Volvo V60 review: In an estate of ecstasy
Families in the 1970s and 1980s grew up with the image of Volvo’s boxy, tank-like estates trundling their way around the groves of middle-class suburbia. They were the very first school-run buses and families bought them, not because they were cool and luxurious, but because they were practical and safe.
The new Volvo V60 shows just how far Volvo has come. It’s an estate car, yes, and still very practical – its 529-litre boot out-lugs rivals from BMW and Audi and even the equivalent SUV in Volvo’s range, the XC60 – but it’s also stylish, luxurious and cutting edge, as all the recent Volvo’s have been.
In fact, to my mind, it’s a better buy than even the Volvo XC60. It’s cheaper, bigger in the back and just as comfortable, not to mention convenient to drive. If you’re not wedded to the high driving position and big car feel of its SUV sibling, this is the mid-sized Volvo to buy.
Volvo V60 review: Exterior design and interior tech
It certainly looks the part. At the front, the gaping front grille and “Thor’s Hammer” running lights give it an aggressive stance; a look that continues through to the scooped-out side panels, tapering roofline and eventually to the sharply creased boot lid and trademark Volvo wraparound rear lights. It’s recognisably a modern era Volvo and, in my opinion, every bit as desirable as its SUV brethren.
It’s inside the cabin, though, that the Volvo V60 really shines. Like the rest of the new-era Volvos, the interior is among the classiest, cleanest and calm spaces in modern motoring. Where other manufacturers, perhaps, think their customers wannabe pilots, studding buttons and screens on every visible surface, Volvo takes a very different approach, keeping adornments to a minimum and style to the forefront.
A home button resides below the 9in Sensus touchscreen (standard across all models). There’s a small cluster of buttons below that for your hazard lights, front and rear heated windscreens, plus some media controls and a drive selector dial. Aside from the steering wheel controls, however, that’s pretty much your lot. Even the instrument cluster behind the wheel has been decluttered, with the dials and satnav displayed on an LCD screen instead of an analogue tachometer and speedometer.
Some, like I, might bemoan the lack of a clickable dial, which would make navigating the infotainment system while driving easier, but it’s laudable that Volvo is sticking by its touchscreen guns. The V60 has the same 9.3in “Sensus” touchscreen as the XC60 and XC40, and this works in a very similar way. It isn’t the most system intuitive to get to grips with at first and some of the buttons are a bit on the small and fiddly side, but it is remarkably responsive and – once you’ve learned its quirks – quick and easy to operate.
That’s not the end of the V60’s in-cabin tech, though, as all models of the Volvo V60 also come with Volvo On-Call support as standard. With the accompanying app installed on your phone, this allows drivers to lock or unlock the car remotely, start and stop the engine, and even kick off the climate control so that it’s at the right temperature from the get-go.
It’s also possible to send your destination to the car’s satnav using your phone and even use the app to export a 100-day driving journal, which is super-useful for company car drivers.
There’s also a safety element to On-Call. By pressing a button set into the roof above the rearview mirror, you can call roadside assistance or emergency services and, in more mind-boggling connected tech, the car can also contact emergency services for you should it detect a collision. If your car is stolen, it can even track and immobilise the car remotely.
The only odd thing here is that, with so much other technology on offer, Volvo continues to offer Apple CarPlay and Android Auto only as an optional extra. Setup is seamless – I tried it with both a Huawei P20 and Apple iPhone X during my time with the car – and both systems are well implemented.
The phone display appears in landscape in the lower half of car’s portrait screen when launched, so it’s a little smaller than the V60’s own satnav but that’s my only complaint. You can even trigger Google Assistant or Siri by holding down the steering wheel voice button for a second or two. It’s just a shame this is isn’t supplied as standard.
Volvo V60 review: Driver assistance and safety tech
Volvo’s Pilot Assist system is also optional but remains one of the best semi-autonomous driving aids I’ve encountered this side of a Tesla. It’s been designed, as most current systems have been, to work principally on motorways instead of country roads but it’s a brilliant way to take the stress out of long-haul drives.
