The sexy new Volvo S60 R design: Contender for gay car of the year!

What do these symbols have in common? Balls of course. The one on the left is the famous Volvo nameplate. Volvo (meaning “I Roll” in Latin) was the name of a Swedish ball bearing factory in the early 20th century. The one on the right is the Male symbol and…. well you get the idea.

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Volvo has undergone no end of change over the last decade or two. It was purchased by Ford, and like  SAAB who was bought by GM, failed to make profits. We suspect that both Volvo and SAAB were investing heavily innovation and safety as they have done since their inception and that technology was shared with the mother company. Because both American giants were themselves cash strapped, no cash investments flowed back so all the money was being spent by the “unprofitable” premium brands for technology and development to be used in the bread and butter marques. Ford divested itself of its premium brands and Volvo was bought by Chinese company Geely. Luckily Geely have let the Swedes get on with things so the all new S60 comes to us fresh from Gothenburg simply bristling more tech than that which went into space with the first moon landing. Volvo is all the better for it.

Did you know that the average age of a Volvo is 18? In one swoop Volvo cast off its conservative overcoat to reveal a well muscled physique that’s got just the right mix of youth and elegant sophistication. We spent the week with a delicious T5 R Design S60. It’s a bit of  a gobful but it means a base model  S60 with the 177kw turbo 4 cylinder and stiff suspension and  upholstery that feels like neoprene. the S60 shape is a quantum leap forward with a subtly angle headlight array drawing a line down the the grille and a rear with a  graceful sweep of LED’s up and over the boot lip. It continues the look from the XC60 and the upgraded C30 which have been given a  dose of  the same pixie dust. The profile has a similar classy understated detail with no silly angles,  swoops and scallops without looking plain.

The R Design gets a hot set of alloys, a badge and a couple of “look at me” exhaust pipes. The pictures don’t do it justice because the real  thing looks very sporty and every bit as top draw as any of  the Germans, and arguably better looking.

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The interiors are very successful in my view. There is a real feel of quality and luxury even in this,  the second bottom model. The neat blend of metallic finishes set off the high end plastics, leather. I mentioned the fabric on the seats which is unique to the R Design but I much prefer the leather. It’s an odd sensation to feel like  your sitting on a wetsuit that someone carelessly left on the drivers seats. In my experience,  leather sells cars when it comes time to trade. You might not get more than an example without leather, but all things being equal, the buyer will always be attracted to the leather seats first.

I’m loving Volvo’s keyless entry system too which is easy to use. With the key  secreted somewhere about your person, you simply lift the door handle to unlock,  then again to open. Starting is a simple as pressing a button. The real stroke of genius is that there is a locking pad on each door and the boot. Locking your car means either pressing the button on the key or touching the pad on any door and the boot. Most marques expect you schlep around to the front doors to look your  car

The instrument binnacle houses a neat uncluttered array of just two dials which are edged in a tasteful blue anodised surround. The middle of each has an LCD screen for driver alerts and other info. After you’ve driven just a little way you’ll find them impossible to live without. The indicator needles run just around the outside blue rim but not over the top of the LCD screen which is very thoughtful. It’s touches like this that have an air of “design” rather pure function, proving you make something beautiful AND functional.

From the driver’s seat, the LED warnings for BLISS (the blind spot warning system) sit on the outside of the window on the edge of the rear view mirrors. A teensy LED flashes when the car thinks something is in your blind spot so no changing lanes into an unsuspecting cyclist. Mind you it also thinks a tunnel wall is the sort of thing you might not notice and flashes its silly head off. That’s impressive but if you really like  gadget or two, what about a system that minimises pedestrian injuries but stopping the car should someone wander into your path without your noticing. Or better still a system that operates above 35kph and predicts you running into another car and slams on the anchors. As if all that wasn’t enough, you get radar guided cruise control which borrows the pedestrian radar emitter to monitor the road ahead if the cruise is switched on. And works all the way down to a complete stop. If the car in front moves of in under 3 seconds,  the Volvo continues on its merry way. If not then you might have to do some work and press the accelerator, but if you can work the stereo, the accelerator should be a snap. Too round it all off, another alert  bleats most earnestly should you stray across a white line without using your indicators. It all drives you quite potty at first but only takes a little time to get used to.

Apart from all the usual  driver aids and safety gear we now expect, including airbags for  every occasion, the cabin is strewn with luxuries like a truly fabulous infotainment system. It has audio streaming (from your phone or ipod)  via bluetooth and AUX and USB inputs. USB gives you full control over the ubiquitous Ipod function in your Iphone. Our test car didn’t have  Satnav but should you have it on your iPhone instead, you can stream the instructions via the speakers. It’s genius.

You’ll notice the control array on the centre console. It’s looks confusing and complex but it laid out in 3 clear areas all of which are within easy reach. The climate controls, audio controls and media interface in 3 areas some of which are duplicated on the steering wheel. Sadly you can’t make a voice call from the steering wheel but that’s a minor annoyance considering the convenience.

The customisable vehicle  settings lock the doors and unlock them again and make  sure you have some light in the garage when you come home. It turns the wipers in for you as well but somewhat unusually, there is also an variably intermittent  setting. This solves the problem of the auto wipers making a pigs breakfast of light showers. They have literally thought of everything.

So I wasn’t a fan of the wetsuit on the seat which can be fixed by optioning leather, but the position and firmness of the driving position made up for all that. Because the T5 R Design is way down on the pecking order only the drivers chair get buttons to set the position. That’s fine by me though, it’s my money and I’ll be having the good chair thanks very much.

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That just leaves the drive. I’ve driven many a car which was let down by shabby performance or mushy handling. There is none of that here. The 2.0L 177kw turbo 4 is nippy in a turbo kind of way. There is still a little lag but nothing like the turbos of old. You remember, nothing, then your head is bounced off the back window. It has to be said the R Design has a very firm ride. It’s not uncomfortable by any means. I like a bit of firmness in the ride department and you really appreciate it in the corners. The steering is pin sharp so with the flat cornering you feel more like you’ve stepped into an expensive grand tourer than a premium 4 door jobbie.

As accomplished as the S60 is in town, it’s a ripping cruiser. There feels like there is an endless well of power, the depths of which is usually plumbed only by an engine with an extra 4 cylinders, and it’s shifted to the wheels by a super smooth “powershift” transmission. It’s all the go now and most makers have some kind of automatically controlled manual gearbox. Two clutches and no clutch pedal is all you really need to know, and explaining it any further would be a waste of time. None of us know what it is or how it works, which just like the auto transmissions of old. Frankly none of us really care as long as it works.

The Volvo S60 is a cracking car with great handling and a very pretty exterior. The T5 R design is price at just above $55,000 drive away but you do have to add 4k if you want the pack which includes the lane departure, pedestrian avoidance and radar for your cruise control. It’s worth it once it stops annoying you with a veritable symphony of bells and bongs and a light show that would do Madona proud.

I liked the S60 very much and look forward to the Wagon with the turbo 6 in the next few weeks.

Likes

Super smooth “powershift” transmission, stunning looks inside and out, great motor.

Not so much

The wetsuit someone glue to the seats.

engine power torque co2 cons 0-100 trans price
2.0L turbo 4 cyl 177kw 320 nm 193 gms 8.3 L/100k 7.5 sec 6 sp powersfift $55,990*

* add $4,990 for driver support pack which includes: Lane departure warning, blind spot warning, Pedstrian warning, Queue assist,  Adaptive cruise control, Collision warning

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