Jonathan Crouch gets to grips with our new Volvo S60 long termer and wonders how a luxury-orientated compact executive saloon can regularly return nearly 75mpg….

There was a time when the idea of being able to regularly return over 70mpg would have seemed a fantasy, even in the smallest citycar. Today, that’s possible in quite a few of the most efficient diesel models. Not many of them reside in the compact executive luxury segment though. Which was why when Volvo introduced their latest Drive-E technology in their S60, we sat up and took notice. This comes in its most frugal form in ‘D2’ guise – and that’s the diesel engine fitted in the S60 saloon model we’re currently putting through our long term test programme.

This car’s powerplant is a 2.0-litre unit putting out 120PS and a decent 280Nm slug of pulling power. With that in mind, I rather doubted whether I’d be able to replicate Volvo’s claimed combined cycle consumption claim – 74.3mpg along with 99g/km of CO2. With regard to the frugality, I’ve been rather surprised to find that the car does indeed seem to be as economical as its maker’s claim. I’ll be monitoring that for future reports.

Enough about engines: what about driving dynamics. Is this really the ‘premium sports saloon’ that the glossy advertising promises? To try and answer that, I’ve been driving this S60 for a few weeks now and, having put a few miles under its wheels, I can’t get away from thinking two things. First, that it’s not quite as sporty as Volvo thinks it is. And second, that this is probably a very good thing. Now don’t get me wrong. This is a more dynamic drive than anything the Swedish brand has yet provided in this market segment: but then, they were hardly starting from a class-leading position in that respect.

Traditionally, Volvos have always been above ballistic back road behaviour, instead prioritising comfort, ride and refinement. Attempts in the past to add a little handling vim to that mix with sporting R models were usually somewhat crudely delivered, compromising the values that made people want to buy into the brand in the first place. But not here. In this S60, we’ve at last got a reasonably rewarding driver’s car that’s also a Volvo. At last.

‘In this S60, we’ve at last got a reasonably rewarding driver’s car that’s also a Volvo. At last ….’

The reasons why have much to do a Dynamic chassis carefully developed over the most demanding British B roads. You can take this a step further by opting for an ‘R-Design’ model with stiffer suspension – but personally I wouldn’t. This firm set-up dilutes one of this car’s greatest virtues: the composed ride it offers over poor surfaces, superior in fact to what’s on offer in this car’s German rivals. No, there are other ways to make this S60 handle more sharply that don’t involve higher chiropractor’s bills. Namely a tick in the box for the optional FOUR-C (which stands for ‘Continuously Controlled Chassis Concept’) active chassis with adaptive damping that via ‘Comfort’, ‘Sport’ or ‘Advanced’ settings, enables the driver to alter the character of the car based on the road you’re on and the mood you’re in.

I haven’t got this feature on my testcar but a couple of other standard inclusions are enough to offer up a surprising degree of dynamic brio. First, there’s a steering set-up that’s about 10% quicker and more direct than it was in the first generation S60. And secondly, there’s Torque Vectoring, a system which works through the turns to counter both understeer and wheelspin by lightly micro-braking whichever front wheel is threatening to lose grip, firing you on from bend to bend in a way that will be revolutionary to long time Volvo owners. In a D2 model like mine, you’ll also benefit from a reduction in engine weight of as much as 90kgs in comparison to some of the other drivetrains across the range. With less bulk to carry around up-front, this car feels even more eager to turn in. And all this from an S60 that still manages to offer more relaxed long distance refinement than any the marque has yet produced. It’s a surprising drive.

I'll keep you posted on how things develop.