Volvo made estate cars, it’s what Volvo did. They ran for ever and were safe and about as sexy as your grandmother’s slippers. But look at them now. Now they’re sharp, stylish, cool, more Blahnik than Birkenstock. It’s been quite a transformation and it’s led to record profits for the Swedish company, which is now part of the giant Chinese Geely group.
But as we all know, estates have been replaced by SUVs. Volvo isn’t giving up though, it’s doubling down on its estate cars, and that’s why the second-generation V60 really matters to the company. And it means Volvo has to at least meet if not exceed the abilities of the German competitors in this sector, like the BMW 3 Series or the Mercedes C-Class estates. And it has to be different to them. So is that too big an ask?
One way Volvo can put clear fjord water between it and the Germans is in the style. No German company is going to have a headlight design called ‘Thor’s Hammer’. The whole exterior styling is sculpted and leaner than the bigger offerings in the range. This is an estate that spends its weekends cross-country skiing and consuming only healthy products in the fresh air.
Another point of differentiation is that you can only have a V60 with a four-cylinder engine, either petrol or diesel. There’s supercharging and turbocharging and mild hybrid drive to add to the mix in various guises, but a four-pot is what you’re working with. In this case it’s the 188bhp from the D4 2.0-litre diesel, that adds a very useful 295lb ft of torque from only 1750rpm.
What Volvo has always been known for is safety, and again that’s an area where the company is doubling down. Lane keep assist, detection of everything from a large animal to a human (or do I repeat myself?), full automatic emergency braking – that’s the start on our lower-spec Momentum Pro, and to that the £1625 Intellisafe Pro pack adds Pilot Assist, cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise control and much more.
What you can’t have on our lower spec car is the Four Corner adaptive damper system, although if you fork out £750 you can add it to higher trim models like the Inscription. Enough of the spec, let’s drive the thing.
You know that feeling when you’re rummaging in a pocket for change, slightly under pressure as you try to feed the meter or pay the toll? The eight-speed auto transmission ought to feel the same stress, but instead just seems a bit absent-minded. Hmm, what do we need here, second? Third? Now where did that one go?
There are definite delays pulling away or making other sudden changes as the box tries to work out what to do for the best. It turns out that dithering isn’t what to do for the best. And while you’re sitting at idle you’ll be aware that the diesel clatter is more noticeable than really it ought to be on such a sleek car. It fades as you get going, but it’ll be there when you slow down again.
When you are rolling along it all comes together commendably, with relaxed performance. It’s not epic but you wouldn’t expect that and few Volvos ever seem to try to get all hot hatch about it. Actually were you to do so, purely on the grounds of research, you’d find grip levels and the ability to carry speed through corners or change direction smartly are all way higher than you’d expect. Commendably so. If the steering gave you more confidence you could probably push even harder, but even so this is an agile and of course safe chassis.
All this will leave the passengers in a relaxed frame of mind, as they sit in a cabin which is definitely not Germanic. It’s stylish, no question, and generally a lighter, brighter place than some of the Tuetonic competitors.
The dash is dominated by the portrait 9in Sensus touchscreen infotainment system. It is sharp and smart and works well, but having to fiddle into a sub-menu just to change heating or air con is a bit of a drag to say the least.
Nobody is going to complain about the space though. Everyone has loads of it, and there’s a huge boot, which at 658 litres, is notably bigger than that of the competitors. It’s a smart place too, full of hooks, lashing points and other practical considerations. Fold the back seats down and you can fit in 1441 litres of any liquid of your choice.
The cabin contains bundles of standard equipment even in entry-level trim, and quality seems higher than ever. Which perhaps – perhaps – helps justify the jump in cost from the first version to this second-generation car. At a starting point of £32,800, that’s a jump of about £8000, putting the V60 firmly in German premium estate territory. However, depreciation, while fairly high, is reckoned to be lower over the next three years than cars like the BMW 320d Sport Touring.
This is still a hard-fought category and the German makers aren’t going to give ground easily, but Volvo is slowly but surely encroaching. You could argue that to really take big space it would need a less diesel-like diesel engine, and we’d like a slightly better ride over rough surfaces, but there’s no doubt that Volvo is steadily progressing into the premium estate category. Maybe next time it will actually take the lead, but for now it’s damn close.