Volvo V60 D5 2011 Review

Volvo station wagons reached a point when they achieved such a high level of safety and practicality than they became a bit of a cliché on wheels. The boxy-back shape had evolved to perfection for packing in gangs of children and wet Labradors. It was also an ultimately dependable machine that would keep moving forward in even the harshest climates. But someone told Volvo that these virtues just weren’t enough, they wanted sharp dynamics and even sharper styling. Could Volvo respond with a new excitement-injected wagon while still keeping its diehard family-focused fans content? The Swedish carmaker decided to find out with its new midsize V60 sport wagon. Car and SUV played Dad for a week to discover more.

The ‘boxy but good’ persona has been vacated with the V60, the good part remains, but the boxy, well that’s history. While Volvo’s curvaceous SUVs have been around for some time now the V60 represents a revolution in design for its station wagon body shape. At the front, it’s a carbon copy of its S60 sedan sibling with a lightly creased bonnet dipping into a corporate grille and purposeful dual headlights. Along the sides, the V60 cuts a mean profile with a flowing full-length shoulder line and a glasshouse that tapers away. With blackened-out pillars and a gradually sloping roof the V60 has a long, low coupe-like look but it’s at the back where the new design language is heard loudest. With hints of the C30 hatch the rear is framed by stretched vertical tail lamps a roof-mounted spoiler and a chunky bumper. A broad rear windscreen helps with visibility and the tailgate opening is as wide as the design allows. Our tested mid-spec V60 D5 model was finished with 17-inch alloys, integrated roof rails and dual exhaust tips. Aesthetically, the V60 has the look of a true sports wagon, it’s progressive and acts as a rolling public service announcement that buying a Volvo wagon can now be a decision based on visual appeal.

In the cabin all V60 models receive a full leather fit-out with sports-inspired seats that offer firm support and are, in traditional Volvo fashion, extremely comfortable. The dashboard and distinctive floating centre console wrap around the driver creating a cosseting cockpit feel. Switchgear is close at hand and while not immediately intuitive it’s well ordered. A high-mounted 7-inch colour LCD screen displays audio and climate information and modernises the interior aesthetic. By comparison the instrumentation is quite basic with a large two-dial arrangement, that’s easy to read and houses two smaller display screens. If you can’t be bothered leaning forward, phone, cruise control and audio buttons are repeated on the thick leather-wrapped steering wheel. All up, the V60 driver’s seat is an excellent spot to lean back, relax and tune out the kids while you comfortably cruise in your Volvo wagon.

The interior materials generally feel of a high grade and falls only marginally short of higher-priced Euro competitors. Build quality is hard to fault, it looks very precise and feels staunchly robust – a necessity for a family-orientated vehicle. Our D6 test subject included some useful standard kit like kid’s booster cushions in the back seat, a CD stereo with Bluetooth, power drivers seat with memory settings, auto dimming rear view mirror, rear parking sensors and climate control air-conditioning.

In terms of cabin space, it’s good news for passengers but bad news for luggage. All occupants can get comfortable with a back seat that’s well contoured and offers fair head and legroom. Cargo capacity is limited to 430-litres which is small for this market segment and shows the flip side of the sporty exterior styling. That said, there’s definite practical value here with additional underfloor storage, a 12-volt power outlet and a grocery bag holder. The rear seat back also splits 40/20/40 and folds down to create a fully flat floor and a more capacious loading area.

The V60 is available with three very different engine options; a four-cylinder petrol base model, a sports-focused six-cylinder petrol unit and the five-cylinder diesel mill, which was fitted to our D5 test vehicle. All three engines use turbocharging but the mid-range diesel model uses a twin-turbo system. Output and performance figures check out nicely; power output is 151kw and there’s a healthy 420Nm of maximum torque available from 1500rpm. The 2.4-litre engine will shift the diesel V60 from standing to 100km/h in 8.2 seconds, so it moves off the line with good pace. It doesn’t have an overtly heavy feel but with the large dose of torque the V60 feels most lively through the mid-range when it already has momentum. The diesel engine offers a good measure of strength being nicely settled around town and on the motorways but still having something in reserve for more sporting desires. It can be notch slow in getting the revs up but the twin-turbo arrangement makes for smooth, linear acceleration with a nicely gruff exhaust note.

The diesel mill is married to a 6-speed Geartronic transmission that distributes power to an all-wheel-drive system. The auto gearbox is smooth and with the large endowment of torque, it only struggles occasionally to find the right ratio in challenging, hilly terrain. A sports mode holds lower gears longer and sixth gear is suitably tall for economical motorway cruising. There is a sequential function on the gearstick for manual gear changes but no steering wheel paddles. Volvo rates the V60s economy figure at 6.9l/100km combined, an impressive result for a strong Euro wagon.

On road, there is plenty to like about the V60 it has a high level of grip through all four wheels with the Haldex AWD system quick to distribute torque where its needed. Suspension is tuned with agility in mind using McPherson struts, and the low-slung body shape means there is little body roll. Speed dependent steering makes the V60 responsive and allows for precise, quick turn-ins but may prove a touch vague at lower speeds for some tastes. Dynamically, the V60 is a different proposition to Volvo wagons of past, it’s competent and safe with the AWD system allowing it high limits. It can’t match rear-wheel-drive machines for loose thrills but it can be a bit of fun and responds favourably to being pushed harder.

The V60’s new found handling prowess does come at the cost of some ride comfort but it’s not an uncomfortable drive by any means. While being a firmer set up than Volvo has traditionally used there’s good compliance and even rougher road surfaces don’t disturb the cabin. The 17-inch wheels generate some tyre roar but there’s plenty of sound deadening to keep engine and wind noise away.

Safety is a given in any Volvo and the V60 definitely doesn’t drop the ball. The City Safety system is standard kit and automatically brakes the car to avoid nose-to-tail collisions up to 30kph. The V60 has one of the most advanced stability and traction control systems in the game with understeer-reducing ‘torque vectoring’ technology and an emergency brake assist function. There are pretensioners on the seatbelts, a whiplash protection system and six airbags including two-stage front bags. Stamp on the brakes hard and the V60 will flash the emergency lights to warn following vehicles. If all that still isn’t enough for you, there’s plenty of optional high-tech safety equipment like blind spot detection, adaptive cruise control with collision warning, active bending headlights and a hardcore pedestrian detection system.

At $75,990 the V60 isn’t the cheapest option in the mid-size wagon market, but it’s a little bit special. It retains Volvo’s key attributes of safety and practicality but places them in a more visually appealing and dynamically capable vessel. There are small concessions to be made in terms of ride comfort and cargo capacity but the V60 makes up for it with driver engagement and a thrifty but strong diesel powertrain. The V60 heralds in a new breed of long-roofed Volvo, one with appeal for driver, passengers and even those who just watch it drive by.

Price: $75,990

What we like:

  • Elegantly styled wagon
  • Strong and frugal diesel engine
  • Dynamic ability
  • Uncompromising safety systems

What we don’t like:

  • Smallish loading area for a mid size wagon
  • Gearbox isn’t as smart as some competitors
  • Steering a touch vague at times

Who will buy this car? Volvo fans that have been hanging out for a wagon with more to offer the driver. Families who want European style, solid performance and a strong safety package.

Cool Factor: Very high, it’s a Volvo wagon but not as we know it. Other mums and dads will have plenty of questions and ask them with an envious tongue.

Words and Photos: Adam Mamo

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