VOLVO is to battle BMW with a new executive saloon that’s a credible alternative to the benchmark 3 Series.
Featuring a class leading pedestrian detection system among an armoury of safety devices, the latest Volvo S60 is as smart as it’s sophisticated.
Priced from £23,295 the Swedish newcomer also has the Audi A4, Mercedes C-Class and Vauxhall Insignia in its sights.
Billed as the most dynamic Volvo ever, the S60 is arriving at a critical time for the Scandinavian firm which is being sold by Ford to Chinese auto maker Geely.
Not only does the S60 look the part with sleek body lines it also handles.
When it goes on sale in July it will be available initially with two diesel engines and a range topping six cylinder petrol automatic complete with all wheel drive.
Volvo has worked hard to stiffen the suspension and improve steering response and on the road the S60 is agile and quick.
Being front wheel drive it still looks the solid handling of a BMW or Mercedes, which are driven from the rear, but compared to the previous S60 the new car is now in the top flight.
There is nothing wishy washy about the way the new S60 drives and it’s got a few tricks up its sleeve which set it in a league of its own.
All versions of the S60 feature Volvo’s City Safety system which is designed to prevent rear end shunts in traffic.
Using radar sensors mounted in the grille to pick up vehicles in front, the car will stop automatically if it gets too close and the driver has failed to notice a collision is imminent.
Volvo is adamant the recent mishap when the system failed during a public demonstration was down to a technical glitch with a robotic pre-production model.
Company chiefs insist had a real driver been in the car they would have realised the vehicle was unserviceable.
Embarrassing though the incident was, the company is stressing that its advanced safety features are there purely as additional aids and are not designed to take over from the driver.
As such both the anti-collision system and the pedestrian detection device gave visual and loud audible warnings as soon as a potential emergency is detected and only apply emergency braking if the driver has failed to react.
While the City Safety set up is standard on the S60 the rest of the high tech features are extra costing up to £1,450 and are bundled together in what Volvo calls a Driver Support Pack.
The kit includes lane departure warning, blind spot alerts, adaptive cruise control and pedestrian detection and all worked correctly during our test drives in the S60.
Adaptive cruise control, which maintains a pre-set safe distance from the vehicle in front, can now bring the S60 to a halt in traffic and move away again automatically – although it will cut out if the car is stationary for more than four seconds.
The pedestrian safety system uses a camera as well as radar and is calibrated to detect an adult or child who is potentially at risk in front of the car.
At speeds of up to 20mph the warnings will be activated as the car approaches and if no action is taken by the driver, emergency braking begins and the car is brought to an abrupt stop.
It is not fail safe and will react only to humans moving in a normal fashion. It will not pick up cyclists or animals or any other object in front of the car.
Whether this is technological overload is questionable as is the matter of giving drivers too much confidence but if it helps improve road safety then such developments must be welcomed and Volvo says it is committed to making its cars the safest on the road.
Without a doubt the S60 is festooned with aids beyond the likes of airbags, anti-whiplash head restraints and side protection barriers which Volvo pioneered.
Other standard features include cruise control and a five-inch full colour display screen while mid-range SE models priced from £25,295 feature Bluetooth phone connectivity, auto dim mirrors and a reversing camera among additional equipment.
Top specification SE Lux cars cost from £27,096 and have ‘look round corner’ headlamps, leather upholstery and memory settings for the driver’s seat.
Inside the S60 has a new look dashboard with metal effect trim on the ‘floating’ centre console which is now slightly angled at the driver creating a cockpit feel. A more traditional wood finish can be specified.
The five cylinder diesel engine is used in two forms and both have a distinctive note which adds character. The 304bhp turbo charged six cylinder on the other hand is as refined as it is potent.
It’s priced from £35,695 and with a 0 to 60mph acceleration of 6.2 seconds it is taking high performance saloons such as the Audi quattro head on.
The diesels are brisk too with a two-litre boosted t 163bhp giving 0 to 60 in 8.7 seconds while the 2.4-litre pumps out 205bhp and is almost 1.5 seconds quicker.
Both can average more than 50mpg with CO2 figures of 139g/km while the petrol S60 will return around 28 to the gallon overall with high emissions of 230.
An eco version with CO2 down to 115g/km is slated for next year with a 240bhp two-litre turbo petrol S60 due out before the end of this year.
The S60 is a huge and accomplished step forward for Volvo. Technically it is as good as anything the Germans are building while its electronics are breaking new ground.
But perhaps its greatest appeal is that it is something a little different to the mainstream.