When Volvo flirts with sexy

 
Ryan Borroff
BIG, boxy, boring was the image of past Volvos, particularly <a href="http://www.volvocars.com/uk/all-cars/volvo-v60/Pages/default.aspx"; target="_blank">Volvo</a> estates. Known for protecting passengers above all else, they were solid and reliable and were a safe, if unexciting, option for car buyers.

But thanks to a fundamental rethink about how Volvo’s look and drive, Volvo cars have been evolving from a simple, practical choice to something more. Much more.

Take this, the V60 D3 R-Design. It’s a sports wagon according to Volvo, or an estate car to the rest of us, which means on paper it should be as uninspiring as a car can get. Yet take a look at it. Does that look like a Volvo to you?

This new V60 is a bit of a looker then. It has a wedge-like front end with an unusual rear-sloping roofline that gives the car a determined look. Its five-spoke wheels add to a great looking car that looks more like a long coupé (hence the Sport Wagon moniker) than a conventional estate. As any car designer will tell you, styling an estate is tricky, which is why so few of them look enticing. I mean seriously, try and name three attractive estate cars. Now try and think of one you aspire to own.

Volvo is aiming to steal some sales from the Audi Avants and BMW Tourings of this world. But to do that it has to be better than it has been. So how does it fare?

Very well, actually. We found the car to be a lovely companion. Our 2.0-litre, 163PS, five- cylinder diesel engine with its 6-speed manual gearbox was far more refined than we were expecting and with a 0-62mph acceleration time of 8.9 seconds if felt plenty quick enough too. As Volvo has done a great deal of work creating a chassis that it claims is its most dynamic yet, the ride and handling was surprisingly good too. This car has a lowered, stiffer and sportier chassis. At times it feels a little too firm perhaps but I find this preferable to not being firm enough. Thanks to some clever traction control technology – in the bends the car’s inner wheel is braked, transferring more power to the outer wheel, reducing understeer – the V60 felt tight in the corners too.

The result of all of Volvo’s hard work is that the car felt both safe and fun and that’s before you even factor in some impressive safety technology. There’s a lane departure warning system, a blind spot information system (BLIS) system and a pedestrian detection system that will totally stop the car to avoid a pedestrian impact if it senses that you are going to fail to do so. It uses a mixture of radar, laser and camera technology – and presumably a pretty quick microprocessor – to recognise a human being above 80cm tall. Impressive stuff.

Inside, the cabin is trimmed in leather, as is the three-spoke steering wheel and gear knob. The seats are particularly notable. Not only are they a very cool design, they somehow manage to do that miraculous thing so rare in the automobile – be supportive in the corners and comfortable on the motorway. The dash gets special blue R-Design dials which I really liked. There’s also a clever shelf which pulls down in the centre of the rear seat that includes a tray and cupholders which would be useful for kids and adults alike.

So what’s not to like? Well, the navigation system was a bit of a shocker, or maybe it just had a bad day, but trying to route me south across Hampstead Heath to get to Milton Keynes when I was already north of it was certainly a low point. The boot too is not the biggest but then the V60 is aimed at drivers that want a sportier car rather than the most practical load lugger. Which really does confirm that with the V60, Volvo is targeting an entirely new type of buyer to the brand.

I live in North London, which is the home of the Volvo estate and it’s certainly likely to do very well amongst right-on Islington types dragging kids and dogs in their retro trainers and gilets. Whether the V60 will take sales from BMW and Audi in other parts of the city remains to be seen.

THE FACTS:
VOLVO V60 R-DESIGN
Price: £33,435
0-62mph: 8.9 secs
Top speed: 137mph
CO2 g/km: 144g/km
MPG Combined: 51.4 mpg

THE VERDICT:
DESIGN: ****
PERFORMANCE: ****
PRACTICALITY: ****
VALUE FOR MONEY: ****