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Volvo's reborn estate has a svelte image and upmarket aspirations. How does the V60 stack up against the likes of Mercedes and BMW?

If you fancy a challenge, try understating the transformation Volvo has undergone since it was offloaded by Ford eight years ago.

Under chief designer Thomas Ingenlath, the brand has since unleashed a series of beautiful, powerfully styled concept cars and then followed them up with recognisably related production models.

Volvo’s signature ‘Thor’s hammer’ headlights grab your attention straight away. Could this be one of the best-looking estates on sale? We certainly think so.

Its engineers have developed an economically viable, effective powertrain strategy whereby four-cylinder diesel and petrol engines are adapted to a broad range of mission briefs with the use of supercharging, turbocharging and, increasingly, plug-in hybrid technology.

There are 48V mild hybrids to come in 2019 as Europe adapts to a post-Dieselgate market and plans are currently being put in place to meet ambitious expectations for demand in autonomous technologies and the purchasing of cars through a subscription service.

Now, under the auspices of Chinese multinational Geely, Volvo is a savvy organisation earning record profits and routinely challenging for best in class. It’s a different world from the one in which the marque was quietly admired by those of a certain persuasion for the manner in which a dog-eared 240 GL would dispatch a quarter of a million miles without histrionics.

So where does the Volvo V60, introduced as an uncharacteristically svelte Volvo estate in 2010 and now in its second generation, fit in?

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You might be surprised to learn that profit is not necessarily its primary objective. The market for premium estate cars is, after all, a shrinking one (we’ll let you guess where those in need of family transport are now choosing to put their money), but as a premium brand looking to cement its new-found aspirational charm, it’s one in which it is imperative for Volvo to be regarded among the best.

That means matching, and perhaps exceeding, the likes of the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4 in terms of practicality, desirability and performance. While that’s no mean feat, we suspect many of those lining up the purchase of a mid-sized premium estate would welcome an excuse to go somewhere other than those German marques.

The question is whether this new V60 will allow them to do so without regret.

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DESIGN & STYLING

Volvo V60 2018 road test review hero rear

One glance at the Volvo V60’s elegant lines is all it takes to recognise the handiwork of Ingenlath. The resemblance between the Swedish manufacturer’s rival to the likes of the BMW 3 Series Touring and Mercedes C-Class estate and its larger Volvo V90 and Volvo XC60 is striking.

The ‘Thor’s hammer’ headlight design is retained, as are the familiar L-shaped tail-lights. However, while the V60’s overall aesthetic is undeniably Volvo, design cues such as its sharply sculpted flanks and more tapered roofline help lend the V60 a slightly more purposeful, almost muscular appearance. Not one that necessarily exudes athleticism, but one that suggests the smaller estate is a sharper, tighter proposition than its predominantly bulkier range-mates.

V60’s front bumper is more sharply styled than that of the softer, more luxurious V90. Other than that, they look incredibly similar.

Beneath that refined, handsome exterior sits the same Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) that underpins all of Volvo’s larger models. That said, the V60 is bigger in terms of total length and wheelbase than the XC60 SUV.

It measures 4761mm overall and 2872mm between the front and rear axles, next to the XC60’s respective figures of 4688mm and 2865mm. It’s longer than rival offerings from BMW, Mercedes and Audi too.

From the V60’s launch, transversely mounted 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol and diesel motors make up the engine line-up, with our oil-burning D4 test model producing 188bhp at 4250rpm and 295lb ft between 1750rpm and 2500rpm. This is delivered to the front wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission, although a six-speed manual is also available as an entry-level offering.

In step with Volvo’s electrification plans, two mild hybrids and a plug-in hybrid will be introduced at a later date. The V60 runs on 17in wheels as standard (18s on our test car) and is suspended by double wishbones at the front and a transverse leaf spring arrangement at the rear.

Volvo’s Four Corner adaptive damper system is available as a £750 option on Inscription and Inscription Pro models, but not on Momentum Pro, our test car’s trim level.

As has come to be expected from Volvo, the V60 is kitted out with a veritable arsenal of active and passive safety features. Standard features include lane keep assist, pedestrian, cyclist and large animal detection and fully automatic emergency braking. Although the new V60 has yet to be crash tested by Euro NCAP, the presence of these features should result in a favourable score.

Our test vehicle was also fitted with the optional £1625 Intellisafe Pro pack, which adds adaptive cruise control, Pilot Assist, cross traffic alert, rear collision mitigation and a blindspot information system.

