With deliveries of the new coupe styled four-door Volvo S60 compact executive saloon imminent to UK customers the company describes the newcomer as a defining model for the brand at a time of its transition from Ford's ownership to Geely Holdings, the Chinese conglomerate.
Following the recession, Volvo's UK sales so far this year have increased by 54% over the same period in 2009 but the brand still has a recognisability issue with younger customers - their new target audience.
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Volvo Car UK executives said at the media introduction of the new S60 range, 'the past is the past, what has gone has gone, Volvo has to have a much higher profile with our new young and existing older customers.'
To prove the point about just how far the Volvo new generation cars have changed was made as we motoring scribes arrive at Aberdeen Airport to drive to the launch venue in Volvos of the 1980's. The brick like styling, roly-poly ride, soft braking and vague steering days have gone. Their current range, like all new cars, is far removed from just ten or so years ago.
The Volvo S60
The S60 is a handsome and stylish addition to the range and like the previous S60 models introduced in 2000 will be their best selling range. Around 2,400 will be available to UK customers this year and 9,700 in 2011.
It is expected that 86% of S60 models will be diesel powered with fleet and business user-choosers taking 70% of UK sales. Prices start from £23,295 and range up to £36,745. The main competitors will be the German premium brand models of the Audi A4, BMW 3-Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
There will also be strong competition from the mainstream competition such as the much improved Ford Mondeo, Vauxhall Insignia, Toyota Avensis, Honda Accord and the Volkswagen Passat.
Chris Wailes, Volvo's European product and pricing manager thinks that 65% of customers for the S60 will come from what he call mainstream upgrades, people moving up and away from the volume sellers in the C/D segments.
These people are attracted by style, quality and increasingly by driving dynamics. But importantly the brand's well known core features of safety technologies and DRIVEe lower CO2 emission versions also add appeal to the new way forward for the Scandinavian brand. The all-new S60 will be built by Volvo Cars at their factory in Ghent Belgium.
Volvo might be moving away from Ford's ownership but these days component sharing between competing brands is the normal way forward to reduced design and manufacturing costs. The S60 will use the same platform as Ford's latest Mondeo, Kuga and S-Max and also used for the Jaguar XF.
Ford and Volvo will continue their engine partnerships, Volvo talking engines and the latest twin clutch auto transmissions from Ford as well as developing their own and Ford taking Volvo's well respected five cylinder power units.
Volvo says their all-new S60 is the most dynamic and safest Volvo ever. This stylish sports four-door saloon boasts a coupÃ©-like design, with a steeply raked rear screen and rear pillars flowing into the tail-lights.
The S60 also pioneers a major safety innovation - Pedestrian Detection with Full Auto Brake. A digital camera and radar are used to scan the road ahead. If they sense a pedestrian moving into the path of the car, and the driver fails to respond to warnings, the car will brake itself.
Yes it works - having tried it using a full sized dummy on a closed circuit - but treat it as a last resort action. The worry is that some people could become less aware while driving and take it for granted that collisions with a pedestrian are a thing of the past. Around 25% of S60 customers are expected to take the Pedestrian Detection extras cost option.
The S60 is also fitted as standard with Volvo's City Safety system as used with the XC60 SUV, which can eliminate rear end impacts at speeds up to 9mph and reduce the severity of other impacts of up to 18mph.
Safety still being a core feature of the Volvo brand, the S60 customers also has the options of specifying Driver Alert Control, Blind Spot information, active Bi-Xenon headlights and Lane Departure warning.
Engines and performance
The grip during cornering for a front wheel drive car of this size is first rate, the steering sharp and precise and the ride comfort, firm but acceptable. The rear end does tend to side-step at times cause the car to fidget but not on all models.
The heavier 2.4-litre turbodiesel unit with 18-inch wheels strangely being better than the 2.0-litre TD version with 17-inch wheels. This model was also marginally the better one to drive because of the extra power and torque but both diesel engines were impressive and fuel frugal. Driven really quite hard on traffic free northern Scottish roads during the test drives, the D3 returned 35.3mpg and the D5 34.5mpg.
The big engined V6 petrol version was not at the event as it will be only of very limited interest in the UK.
Advanced electronic controls further improve handling and the driving experience. These include Corner Traction Control, which boosts agility by automatically braking the inner driven wheel as extra power is applied to the outer wheel. This 'torque vectoring' improves turn-in, thus reducing understeer.
Two five-cylinder diesel models, the new 2.0-litre 163bhp/400Nm D3 and the 2.4-litre 205bhp/420Nm D5, and the top-range T6, all wheel drive petrol 3.0-litre V6 304bhp/440Nm petrol, are offered at UK launch. D3 and D5 versions are available with ES, SE and SE Lux levels of specification, the T6 with SE and SE Lux.
The most popular model based on fleet and business users being the biggest buying audience will be the D3 with SE trim priced at £25,295.
Within the first year, the model range will grow, to include 1.6-litre 115bhp diesel DRIVe and three new petrol models - the 2.0-litre 240bhp T5, the 1.6-litre 180bhp T4 and 1.6-litre 150bhp T3. The forthcoming petrol engines are new four-cylinder GTDi (gasoline turbo direct injection) units.
The GTDi engines will be available with a six-speed Powershift dual-clutch semi-automatic gearbox as well as a six-speed manual transmission.
Inside the S60 the cabin is designed around the driver with a premium yet tastefully simple style and you could say very Swedish. Sophisticated materials, including leather and wood, are used and the trim quality and fit and finish are the best-ever for Volvo I would suggest.
Having a coupe roofline does not offer the greatest of headroom, especially in the rear but rear legroom is better than the old S60's, and the boot aperture is bigger, making loading easier. Forget the old, but best selling S60, the new one for a new generation of buyers is much better. Indeed new Volvo is much more appropriate than old Volvo.
And those who determine residual values, the all important figures that now control the contract hire and leasing costs reckon that based the normal three years/60,000 mile yardstick, the new S60 will retain 35% of its original purchase price.
This is exactly the same residual value as the Audi A4 2.0TDI 143 and 170, and also the same as the BMW 320d SE. It is substantially better than the 30% quoted for the Volkswagen Passat 2.0TDI Highline and 31% for the Lexus 220d SE-I.
It is also well above the mid-to-late 20% predictions for the volume Vauxhall and Ford models in the segment.
Volvo S60 MILESTONES
Volvo S60 D3 SE 4-Door Saloon.
Price: £25,295 (best selling model).
Engine/transmission: : 2.0-litre, five-cylinder, turbodiesel, 163bhp, 400Nm (295lb ft) from 1,400rpm, 6-speed manual.
Performance: 137mph, 0-62 8.7 seconds, Combined Cycle 53.3mpg (35.3mpg actual), CO2 139g/km, VED road tax £110, BIK company car tax 19%.
Insurance group: TBA.
Boot space: 339-litres.
For: Distinctive new-age design for Volvo, handsome looks, classy interior, high quality fit and finish, lots of specification as standard and more if you pay for it, plenty of safety features, comfortable, agile with trustworthy road manners, nice growling exhaust note.
Against: Headroom is not plentiful, ride control can become unsettled at times.