Here’s a quote from the verdict of Autocar road test number 4607, August 6 2003: ‘Such is the universally high standard of modern cars that we rarely come across a genuine dud. But we climbed out of the hottest S60 more disappointed than we have been with a car for some time.’
Dud. That little word must have worked its way upward through the Ford empire’s corridors of power, for one Richard Parry-Jones was soon involved. RPJ, creator of the world-shatteringly superb Focus and Ford’s leading suspension guru, has been at work on the S60R saloon and V70R estate, attempting to give each model a chassis worthy of its 300bhp engine and 38-grand price tag. ‘I asked for a V70R to be delivered to me, to take on holiday in Wales,’ he says. ‘I was going to run one as my personal car for six months. But after that holiday, I cancelled the order.’ He’s been helping the Swedes re-work the suspension for British roads, and this is the result.
The car is better, indeed. Especially on the ‘Comfort’ – softest – setting of its Four-C (Continuously Controlled Chassis Concept) suspension. The system uses active dampers, which have been comprehensively re-tuned. In its previous incarnation, set on Comfort, the V70R would float and wallow in an unsettling fashion over even mildly undulating B-roads, and combine this lurching body control with an unacceptable inability to deal with sharper bumps or washboard ripples. It didn’t ride, and it didn’t handle. The revised car doesn’t wallow or roll nearly as much, and has lost the secondary lurch that blighted driver confidence. Now it’s more controlled and hunkered-down, especially when you’re driving at eight-tenths or quicker. When I pushed RPJ for what he thought the improvement was, he said ‘about 10 or 15 per cent’.
‘If the customer asked me to recommend the best single suspension setting for this car, Comfort is the answer,’ he said. ‘You can select Comfort and drive the car briskly down a bumpy B-road and enjoy yourself.’
Better – but it’s still not good enough. Sharp bumps, like jagged potholes or exposed manhole covers, deliver an abrupt shock through the cabin. And the ride over other surfaces isn’t as resolved as it should be, even for a performance-oriented car that you’d expect to be reasonably firm. On relatively smooth motorways with smaller, regular bumps, the car quakes, trembles and never settles – and neither will you or your passengers. Switch to either of the harder settings – Sport or Advanced – and you’ll find it difficult to fight the quaking enough to get your finger back to the Comfort switch. Those two settings, especially Advanced, are useless on anything but billiard-smooth roads, or a race track. Mind you, it handles a lot more tidily in Sport when you push it really hard.
So, you get a smooth, torquey engine, a quiet cabin – except for an unpleasant low-rev exhaust boom – supremely comfortable seats, a fair gearchange, fine build quality and high-grade materials. But for this price, it should be much better. We await the next model with some anticipation, for RPJ will be involved from the off.