INTERIOR

Volvo V60 2018 road test review cabin

In a similar vein to its exterior, the relationship between the Volvo V60’s cabin and that of Volvo’s other models – with the one exception of the Volvo XC40, perhaps – is clear.

Despite not feeling quite as airy as, say, an Volvo XC90 or Volvo V90 – arguably a result of our test car’s dark interior palette – the V60’s overall layout is all much of a muchness. The dashboard is dominated by the portrait-oriented 9.0in Sensus touchscreen infotainment system, which is in turn flanked by stylised rectangular air vents.

Those mourning the demise of Volvo’s comfortingly frumpy persona should pick the plaid interior, known as ‘Blond City Weave’. Pure 1970s class.

The portrait-oriented touchscreen is used to operate the bulk of the V60’s functions – covering everything from the DAB radio and satellite navigation to the car’s vast array of safety systems. A selection of web apps – including Spotify, Google search and Yelp – are also available, although an internet connection is understandably required for these to work. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility is also available as an option.

To its credit, Volvo has done a rather excellent job of making the system look sharp and operate smoothly from a graphical standpoint, although a greater number of physical controls would be welcome. The heating, ventilation and air-con settings are predominantly controlled through a sub-menu within the system, which can make them fiddly to use when on the move, particularly if you’re right-handed.

Pleasingly on our Momentum Pro test vehicle, the presence of hard, scratchy plastic is kept mostly to a minimum. Soft-touch plastics have been employed instead, lending the V60 a much more desirable, upmarket ambience, albeit one that perhaps falls just short of luxurious.

Functionality and practicality have obviously played an important part in the V60’s brief too; more so than in the larger V90 estate, even. Where that car prioritised rear leg room over outright boot space, the reverse is true with the V60. With the back seats in place, the smaller estate offers 658 litres of luggage capacity – considerably more than estate variants of the Audi A4, Mercedes C-Class and BMW 3 Series.

Fold down the second row of seats and this increases to 1441 litres. It’s a thoughtfully designed space, too, with a wide opening and plenty of lashing points and luggage hooks to keep your bits and bobs from sliding about.

The floor, meanwhile, is flush with the rear bumper, so there’s no lip to navigate, either. Although the V60 does seemingly hark back to the Volvo estates of yesteryear with its comparatively cavernous boot, this doesn’t come at the expense of leg room in the second row.

Even behind a taller driver, there’s no danger of having one’s legs mashed up against the seatback. Head room is good, too, even with the expansive optional panoramic roof fitted to our test vehicle.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Volvo V60 2018 road test review engine

Volvo’s 2.0-litre diesel motors haven’t always been a byword for outright refinement and, in the Volvo V60, this does ring true.

After clattering into life on start-up, the Drive-E unit settles down to a relatively vocal idle, which we measured at 49dB. By comparison, the BMW 3 Series 320d saloon we road tested back in 2012 came in at 48dB. Apply some throttle and the accompanying diesel grumble becomes even more prevalent; certainly not to the point where you’d be put off the idea of buying a V60 completely, but rivals do better in this area.

It’s a pity this four-cylinder engine isn’t as refined as you might like and expect from an estate with aspirations to be premium

A greater source of irritation, though, is the eight-speed transmission’s occasional tardiness in finding the right gear when setting off. Attempts to pull away from junctions in a smooth fashion are often hampered by a noticeable delay as the gearbox rummages around for the right ratio.

Once the car is up and running, acceleration can only be described as smooth and laid back in nature, which seems in keeping with Volvo’s image of being a manufacturer of more comfort-oriented family vehicles.

Our timing gear clocked the V60’s 0-60mph run at 8.9sec, which is some way off its claimed 7.6sec time and a product of the fact that the V60’s 235/45 tyres struggled to find purchase off the line. The 320d saloon, meanwhile, managed the same sprint in 7.6sec.

The gearbox sorts itself out as you get moving, too, with cogs being swapped in a largely seamless, tidy fashion. Those who prefer to change gears themselves will find there is a manual mode, although there aren’t any paddle shifters on the steering wheel or column.

The gearlever’s manual position seems to be back-to-front too: you need to push the lever forwards to change up, and pull backwards to shift down.

As you’d expect from a safety-centric car, the V60 comes to a halt from 70mph in a safe and stable manner and takes 46.2m to do so.

RIDE & HANDLING

Volvo V60 2018 road test review cornering front

On its Ford-sourced platform, the first-generation Volvo V60 rode well enough but, Polestar version aside, was more ordinary than the sporting claims made by Volvo’s marketing agency suggested.

