What is it?
The petrol half of Volvo’s masterplan is likely to be a more difficult sell than its diesel half-brother. The previous Volvo S60 T6 was powered by a turbocharged 3.0-litre straight-six designed in Sweden, built in Wales and adored practically nowhere. But at least it had the prerequisite half-dozen cylinders. Volvo won't be able to convince everyone – especially beyond Europe’s frugalness – that its four-cylinder replacement is cleaner and clearly better.
Nevertheless, the firm's engineers are adament. Outright capacity is dismissed as a side issue; it’s how much air you can force through what you’ve got that currently captivates the Swedes. To that end, a supercharger and a turbocharger (yup, a ‘superturbo’) bulge from the new compact block and duly suck‘n’blow the new 2.0-litre T6 all the way up to 302bhp from 5700rpm.
Around the near-constant turbulence, Volvo has installed all the familiar mod-cons. Variable valve timing and direct fuel injection are both present and correct, and its engineers insist that better thermal management and friction reduction were high on their list of priorities from day one. The ungainly six-speed auto has also been retired, replaced by a new Aisin-supplied eight-speed torque converter.
Rather than sending its power to all four wheels as before, the initial T6s will be front-wheel drive only. There’s no LSD to help it on its way either. Instead, Volvo has pioneered what it claims is a different breed of traction control, using a unique arrangement of sensors (plumbed directly into the direct injection system) to harness the engine’s torque delivery in a far more nuanced way than has previously been achieved.
What's it like?
Low alcohol lager. A nice idea and not a little worthy, but not as much fun as the real thing. The idea behind the ‘superturbo’ (as it has been known when previously applied by other manufacturers) is that the supercharger works from idle to supply all the low-down, big engine-emulating twist, and then the turbo takes over (via a bypass valve) once sufficient inertia has been summoned up to spin the turbines.
In practice this works seamlessly, and well enough to make the S60 feel purposefully quick. Even with the whiny supercharger, peak torque – all 295lb ft of it – doesn’t appear until 2100rpm, but any delay between throttle and go is usually the fault of the torque converter automatic, which lacks the unflappable, swift-shifting capabilities of its rivals' dual-clutch autos.
The engine, though, doesn’t break stride, and the vocal whimper turns into an almost imperceptible whoosh as the boost swaps from one charger to the other. The thrust is linear and good for 62mph in 5.9sec. It is also remarkably clean. Unofficially, the S60’s emissions are rated at 149g/km CO2; that’s less than a Focus ST, let alone similarly powered opposition.
Unfortunately, that figure, like the highly credible 44.1mpg combined, is intangible, and the T6 could do with a little more. For all its technical cleverness, the engine still lacks the panache and effortless presence of its German rivals. It spends too much time being humdrum at a stroll, and naggingly stressed in a sprint.
Where the turbocharged six-cylinder motors in Audi and BMW’s stall have a fluid, insatiable stride, the S60 never lets you forget that it’s working hard to keep up the pace. The extra power installed in the T6 is also a reminder that Volvo has still not managed to drag the oft-promised driver’s car from the S60. Too often it labours and lurches, even if the new traction control system does an exemplary job of unobtrusively dealing with the inevitable understeer.
Should I buy one?
Not unless your primary concern is running costs. Which they won’t be, because high powered petrol engine cars aren’t usually bought to indulge fossil fuel parsimony. Volvo is probably betting on a business user's eye for a bargain, but the T6 doesn’t bristle with the superior appeal inherent in a 335i or an S4.
The manufacturer has already assured us that the new engine is not at the outer edge of its potential, and more muscular versions – as well as those connected to its AWD system – will eventually appear. We await something a bit more special, and so should you.
Volvo S60 T6 R-design lux
Price £38,135; 0-62mph 5.9sec; Top speed 143mph; Economy 44.1mpg (combined); CO2 149g/km; Engine 4 cyls, 1969cc, turbo and supercharged, petrol; Power 302bhp at 5700rpm; Torque 295lb ft at 2100-4500rpm; Gearbox 8-spd automatic