The reasons not to buy a traditional family saloon now seem so numerous and widely acknowledged that to put such a car on your driveway would almost risk social stigma.
Our heads haven’t been turned away from these conventional, mid-market cars so much as spun like upturned castors. Those who haven’t either downsized or been lured upmarket are probably now driving a crossover, compact SUV, MPV or estate. Somewhere along the line, ordinary saloons became that bit too ordinary.
Time for a fightback – perhaps. But how much fight has the humble, mid-sized, volume-branded four-door got left? What happens when you reimagine and readdress one of the oldest vehicle concepts of them all for the modern motoring setting? Just how appealing are the results?
You could not ask for more dependable exponents of the type than the latest Ford Mondeo and Volkswagen Passat. Both are all-new models from blue-chip European car makers with impeccable pedigrees. And here’s some good news up front: both breathe new life and transformative allure into a grand old market niche once too big to be described as such.
At the risk of spoiling the next couple of thousand words, each of these cars would make a fine, appealing alternative to any family car, premium-branded or otherwise. Don’t feel sheepish if you end up quietly wanting one. Dismissing them out of hand would be a much bigger offence.
Only one can win through this opening part of our saloon car comparison, of course – and for that car, a greater challenge is in store. But initially, the yardsticks against which this pair will be measured are threefold.
Their nearest and bitterest rival, the Vauxhall Insignia, is present because no Mondeo group test could happen without the successor to the huge-selling Vectra and Cavalier. Steadily moving upmarket, next in wait lies Volvo’s S60, fitted with the recent and creditable D4 diesel engine. After that comes a true premium German test of mettle in the shape of the Audi A3 saloon.
The cars are assembled in relatively high-output 2.0-litre turbodiesel guises. Power outputs range upwards from the Ford’s 178bhp to the Vauxhall’s 192bhp, and peak torque is an identical 295lb ft in all but the Audi. Each hits 62mph in nine seconds or less, all bar one qualify for benefit-in-kind taxat a comparable rate, and each can be leased on typical company terms for less than £400 per month. And still, a careful eye will identify one true bargain from the pack here – while a decent drive unearths plenty more.
The A3, Insignia and S60
First, to the supporting cast. It’s tempting to make assumptions about four-door saloons, because they’re such familiar things. No one looks at a Citroën C4 Cactus and has much of an idea what owning it will be like, but a Volvo S60 doesn’t challenge your preconceptions so readily. Received wisdom encourages us to believe that the Volvo will be comfortable but straight-laced, the Vauxhall drab but cheap and practical and the Audi classy, pricey and a little bit soulless.
Don’t believe it. These days, Volvo does alternative design appeal with practised skill and the S60’s good looks get it off to a strong start. Compactness is key to its visual appeal, though, and you may be surprised to find out that, while blessed with comfortable seats, good visibility and sensibly sized and sited switchgear, the S60 isn’t so spacious. It isn’t spacious at all.
The car’s relatively high-set front seats grant little packaging advantage and adults travelling in the back will struggle a little for both headroom and legroom. The S60’s 380-litre boot is the smallest here – little bigger, in fact, than you get in plenty of smaller hatchbacks. Despite having equally cramped rear passenger quarters, the A3 offers 425 litres of boot space, whereas the Insignia puts both to shame with 530 litres – by substituting the class’s default saloon boot arrangement for a more practical hatchback.