, if devoid of feel, and body control is excellent.
The first thing that strikes us about the D4 engine in this installation is how refined it is. It kicks BMW's 2.0-litre diesel engine into a cocked hat in that regard, especially at low speeds and throttle openings. Extend it and though the noise levels increase, the harshness does not. This is a smooth unit and at higher speeds it vaguely sounds like the charismatic five-cylinder engine it replaces. This refinement is backed up by real performance too, delivered with little lag. It makes the V60 feel like a genuinely sporty estate to drive.
Contributing to the experience greatly is the adoption of ZF's eight-speed automatic gearbox, one we've sampled in many cars and one that continues to impress with its smooth yet quick shifts, plus the option to take control for yourself. Hence Volvo fits (pleasingly tactile) paddles and the transmission is quick to react to input. In the default mode it noticeably gets into a high gear as early as possible to use the engine's torque and save fuel. This is great for cruising, but response can be sluggish when you want to get a move on. The Sport mode is ideal for that, and it's well judged.
What you get for your Money:
We're lumping the S60 saloon and V60 estate in together here, as estates aren't all that popular in Ireland. The S60 D4 starts at €36,995 (note that there's also an all-new S60 D2 S variant that's priced at €29,995, but we're dealing solely with the D4 engine in this review), which undercuts the best-selling Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series (the 2.0 TDI 120 SE and 316d SE), yet it's considerably more powerful than either and has lower road tax too.
The D4 engine can be had in ES, SE, SE Lux and R-Design specifications with and without the automatic gearbox. At the time of writing the SE is being offered for the price of the ES.
The D4 engine is just the start of a whole new family of powerplants from Volvo, all based around a four-cylinder, 2.0-litre architecture that will eventually replace all current units, including the 1.6-litre D2 and the five-cylinder D5. The range-topper, from a diesel perspective, will be a twin-turbocharged D5 engine with 230hp.
Volvo has cleverly pitched its new S60 and V60 D4 model directly into competition with the best-selling versions of the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series, beating them on performance and efficiency at that price point. The engine works particularly well with the new automatic gearbox, lifting the V60 from unusual left-field choice to a real contender in the premium market.