DRIVING along in the new Volvo S60, I am so engrossed in conversation with my passenger that I’ve completely taken my eyes off the road. This is why I don’t see a pedestrian in front of me. Fortunately, a sensing system at the front of the car automatically brings the car to a sudden stop and the pedestrian is unharmed. It is as convincing a display of the S60’s latest safety technology as I need. The pedestrian is actually a surprisingly well-attired dummy and I’m on a special test circuit in the highlands of Scotland.
This display is interesting for a couple of reasons. The first is that this is the first time such pedestrian safety technology – called City Safety – has been fitted as standard to a production vehicle. Second, that despite all of their remonstrations about how sporty and well-designed the new S60 is, it is to safety that Volvo remains so committed. But then if you asked most people what Volvo Cars was known for, what would they say?
Buying a Volvo has been a sensible choice for decades. Yet with the new S60, Volvo is hoping to change people’s perceptions and tap straight into consumer’s emotions, to seduce your heart as well as convince your head.
To start with, the new S60 is obviously a step-up in terms of looks. It has a wedge-like, forward-sloping shape that gives the car a meaner intent. Not aggressive so much as quite annoyed – this is a Volvo after all. It also has a coupé-like roof shape, yet it’s still a four-seater that actually has quite a lot of legroom, and headroom, in the back.
Inside, the car is still understated in a Scandinavian kind of way, yet the cockpit is now angled a bit towards the driver, and metallic elements frame key feature areas in the dash and doors. As if Volvo created the car for a new breed of driver that may just be an incy-wincy bit self-focused and a little bit of a show-off. Not as much as an Audi driver, oh no, but still the interior is as interesting as anything BMW is doing. And it’s comfortable with supportive and sporty seats.
Which is important because the real question is whether the new S60 can deliver a drive that is both fun and engaging as well as safe. I’m driving the D5 model, a 2.0 litre, 205ps, five-cylinder diesel engine that sounds a little bit rough, but in a nice way, like Tom Waits.
On the marvellous roads of Scotland, the car feels a good deal sharper and tauter to drive than any Volvo I can remember. It is fun and it does feel sporty. This is due to the fact that the car’s chassis was tuned on UK roads and the car has a firmer suspension than its predecessor.
The result is that after a full day’s driving, I’ve not really paid much attention to the car’s safety systems. So much so that I have to consult the press pack to confirm what’s included. Here’s the roll call: the City Safety system that can avoid low-speed impacts of up to 19mph, a Driver Alert Control system which alerts drivers who have become tired or distracted, and a Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) that lets you know whether there are other vehicles in your blind spots by flashing an LED. Then there’s a Lane Departure Warning – which alerts drivers if the vehicle runs across the lane markers without the turn indicator being used. This doesn’t even include the fleet of airbags and other passive safety features that are also included.
The thing is I don’t care because the car is a genuine pleasure to drive. And if these safety features are available on a car that’s almost as fun to drive as its German competitors, then why wouldn’t you choose it?
THE FACTS: VOLVO S60 D5
TOP SPEED: 146mph
CO2 G/KM: 139g/km
MPG COMBINED: 53.3mpg
VALUE FOR MONEY ****