The first all-new S60 since 2010 looks the part and is priced competitively against its household-name rivals, but is it actually any good to drive? We grabbed the keys to the sporty T5 R-Design model to find out.

Earlier this year, Volvo canned a couple of its slowest selling models in the Australian market. Although still available in other parts of the world, the S90 was one of the cars axed from the marque’s Aussie lineup – a real shame, since the mid-size luxury barge was a unique alternative to the straightforward BMW 5 Series or Mercedes E-Class that was incredibly luxurious, looked utterly stunning, and was fantastic to drive.

But while incredibly slow sales was a big contributing factor – just 93 people wanted to pay six-figures for one of these things during 2018 – the other reason was for it to make way for the car you see here – the smaller, sportier S60 that Volvo hopes to shift 400 of in the coming year.

The first all-new S60 since 2010, it’s a significantly more affordable offering than the S90, starting at just $54,990 for the T5 Momentum – that’s $10k less than an entry-level G20 BMW 3 Series – and bumped up to $64,990 before options for the pick-of-the-range T5 R-Design you see here, it makes a good case for why it deserves to now be the sole Volvo sedan offering in Australia right off the bat.

Although the S60’s mechanically-identical wagon sibling, the V60, is built in Sweden as you’d expect, the sedan is rather peculiarly made in South Carolina, of all the places in the world. That’s right – this sexy Swede was actually born in the USA.

Unlike the Belgian-built XC40, however, which sports a very different interior both in design and material quality to the rest of the company’s Swedish-produced models, the S60 is just the same on the inside as any other new Volvo you’d come across.

And that is to say that it’s a very good thing – it’s a stylishly minimalist, spacious, and incredibly practical interior with lots of storage space and an abundance of high-quality materials from the smooth leather that coats the centre of the seats along with the steering wheel and dashboard, to the funky cloth that clads the seat bolsters and door cards.

On the technology front, the portrait-oriented infotainment system – the same as what you’ll find in all current Volvo models, although a new Android-based system is set to come along in the next couple of years – is incredibly slick to use, with great responsiveness, a clear layout across its three home screen tabs, and loads of customisability, although perhaps a few too many functions are hidden inside it in the name of removing buttons for minimalism’s sake, and its gloss finish smudges far too easily, although there is at least a cloth provided in the glovebox for cleaning it with.

I should mention here, too, that the Bowers & Wilkins audio system fitted to most Volvos including the S60 is still easily one of the finest around, with incredible clarity and dynamics. The fact that you can make it simulate the acoustics of the Gothenburg Concert Hall is pretty impressive, too, as it makes studio-tuned rock music sound like a live concert and highlights the dynamics of each instrument perfectly when listening to jazz or classical compositions. Hip hop sounds rubbish with this setting on though, so best stick to the ‘Studio’ acoustic setting if bangin’ beats are more your thing.

Back to screens, I like the one in the gauge cluster as well, even if its graphics aren’t quite as slick as those of the infotainment system and despite the fact it isn’t nearly as customisable as the screens on offer from the likes of Audi with its brilliant Virtual Cockpit display. The dials are clear and easy to read though and the map is well-sized between them, and given that’s what really matters, it gets a tick from me.

For the Momentum and Inscription variants just one engine is available – the T5 turbo petrol – while the R-Design model can be had with the T5 engine or a Polestar-tuned version of the T8 Twin Engine plug-in hybrid drivetrain.

The T5 R-Design on test here gets a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine that cranks out 192kW and 400Nm thanks to a Polestar Engineered ECU tune – Momentum and Inscription models only put out 187kW and 350Nm – which is paired to an eight-speed torque converter automatic transmission from Aisin and a Haldex all-wheel drive system.

Although the epic power figures of the T8 R-Design are very attractive on paper, and I’d love to drive a T8 model to see how it is on tarmac, a whopping $21,000 price increase over the T5 makes the less-powerful engine’s already strong outputs look as attractive as they actually are.

With it right on level pegging power-wise with the 2.0-litre turbo engines found in all of its rivals, it pulls strongly and incredibly smoothly and makes a decent growl and lots of turbo whooshes while doing so.

While the added benefit of having a quickly-reacting all-wheel drive system does set it apart from its largely rear-wheel drive set of rivals – only the Audi A4 also drives all four wheels, although its system is rear-biased as opposed to the Volvo’s front-biased system – the drivetrain is let down a little by the transmission when you really try to have some fun.

Although its perfect for normal driving, with it shifting smoothly and intelligently regardless of throttle input, when you take command and try to use the paddles, it can be disobedient and slow to react to input, and as a result feels far less polished than the benchmark ZF8HP fitted to the Beemer 3 Series and Jaguar XE, and even the in-house Hyundai/Kia eight-speed fitted to the dark horse Genesis G70. It’s a real shame, then, how dim-witted it can be given just how well the S60 drives otherwise.

In the ride and handling department, however, it’s a lot closer to the 3er and XE there, as it turns in confidently, remains fairly flat and balanced by sports sedan standards, and ride feels comfortable but connected.

If there is anything to criticise, it’s that the steering can feel a bit too light – where the XE feels too heavy in Dynamic mode and the 3 Series is just right – but it’s a small gripe that won’t bother most.

And if you don’t like how it feels, it’ll happily drive itself for you on straighter bits of road, with its ‘Pilot Assist’ Level 2 Autonomous driving function able to keep the car pointed the right way without input for around 10 seconds at a time.

All-in-all, the S60 T5 R-Design makes a strong case for itself as a sports sedan. While I’d be very interested in sampling the more affordable and comfort-focused Momentum and Inscription variants, along with the high-power T8 R-Design, this thing looks a good buy as I see it for $64,990.

Although it does drink like a football fan, consuming 10.6L/100km during my 650km behind the wheel, Volvo recently slashing its notoriously-high servicing costs to coincide with the launch of this car, which sees the price of the first three years/45,000km worth of servicing cut from $2795 to a far more reasonable $1595, does help to offset that cost.

Good-looking and nice to drive, it’s just about everything you’d want it to be, and if you’re tired of the predicable choices most opt for when buying small luxury sports sedans, this is one very enticing alternative as I see it.

2020 Volvo S60 T5 R-Design List Price: $64,990
  • 8/10
    Performance - 8/10
  • 8/10
    Ride & Handling - 8/10
  • 9/10
    Tech & Features - 9/10
  • 8/10
    Practicality - 8/10
  • 8.5/10
    Value for Money - 8.5/10

Pros: Sexy Swedish styling inside and out, sharply priced against its rivals, all-wheel drive confidence helps it stand out, far cheaper to service than before
Cons: Dim-witted transmission, steering feels a bit too light, drinks like a football fan

In a nutshell: A stylish and well-priced alternative to the usual suspects that manages to drive just about as well. 

Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Volvo Cars Australia for a week with just under a full tank of petrol. All additional fuel costs were paid for by the author. Additionally, our friends at MPF Detailing gave it a complimentary Express Detail for us prior to our photoshoot.

Patrick Jackson
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