Volvo says it wants to rekindle the desire for estates with the new V60. On this evidence, it deserves to do just that.
In the Metal:
I know that estates are supposed to be unfashionable and that SUVs are what we all really want right now. I know that. I get that. But I take one look at the new Volvo V60 and I just fall instantly, hopelessly, in love. How can a car that is so ostensibly practical look this good? Volvo has, effectively, taken the styling and looks of the larger V90, and reduced the size by around 15 per cent. The same 'Thor's Hammer' lights. The same countersunk grille. The same, big, C-shaped tail-lights wrapping around the rear window. That should make the V60 look derivative, predictable, uninteresting. And yet, it looks terrific. From the way the bodywork drapes over the 'Horbury Line' of the car's shoulder (named for 1990s Volvo designer Peter Horbury, the first designer in a generation to put curves on a Volvo), to the aggressive, jutting aero treatment of the front bumper, the V60 exudes class and style in a way that, to me, an SUV or crossover just can't manage. Volvo's similarly-priced XC40 looks nice, but it doesn't look this good, nor anywhere near.
The cabin is also deeply familiar, yet avoids the pitfall of looking samey-samey by simply being so good. The 12.3-inch TFT digital instrument pack and the big nine-inch 'Sensus' central touchscreen are both direct lifts from the S90, V90, and XC90, while the overall shapes and styling of the fascia, the buttons, the switches - everything really - are donated by the XC60 SUV. Which doesn't matter, because everything is good. The quality levels are excellent, as is the fit and finish, and all the switches and buttons work with a pleasant, well-oiled sensation, Volvo has most definitely caught up with BMW, Audi and Mercedes when it comes to cabin design and quality.
Space is good, too. There's plenty of leg- and head room for drivers and front seat passengers, while Volvo claims that the rear legroom of the V60 is class-leading. That's perhaps not much of a boast when the class includes the (miserly for rear space) BMW 3 Series and Audi A4, and if you really want to fit people in the back, buy a Skoda Superb, but there's certainly enough space and comfort for full-sized adults. Also, thanks to the design of the roof, there's less chance of tall back seat passengers clattering their heads on the door rail.
The boot is also great. At 529 litres (with the rear seats up) it's handily bigger than what you get in the Mercedes C-Class Estate, 3 Series Touring or A4 Avant. In fact, it's only 30 litres smaller than the boot of the V90. It's not as roomy as the V90 when you fold the back seats flat, but it's still the most practical of premium estates (even if it's murdered by the much cheaper Skoda Superb Combi in this respect). As standard, there's a power tailgate, but it's a shame that the rear glass doesn't open separately.
Under the V60's attractive skin is the same SPA modular architecture as the S90, V90, XC90 and XC60, so the V60 is based on a more sophisticated mechanical package than the XC40 crossover. Somewhat surprisingly (in light of recent news) there will be diesel engines for the V60. Volvo says that the decision to ditch diesel from the upcoming new S60 saloon is down to the fact that that car will primarily be sold in China and the US, where diesel sales are negligible, whereas the V60 will still appeal to buyers in Europe, especially fleet and business user-chooser buyers, for whom diesel still counts. There will also be two plugin hybrids (a 340hp T6 and a 390hp T8) and petrol turbo options, including T5 and T6 with, presumably (albeit not confirmed) a basic T4 model waiting in the wings. Ireland gets just diesel D3 (150hp) and D4 (190hp) units at first for the model's launch in June, with hybrid and petrol versions following on later in the year. A fully-electric V60 is more or less a dead cert, but probably not until towards the end of this model cycle.
Forget the headline-grabbing announcements, as Volvo will be persisting with diesel drivetrains for a while yet, and that's a good thing. Certainly, these 2.0-litre turbo engines (in production since 2012) have had not even the faintest finger of suspicion pointed at them over emissions, and the fact is that, for many drivers, an engine such as this 190hp D4 diesel is absolutely ideal.
For a start, it's refined. Volvo has had its quietness crown taken away by Volkswagen and Audi in recent years, but the installation of this engine in the V60 has brought the silence back. Unless you extend it right to the redline, it's really quiet and a run along the motorway outside Barcelona showed that the V60 has excellent all-round refinement. Silence isn't quite total in the cabin, but it might as well be, and that's all the better to experience the ear-battering power of the optional Bowers & Wilkins stereo. Economy should be decent, as Volvo quotes better than 64mpg on the newer, tougher fuel economy test, and emissions are below 120g/km even with an automatic gearbox fitted (depending on the wheel and tyre options you go for).
As a long-haul prospect, the V60 is right up there with Emirates first class on an A380 - it's exceptionally comfortable, refined, easy-going, and relaxing.
Part of that is down to the Pilot Assist system, which can help with steering, lane-keeping and cruise control duties on the motorway. Now, it's not an autonomous driving system (something that Volvo is increasingly at pains to point out), but is instead a driver assistance feature. You still have to keep your eyes up and your hands on the wheel. It is a big help, though, and helps to reduce tiredness on long journeys, simply by taking away some of the strain of steering adjustments, speed limit watching and keeping an eye out for what other traffic is doing. It's part of a (typically Volvo) comprehensive safety package, which includes front, side and curtain airbags, traffic sign recognition, an emergency steering system that can swerve you out of the way of an accident and a new feature for the autonomous emergency braking system, which detects a potential head-on collision and slams on the brakes to try and reduce the severity of the accident. Given that the XC90 was recently lauded by Thatcham, the UK-based safety and security experts, as the safest car it's ever tested, the V60 sounds ideal for any parent cognisant of the precious cargo that they carry in the rear seats.
Does that mean that the V60 is safe, but a little underwhelming to drive? Slightly, yes. For most drivers, most of the time, it will be excellent - the steering doesn't have much feel nor feedback, but the weight and gearing are lovely, and the V60 scythes through long, sweeping corners with no little authority nor poise. At 6/10ths effort, it's a lovely car to drive.
The problems begin when you start to approach 10/10ths effort, on a really demanding road. While the V60 never misbehaves, the steering does start to feel a little slow, the eight-speed automatic gearbox is a little sluggish to respond and the suspension takes just a heartbeat longer than you'd like to settle again during a fast direction change.
The upside of all that is a ride quality that's very good and very comfortable, and which only really gets upset by big motorway expansion joints. As a long journey companion, then, the V60 is unimpeachable, but it's not the car for back-road Sunday morning blasts. Which is hardly surprising, now is it?
What you get for your Money:
It's not cheap, the V60, with prices for the most affordable version starting at just over €40k with the 150hp D3 engine and a manual gearbox. That said, standard equipment is good, with the digital instruments, the big touchscreen (which remains the best and most intuitive infotainment system around), a power tailgate, 17-inch alloy wheels, leather trim and the upgraded autonomous emergency braking system. Trim levels currently run from Momentum, to Momentum Pro, Inscription, and Inscription Pro, with sportier R-Design cars arriving later this year. As yet, there's no confirmed cheaper engine option than the D3, but it seems likely that Volvo's new three-cylinder T3 petrol engine will eventually be fitted to the V60 to create a more affordable version.
Honestly, you (we, all of us) need to start looking past the fog of SUVs currently hovering in front of all eyes. The new Volvo V60 is just about the perfect family car (for a pretty wealthy family, mind) - safe, secure, refined, comfortable, practical, useful and reliable, but still with a dose of premium sex appeal. ABBA's getting back together - surely that means it's time to by a sensuous Swedish estate?