Volvo S60 T5 R-Design 2012 Review

We spent a very pleasant week which included a jaunt to Ruapuke and back for a Waitangi weekend camping trip. This was a great test for the Volvo – plenty of motorway driving, followed by some twisty blacktop and then gravel, all while laden down with the accoutrements of spending a couple of nights under canvas without decent toilet facilities.

The S60 T5 R-Design sits in a kind of middle ground between family sedan and luxury sports sedan. You could look at it two ways: it’s a safe and practical option for a sporty sedan, or it’s a car that stuck between those two markets and might not be big enough to be a family sedan or sporty enough to make your hairs stand on end.

It’s a Volvo so that means it comes with the aura of safety that is almost uniquely Volvo’s to emanate. That means it’s probably not going to appeal to young, affluent execs. No, despite the R-Design pack which gives you a sports-tuned chassis, a new grille and mirrors, a set of sports seats, floor mats, some stunning 5-spoke alloys, sat-nav and flashier gear knob, instruments and steering wheel, this is going to be a car which is bought by people who appreciate the sleek design and punchy overtaking power, but want it tempered with an air of sensibility and impregnable safety. Perhaps there’s a child, but no longer a ‘significant other’; perhaps it’s the need for an attractive corporate ride that’s a bit of a sleeper; perhaps it’s a couple whose children have flown the coupe [sic] so back seats are a mere convenience and not a necessity; perhaps they really just like Volvos but want something more exciting with better handling than an XC.

I’ve painted a limited picture there because, even though I’ll let you in on a secret right now that I really liked driving the Volvo and could have happily developed my relationship with it further, it doesn’t capture my ‘late-‘30s’ mentality as much as a 3-Series would if I have to part with 70 grand. I’m not saying the 3-Series BMW is better (especially seeing as you’d have to go for the base model 320i SE), I’m just saying that BMW has done a better brand perception job on me, and that really I want the 335d SE…actually, no, if I had $110,900 I’d have an Audi A5. However, we’ve digressed into my preferences, whereas this article is about whether you want a Volvo S60 T5 R-Design.

Volvo’s biggest claim to safety fame at the moment is the City Safety feature which automatically brakes should a crash be imminent at speeds lower than 30kph. This is a huge competitive advantage over other manufacturers, and it joins the usual complement of electronics to stop you in an instant, prevent wheelspin and keep you from sliding on the road. In fact, here is the full list of acronyms (if you plump for all the options): BLIS (blind sport information system – more about this in a sec), ACC (automatic cruise control – optional)), LDW with DAC (lane departure warning with driver alert control – optional), ABS with RAB (anti lock brakes with ready alert brakes), HBA with EBD (hydraulic brake assist with electronic brakeforce distribution), EBA (emergency brake assist), EBL (emergency brake light flashing), DSTC (dynamic stability and traction control), ASC (advanced stability control), IC (inflatable curtain), SIPS (side impact protection system), WHIPS (whiplash protection system). That is a lot of acronyms for the poor Volvo salesperson to remember.

So back to the BLIS which is installed as standard with the R-Design. It warns you by means of a small light in the A-pillar if a car is coming up in your blind spot. This only exists because people can’t set their mirrors properly and don’t bother looking over their shoulder. Therefore it’s going to be very useful. You can turn it off if you don’t want it.

Automatic cruise control (not fitted to our test car) matches your speed to the car in front, and lane departure warning and driver alert control tells you if you are driving erratically and if you’re about to fall asleep – good for Jon Gadsby or road warriors.

The only thing that doesn’t quite sit right with the Volvo is that this is a luxury sports sedan that where you would expect a certain level of specification, some of which was notably missing. For example, you get automatic wipers, but not automatic headlights; a sunglasses holder is a $110 optional extra and keyless entry/drive is $795. The Bluetooth phone system is clunky and would take up to 5 minutes to find my phone, and would then always ask if I wanted to connect rather than doing it automatically (the instruction manual was no help here). The options, audio and navigation controls are a little fiddly, too. They sit on a panel that sweeps down the centre of the dashboard and creates a little cubbyhole behind them. They look in need of an upgrade and are a bit small.

However, the overall interior and exterior design is good. There’s a broad exterior colour palette to choose from, and interior options that include multiple types and colours of leather, and even wood trim.
Under the bonnet is a torquey 2-litre, 4-cylinder turbocharged engine producing 177kW and 320Nm. This is surprisingly frugal while providing a moderately sporty surge of power when you need to overtake – it’ll get to a hundred in 7.5 seconds and that’s respectable. The T5 is front-wheel drive, and in normal driving you’re not going to need any more than that. There are four-wheel drive options in the range if you want more gravel-bashing capability.

The power doesn’t seem to come at the expense of frugality. On the motorway it sips gently; around town, as long as you work around the turbo’s propensity to occasionally rocket you forward, it’s not bad either. The quoted fuel consumption is 8.6l/100km combined, and I think you’d fairly easily do better if you’re not a leadfoot.

I enjoyed my time with the Volvo. There are some very twisty roads between Raglan and Auckland (especially if you go via Waingaro) and the S60 provided a smooth ride enhanced to a comfortable level of sporting competence. The only complaint from my two adult passengers was that a bit more legroom would have been desirable (the front seat has to be quite a way forward to get decent legroom for an adult in the back). But for the driver it’s both a rock-solid motorway cruiser, a relaxed city car with easy parking ability, and it responds to your desires to clip the apex on a tightening right-hander.

Who is the S60 T5 R-Design aimed at? It’s only just big enough as a family car with its small boot – certainly the camping trip was a squeeze with three of us and a couple of day’s worth of luggage. It doesn’t have the ‘care-free, single executive’ mana of a 3-Series, but it does have more character than the rather sterile Audi A4. It’s a motoring conundrum.

Pros

  • Looks sleek, and I love the alloys
  • Handling and ride are very good
  • Quiet, even under heavy acceleration
  • Fuel economy vs performance is excellent at cruising speeds
  • Plenty of options, depending on your budget

Cons

  • Interior feels small, and the boot is
  • Small buttons and dated, fiddly controls take some getting used to
  • Turbo can sometimes kick in harshly at low speed

Price: Range starts at $59,990. R-Design is $70,990.

Words and photos: Darren Cottingham

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