South Africans may not like them that much, but there’s a lot to be said for a good, old-fashioned station wagon. They offer more space, better access and greater versatility than sedans – and they are often more handsome, too. The all-new Volvo V60 is a good case in point. By DEON SCHOEMAN.
Volvo has been making a lot of noise about how sporty and dynamic its new S60 sedan is – and that’s certainly true of the more powerful models in the extensive range.
But frankly, speed and performance aren’t top of mind when it comes to the Swedish brand. Instead, it’s still mostly associated with more pragmatic virtues such safety, security and sensibility.
Enter the V60 – a station wagon version of the S60 that also happens to look sportier than its booted sibling. In fact, calling it a station wagon isn’t doing the Swede justice. Instead, it’s best described as a smart and sporty estate that oozes dynamic potential.
The V60 shares its front end with the S60 sedan, which means it gets a bold grille, slanted headlights, hungry air intakes and a long, sloping bonnet. The effect is assertive and individual, but also unmistakably Volvo.
However, where the S60 sedan becomes a little droopy at the rear, the V60’s extended roofline tapers towards a smoothly sculpted tailgate, while a strong shoulder line adds muscle and aggression to the overall appearance. The relatively narrow glass aperture, high waistline and short overhangs underscore the car’s poised, athletic presence.
Viewed from behind, the tailgate is framed by large tail light clusters that link the roofline to the V60’s haunches. It opens up from bumper level to offer convenient access to a useful 430 litres of luggage space.
That’s less than many medium sedans, but interestingly, the rear bench seat is split 40/20/40, allowing a versatile division between seating and cargo space. That way, awkward or bulky items such as a bicycle can easily be accommodated.
Volvos have come a long way as far as interior design and appointments are concerned. The brand has developed an individual style that links the simple elegance of Scandinavian design to intuitive functionality.
The V60’s cabin is upmarket and luxurious without becoming ostentatious. The leather-clad seats are comfortable and supportive, the controls and switchgear are exactly where you would expect them to be and the instrument dials are clearly legible.
The centre console includes an LED display that changes according to the function being accessed. These include the sound system, and key vehicle system settings. The interface is a little clunky at first, but turns out to be fairly user-friendly once you get the hang of it.
There’s ample space for two or even three occupants on that split rear bench seat and, despite a roof that slopes towards the rear, there is ample head and legroom.
Occupant safety remains a traditional focus point at Volvo, and the V60 is no different. Its standard arsenal of safety kit includes multiple airbags, advanced stability control with torque vectoring and proprietary Volvo systems such as City Safe and Pedestrian Detection.
The latter two allow automatic brake activation when a car ahead suddenly slows down, or if a pedestrian steps into the road – laudable and actually quite sci-fi, but still pretty disconcerting when it’s applied in practice. One day, all cars will be similarly equipped, but right now, it’s a Volvo exclusive.
In the South African motoring psyche, however, one of the key focus points will be the engine. The V60 model range spans no less than five turbo petrol and two turbodiesel powerplants.
In this case, the Swedish wagon’s motive power comes from a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol unit featuring direct injection and turbocharging to produce 149kW of max power, and a 300Nm torque peak. That urge is transferred to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic gearbox.
It’s an all-new engine that’s been designed with both performance and frugality in mind, and so it comes as no surprise that the combined-cycle fuel consumption is a claimed 8.3 litres/100km. However, our real-world figures were not as economical, mainly because the Volvo likes being driven with gusto.
The auto gearbox works well enough and is very sensitive to throttle input. The gear lever does offer a sequential manual override, but the V60 is sporty enough to deserve shift paddles on the steering column. Cog swaps are quick and slick, though, even in full manual mode.
While it might look sleek, the V60 is not a small car. The mid-sized estate measures more than 4.6m long and is close on 2m wide.
All the more impressive then that Volvo has kept the wagon’s weight below the 1,600kg mark, which means it’s more agile and athletic than expected. The Swede gets off the mark without fuss, and will stop the watch at 8,4 seconds for the zero-to-100 dash. Top speed is governed to 230km/h.
Those stats vindicate Volvo’s promise of dynamic appeal. Progress is effortless and the engine’s output feels linear and consistent. The throttle response could be sharper, perhaps because the pedal action is quite long, but there’s always enough urge.
The biggest surprise is the handling. For a mid-sized estate, the V60 feels composed and confident in the twisties. Driven with verve, the steering is nicely weighted and turn-in is precise enough to position the wagon just where you want it.
Best of all, the ride finds that elusive balance between taut control and effective damping, allowing the Volvo to absorb most of the rough stuff without feeling soggy. There’s plenty of chassis feedback, but you don’t have to worry about your fillings either!
At slower speeds, though, the turning circle is larger than expected, and the Volvo feels less manoeuvrable. It’s awkward and even cantankerous in parking lots and offers ample opportunities for practicing multiple-point turns.
For those seeking something sportier, an R-Design version will offer tauter suspension settings and a body kit, but given the V60’s positioning, we think the standard set-up is just about right. And we wouldn’t mess with the styling either.
The Volvo brand’s problem has always been to establish an own identity in the tough premium segment. If anything, its core values have been safety and practicality, which aren’t exactly the most sexy attributes.
But models like the XC60, the S60 and now the V60 prove Volvo can link style, technology and dynamic prowess to an upmarket aura. And it’s priced to reflect good value too. The result is an appealing, distinctive package that ticks most of the boxes. DM
Volvo V60 2.0T PowerShift
Four-cylinder in-line, 1,999cc, turbocharged
Six-speed Geartronic automatic
149kW @ 6,000rpm
300Nm @ 1,750rpm
The 2016 Rio Olympic medals are already showing defects including rusting and chipping.