It works at speeds of up to 80mph and, by using a front-facing camera and radar, is able to provide full-time active steering support (as long as you keep your hands on the wheel) and couples that with adaptive cruise control to keep the car in the middle of the lane, even around corners, and at a safe distance from the car in front.
And it works pretty well, too, confidently holding the car in the centre of the lane, making smooth adjustments to the steering to keep you on course. It occasionally drifts out to the edges of the lane but doesn’t ping you from one side to the other like other systems I’ve used.
The one issue is that when you want to take over steering yourself it can be a tad disconcerting to feel the car tugging gently away at the steering. It would be nice to have a quick way of quickly disabling everything without having to switch off Pilot Assist and the lane keeping aid, settings for which are located in different places.
The V60’s sensors are used for more than just lazy motorway cruising, though. In town and on country roads they’re employed in an array of safety systems and, as with so many modern cars, the laundry list of what the V60 can detect and help you avoid is mind-boggling in its complexity.
In simple terms, though, the car is designed to help you stop if it detects you haven’t reacted in good enough time to avoid hitting people, animals or vehicles in front. Plus, it’s designed to help you steer around hazardous objects in your path and put you back on the right track if you’re drifting out of your lane. And all this, unlike Pilot Assist, is standard fit equipment.
Volvo V60 review: Audio quality
The icing on the cake is the audio system and the Volvo V60, as with its beefier stablemates, comes with a choice of setups, of which the 15-speaker Bowers & Wilkins system is the pinnacle.
This is the system that was fitted to the car I drove and, in most circumstances and with most audio material, it sounded sublime. Classical and acoustic tracks, in particular, have a wonderful sense of space with deftly handled imaging and instrument separation. And if you want even more space you can apply “concert hall” acoustics via the sound settings screen.
The downside is that some rock tracks can sound a touch strained in the upper mids, especially the guitars, but that’s not a huge criticism – in large part, Bowers & Wilkins has done a fine job here of balancing subtlety with power.
It helps, of course, that the V60’s cabin is so well built. When you crank up the volume, there’s hardly any buzz or rattle other than from bits and bobs you might have left rattling around in the doors’ rather hard plastic pockets (a bit of felt lining would have helped here).
With the V60 being so quiet, however, there’s no need to turn it up so loud in the first place. At motorway speeds on good surfaces, there’s barely any wind or road noise to speak of, leaving you to kick back and soak it all in.
Volvo V60 review: Engines, drive and handling
Initially, the V60 will be offered with the firm’s own 2-litre, four-cylinder 148bhp D3 and 188bhp D4 diesel engines and a 247bhp T5 petrol with a choice of six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic gearboxes – all in front-wheel drive. A T4 petrol, T6 twin engine and T8 twin-engine plug-in hybrid models will arrive later.
I drove the 188bhp D4 automatic and it’s best described as refined, quiet and quick enough to enable comfortable overtaking, though now what you’d call out-and-out fast. As befits a car of the Volvo V60’s stature – a family car for family journeys – it’s far better suited to comfortable motoring than swinging the rear out around alpine hairpins.
And while the V60 offers plenty of grip and impressively low amounts of body roll around the corners, with the possibility of tweaking both throttle response and steering weight through the car’s various drive settings, you’re best off settling back, enjoying the music from the Bowers & Wilkins sound system and proceeding at a more sedate pace.
Volvo V60 review: Verdict
The Volvo V60 is, like the rest of the modern Volvo range, a bit of a revelation. It’s comfortable, quiet, refined and reasonably quick, while being stuffed with technology that’s aimed at both making your life easier and the whole business of driving safer.
In short, if you want a car that’s both practical and accomplished, stylish and cutting edge, look no further. The Volvo V60 is the new estate car cool.