Thankfully, the move to in-house underpinnings and adjustable dampers has done nothing to sully the V60’s ability to round off all but the worst the UK road network can throw at it. In fact, barring a tendency to feel a touch over-sprung at inner-city speeds, this chassis feels right on the money in terms of everyday comfort compared with rivals.

ESC Sport mode is nicely calibrated, trimming wheelspin without affecting momentum.

That said, at a cruise, the tyres do transmit more noise into the cabin than those of a Mercedes C-Class or Audi A4, and we can’t vouch for the R-Design package, which, with its lowered suspension, should be selected as an option with caution.

The sporting side of the equation is more complicated. The V60 possesses satisfactory balance and cuts an unflustered figure even as speeds become most unbecoming of a Volvo estate.

The V60 met Millbrook’s Hill Route in resolute fashion. In fact, it’s no exaggeration to say body control is a cut above what we’ve come to expect from Volvo estate cars and the resulting grip and traction allowed this front-driven chassis to make quick, sure-footed progress at all times.

A similarly powerful BMW 3 Series Touring – rear driven, of course – would undoubtedly negotiate this place with greater panache and a more natural balance, but you’d need timing gear to confirm any objective superiority.

If the V60 is deficient in one particular area, it is steering. The front axle that this rack directs remains faithful at commitment levels far beyond what most owners will ask of it, but a crisper response just off centre would endow the car with a feeling of agility commensurate with its composure.

The company doesn’t offer air suspension but it’s hardly required, such is the tight, precise control of both lateral and vertical body movements, and the stability generated by the car’s long wheelbase is palpable.

Indeed, this chassis is agile and never bites, but neither does it ever truly entertain, unless you’re the sort who takes satisfaction from calculated progress. Direction changes are dispatched dispassionately and the steering is as mute as it ever was with midsized Volvo estates.

Were the V60 to possess fluid dynamics, this would be something to mourn. As it is, the chassis engineers at Gothenburg can take pride in having created an immensely sure-footed, competent car that takes day-today commitment in its comfortable stride, but there’s work to be done if the 3 Series is to feel any heat from the perspective of keen drivers.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Volvo V60 2018 road test review hero front

Given Volvo’s attempt to reposition itself as a genuine alternative to upmarket offerings from the likes of Audi, BMW and Mercedes – one it has so far pulled off rather successfully – higher prices are to be expected.

Compared with the previous-generation Volvo V60, starting prices for the new model are almost £8000 more expensive, at £31,810. That said, standard equipment and perceived quality are now more abundant. Sat-nav, 17in alloy wheels, automatic LED headlights, climate control, a powered tailgate and an extensive array of active and passive safety systems are all included for no additional cost on entry-level Momentum models.

The Volvo performs better than both the Mercedes and the BMW, but its value retention isn’t outstanding.

Fuel economy is respectable enough too: we recorded a touring figure of 43.1mpg. As far as depreciation is concerned, forecasts for our £36,610 (before options) V60 D4 Momentum Pro aren’t exactly promising. After 36 months and 36,000 miles, it’ll hold just 42% of its original value, predict our experts.

That said, forecasts are even bleaker for similarly priced rivals. Over the same period, the 2019-model-year C220d SE estate is expected to retain 37% of its original asking price and the current 320d Sport Touring 32%. A large part of this is likely down to falling consumer confidence in diesel-powered cars.

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VERDICT

Volvo V60 2018 road test review hero static

Volvo’s recent string of SUVs, estates and saloons has been striking something of a chord not just with buyers, but with us Autocar road testers too. Here is a manufacturer that has - for the most part - consistently produced vehicles that look great and are impressively well rounded, dynamically and practically.

By and large, the Volvo V60 continues this trend to the letter, while also touching on one of the original cornerstones of Volvo’s appeal by having a considerably larger boot than any immediate rival from the likes of Audi, BMW and Mercedes.

A fine-looking, capable and practical estate with only a few demerits

That it looks as good as it does, offers surprising levels of dynamic ability and has a genuinely desirable and spacious interior only adds to its broad appeal.

There are some caveats, mind. The ride can jostle over sub-par surfaces and the engine errs on the coarser side while also being a shade deficient in outright performance.

All things considered, the V60 falls short of rewriting the mid-sized estate playbook or gaining class-leader status. But it certainly comes damn close, and that’s no mean feat.

What Car? New Car Buyer Marketplace

Volvo V60 2018-2022 First drives