SHAKEN BUT NOT STIRRED
Technology on wheels is the boast from the Swede that has now turned Chinese, but Frederic Manby found its reworked suspension system left much to be desired.
VOLVO’S all-new S60 saloon is a serious rival to Audi’s A4 and BMW’s 3-series. Prices open at £23,295 for the 161bhp diesel D3 which has a 60-plus mpg potential and a 0-60mph time of 8.7 seconds. The carbon emissions rating of 139g/km is on the ball, too. An estate version is on the way.
It fits between S40 and S80 models and is 182in long, so a few bob short of a Ford Mondeo, wieldy and sharphandling on its front-drive chassis which for Europe is set firmer and stiffer than on other Volvos.
This is a full-blooded effort, with shorter springs, and thickening of everything from the steering column to various suspension mountings.
Stefan Sällqvist, responsible for the S60 chassis development explained: “ We spent many weeks finetuning the dampers out in the English countryside. We drove on old Roman roads that have only ever received a few layers of tarmac over the centuries – a perfect environment for finding the right damping qualities.”
Well, Stefan, you should have also tried Coverdale and Langstrothdale and a few others... This is one of the most uncomfortable “normal” cars I have driven for ages. The ride is just far too firm. Passengers felt queasy and I was rather shaken, too, at the wheel.
This year, you may now know, Volvo left Uncle Sam became Chinese, in a strange deracination that saw SAAB acquired by the Dutch.
What we have in this S60 was all made under the old regime, one which Ford found too much to handle as it sought, successfully, to avoid the implosion that wrecked its compatriots Chrysler Jeep and General Motors.
Assuming the Chinese economy does not also overheat, but it may, Volvo looks set to do very well from cars such as this S60 once it relaxes the suspension. The body carries on the zoomy, eager character of the C70 coupé-convertible. It still has the Volvo staples such as high safety protection and new ones which stop you running into things or not seeing overtaking cars.
The interior is really nice, nicer than Saab’s new 9-5 for example. Volvo has grasped what I want inside a car. This is places to put things, lots of things, though I looked in vain for a specs holder. There is a natty open-sided yet discrete holding space behind the flying central stack, now larger and handy for say a big camera or a ladies handbag.
People did look at this car, either because they knew what it was (the new S60) or because of its “looks”, which had some of them very interested and pointing.
This is a good sign with a car. No one will be pointing at the latest Suzuki Swift because it may as well be the old Swift as far as “looks” are concerned.
My test car was the better specified SE Premium model which costs £27,295 and ideal I suppose for the private buyer or middle management company drivers with that beneficial CO2 rating.
Extras on the demo car included a popping £625 for the Caspian blue metallic paint and £1,250 for something called a “driver support pack”. A chair, perhaps? The 17 in Njord alloys were a no cost option. An exterior styling pack contributed £620 and I would imagine this includes the vaned rear bumper. With a sporty steering wheel the bill comes to £30,595. The driver support kit is a rather vital safety add-on, giving owners the opportunity to pay more to benefit other road users. Its principal element is called “Pedestrian Detection with Full Auto Brake”. It employs radar in the car’s grille, a camera fitted in front of the
The interior is really nice, nicer than Saab’s new 9-5 for example.
mirror, and a central control unit. Volvo explains: “The radar’s task is to detect any object in front of the car and to determine the distance to it, while the camera’s job is to determine what type of object it is.”
The system can detect pedestrians who are over 80 cm tall – that is 32 inches so covers most of us. I found it was detecting children on the pavement, too.
In an emergency situation, the driver initially receives an audible warning combined with a flashing light in the windscreen’s head-up display. At the same time, the car’s brakes are pre-charged. If the driver does not react to the warning and an accident is deemed as imminent, full braking power is automatically applied to bring the car to a stop. I never dared test it.
Volvo warns that half of all pedestrian accidents occur at speeds below 15mph. The technology can avoid a collision with a pedestrian at speeds up to 21mph if the driver does not react in time. At higher speeds, the focus is on reducing the car’s speed as much as possible prior to the impact.
Volvo says: “A lower speed of impact means that the risk of serious injury is significantly reduced. For instance, if speed is cut from 31mph to 15mph, Pedestrian Detection with Full Auto Brake is expected to reduce the fatality risk as much as 20 per cent and, in some cases, up to 85 per cent.”
Smart stuff, indeed. Your £1,250 also brings a lane departure alert, a blind-spot monitor, another that tells you if you are within a pre-set distance to the car in front, and adaptive cruise control which monitors your gap with vehicles in front, removing the need for regular braking and obviating the risk of tail-gating. On the ES entry grade it costs £1,425.
You can, by the way, switch off all or any of these safety devices. I am not sure why, and they combine to make the S60 an outstanding advance in road safety. The awards are already being counted.
There will be those who carp that it is taking control of the car away from the driver, that it will give a risky sense of false security and so forth. I say yah boo. The distance alert helped me when a car in front did a quite unexpected left turn while I was looking at something in the fields.