Don’t worry, the introduction of an all-new Volvo S60 has not passed you by. The manufacturer’s business saloon is less of the story here than what powers it.

Volvo’s decision to sweep away the eight engine configurations that it currently uses and replace them with a single four-cylinder architecture (sub-divided into diesel and petrol variants) is intriguing – and worthy, we think, of a closer look.

Strategically, it means that the comparatively small Swedish (but Chinese-owned) firm, which has always claimed to represent an alternative to the big premium German manufacturers and Jaguar's first small compact exec in the XE, must now fight its corner without the prestige – and profit – derived from larger engines.

If Volvo did not have much of a stake there to lose, it has chosen to bet the farm on overcoming its rivals in an extraordinarily competitive class.

Volvo has a proud history of building petrol engines, but its experience with diesels – beyond the heavy-duty industrial kind built by Volvo Powertrain – is more recent.

For two decades before the millennium, it was content to licence Volkswagen Group engines for use in its cars – right up to the five-cylinder 2.5-litre TDI that was offered with early S80s.

This practice was halted in 2001 by the 2.4-litre five-cylinder diesel developed by Volvo itself – one of the units now made obsolete by its four-cylinder replacement.

The four-cylinder turbodiesel is now the backbone of European sales, and the individual units that are its vertebrae are now fiendishly fast, refined and cheap to run. Volvo claims, in a stroke, to have advanced beyond any of them

There’s a range of four engines, and manual and automatic versions available on all S60s. Engine capacities are all 2.0-litres, but at the heart lies the aforementioned company car tax-friendly 118bhp D2 model, which produces 88g/km when paired to a manual 'box.

Five trim levels feature, ranging from the Business Edition through SE Nav, SE Lux Nav and R-Design Nav to R-Design Lux Nav models. R-Design designates a sportier version, with bigger wheels and appropriately athletic bodywork addenda.

So is Volvo's bold move to focus on a new diesel a masterstroke or megaflop? Read on to find the answer.

Top 5 Compact saloons

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Seat Leon ST Cupra 2.0 TSI 4Drive 300PS DSG
    First Drive
    28 April 2017
    Seat's fastest Leon ST is fun to drive quickly and has enough space for all the family, but VW's own Golf R Estate is even better to drive
  • Porsche 911 GT3 manual 2017 review
    First Drive
    28 April 2017
    The new 911 GT3 is an excellent machine; does the addition of a manual gearbox make it even better?
  • Skoda Karoq
    First Drive
    28 April 2017
    The Yeti has morphed into the Karoq for its second generation, and this early drive reveals a solid, practical small SUV that could challenge the class best
  • Opel Ampera-e
    First Drive
    27 April 2017
    Opel's second-generation Ampera is smaller than the first, and now purely electric. It's also very capable with a remarkable range
  • Lotus Elise Sprint
    First Drive
    27 April 2017
    The latest incarnation of the Elise may be out of its depth on track, but on the public road it is probably the purest version since the original