Volvo V60 still can’t top the class, but its new engine – in the S60 – might come close

What is it?

This latest Volvo V60 is the culmination of a six-year journey. Volvo apparently dreamed up the idea of focusing on small four-cylinder engines and hybrids in 2007 while it was still in Ford’s clutches; by the time it was sold in 2009, Volvo had decided that it wanted to be a manufacturer of 2.0-litre (or smaller) motors only. Two years later, it received the funding to make it happen. 

The fruits of Volvo's labour, to be launched in the Volvo S60, V60 and Volvo XC60 first, are strikingly simple. There will now be just two 2.0-litre engines – one petrol, one diesel – sharing a basic architecture and three methods of mounting. All other powerplants (Ford’s remnants, the five-cylinder diesels etc) will be swept away over the next two years, replaced by eight derivatives of the same design. Hybrids will follow. 

It’s a logical, if slightly daring strategy. Its simplicity reflects Volvo’s size and its standalone nature, but also its intention to remain a serious volume manufacturer (it expects to build 500,000 units at its Skovde engine plant). That ambitious figure is bolstered by the technical ingenuity on show.

The new D4 diesel engine (the T6 petrol is dealt with elsewhere) ought to start life as a class leader. Homologation is yet to come, but Volvo is counting on a near-to, if not under, 99g/km CO2 emissions figure in the S60. With 178bhp, 295lb ft of torque and 0-62mph in 7.4sec. On paper, thosea re BMW 320d ED-beating figures. 

Those numbers have been achieved conventionally, through the likes of weight reduction, improved turbocharging and an Eco coast mode, and with evolutionary new tech, including the adoption of i-Art, a 2500 bar common-rail injection system that incorporates pressure sensors in every injector to permit an even finer tuning of combustion timing. 

We drove the new engine aboard the V60, hooked up to an all-new, Aisin-supplied eight-speed gearbox which replaces the old six-speed Powershift transmission. The automatic and estate weight pushes the CO2 up around 10g/km, but Volvo still reckons the D4 will deliver 67.2mpg combined economy.

What's it like?

There's a lot of new tech beating within the D4’s aluminum heart but you wouldn’t know it on start up. The atypical clatter is unmistakable, and there’s less respite from it than you might find in some of Volvo’s rivals. In terms of vibration, the refinement is respectable, and the V60 creeps keenly and pulls well under the accelerator pedal’s initial travel. 

Responsiveness is generally good. The Aisin gearbox is a better fit for the diesel’s plod than it is for the much more zippy T6, and it downshifts within expectations. Its software dictates a sedate style, but with the healthy peak twist appearing at 1750rpm, the V60 never feels labour intensive. 

More enthusiastic driving dictates use of the paddles, which is fine as heavier throttle inputs reveal an ingratiating tolerance for higher engine speeds. Full power doesn’t appear until 4250rpm, and the D4 will find it vigorously rather than emptying its lungs when the torque tails off at 2500rpm. 

All in all it feels like a decent modern diesel engine; if not quite as spry as the four-cylinder units from BMW and Mazda, but not all that dissimiliar – which is high praise as they form our current benchmark. Indeed, the V60 D4’s shortcomings are those inherited elsewhere, such as an anonymous (if faithful) dynamic performance and an inability to ride with quite the same elan as its better rivals manage. 

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Should I buy one?

If Volvo manages to sneak the six-speed manual saloon version of the S60 under 100g/km then it has provided buyers a substantial reason for doing so. The D4 is not a revolutionary piece of kit, but the box-fresh four-cylinder motor does what all newly introduced engines should by increasing our regard for the model in which they find themselves. 

While the V60 (and S60) are still not perfect specimens in an extremely tough class, a world-class attribute has been added under the bonnet. Even for the car we’ve driven – with its emissions drawn closer to its rivals by the belch effect of the torque converter – it provides a solidly desirable tick in the 'for' column. And with more derivatives to come, things will likely only get better for the foresighted Swedes. 

Volvo V60 D4 SE auto

Price £30,945; 0-62mph 7.6sec; Top speed 140mph; Economy 67.3mpg (combined); CO2 111g/km (TBC); Kerb weight 1700kg (est); Engine 4 cyls, 1969cc, turbodiesel; Power 178bhp at 4250rpm; Torque 295lb ft at 1750-2500rpm; Gearbox 8-spd auto

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John C 14 November 2013

Volvo always surprise me I

Volvo always surprise me I saw it on www.warrenhenryvolvo.com and I just love it.
SJ19MB 17 September 2013

Diesels are rowdy and filthy

Diesels are rowdy and filthy engines.They clog the air we breathe,yet motor journalists still call them 'efficient' & 'clean'.

Oilburner 16 September 2013

Sad to see the five pot diesel go

But I guess it's progress when you're getting this kind of fuel economy and performance, I'd buy one for sure.