Volvo’s alternative to the SUV
VOLVO'S new V60 is basically a lower, longer and lighter XC60. The wagon has a larger cargo compartment and better fuel efficiency than the SUV, which is by far the brand's most popular model both globally and in Australia.
In Europe, every litre counts, whether expensive fuel or cargo space.
Swedes often drive or take car ferries to Germany or Denmark to stock up on alcohol, which is half the cost at home - and they can fit more in a wagon such as the V60.
Germans and Italians, paying $2-plus per litre for unleaded, maintain strong demand for fuel-efficient wagons, especially in the medium-size class in which the new V60 will compete.
The V60 is built from the same component set as the XC60, which Volvo calls SPA (Scalable Product Architecture - Ikea would have come up with something snappier).
This means it uses the same four-cylinder engines, eight-speed transmissions, sophisticated front and rear suspensions and steering as the taller XC60. Compared to the old V60, the new wagon is longer, roomier and better looking.
Well proportioned and stylishly practical outside, the V60 is even slicker on the inside - a common trait with all of Volvo's recent new XC90, V90, S90, XC60 and XC40 models.
As usual, a central, portrait-oriented touchscreen is home to one of the most user-friendly displays in the business. Which is a good thing, as everything from setting the navigation to adjusting the aircon is done here.
As the screen takes the place of so many buttons, the look of the instrument panel is clean, uncluttered and very Scandinavian.
In the top-grade Inscription, the dash and seats are covered in neatly stitched leather but even the soft plastic, vinyl and fabric trimmings of the base-grade Momentum are very classily done. It doesn't feel like a huge step down.
Behind the good-looking steering wheel is a screen displaying the instruments. The front seats are large and comfortable; the rear seat, with its folding backrest, is spacious.
Such is the high quality of materials throughout, the V60 looks and feels as if it's been assembled with care. The welcoming and roomy interior is the Volvo's greatest strength and passengers might enjoy riding in it more than the driver enjoys steering it.
The car is quiet and mostly smooth. The suspension can be jiggly at low speed on poor roads (as encountered at the V60's international press intro in Spain) but calms down as speed rises.
In the T6 AWD version, the 2.0-litre turbocharged and supercharged petrol engine accelerates strongly but doesn't sound great when revved out. The eight-speed auto works best if left in default Comfort drive mode.
Handling on curves is safely predictable but the V60's steering lacks feel and fails to bring a sense of close car-and-driver connection.
Volvo takes safety very seriously and the V60 comes with an impressive suite of sensor-based technologies to help its driver avoid crashes or reduce their severity.
The new V60 is yet to be independently crash tested but it's a sure bet to gain the same full five-star rating as the XC60.
Volvo Cars Australia plans to launch the new V60 here in about November. The company hasn't yet decided which engine and transmission combinations to import.
The line-up may be diesel-free, Volvo's chief having said the company plans to phase them out. It will produce plug-in petrol-electric hybrids as an alternative - there will be two in the V60 range - plus petrol engines with various power outputs.
Volvo Cars Australia will want to keep its V60 line-up simple. Despite the wagon's practical advantages, it will sell in small numbers compared to the XC60.
There's no point giving many choices to only a few customers.