ROAD TEST: Volvo S60 D5 Elite
If you go a bit crazy on the options list, the latest Volvo S60 can be full of surprises.
Almost two hours into a road trip on the N3, a small graphic showing a cup of coffee popped onto the instrument cluster.
“Wouldn't that be nice right now?” I fantasised.
Disappointingly there is no cappuccino dispenser built into this Volvo's dash, and the next 1 Stop's brew would have to do.
It turns out it was Volvo's new Driver Alert Control system at play, which costs an extra R9500. It registers the car's movements between the lines and also looks out for other forms of driver distraction. Of course, my driving was fine but the Volvo obviously knew better.
A while later, I heard a brief little electronica tune that sounded like something concocted by a DJ on speed. Nope, it wasn't some kind of spontaneous entertainment system coming into play, but rather the Lane Departure Warning system telling me that a wheel touched an outer road line. Which I knew, of course. But it's nice to know that you really want to save my life, so thanks Volvo.
A FEAST OF OPTIONS
These are just two of a whole battalion of optional safety gadgets available on the latest S60, including an enhanced Blind Spot Information System (R8000) that can now see 70m behind, Cross Traffic Alert for reversing and Adaptive Cruise Control with Queue Assist for easy traffic crawling to name just a few. Let's not forget the advanced pedestrian and cyclist detection system, with auto brake. The former two come in a package that adds R18 900 to the price.
Of course, the whole suite of airbags at all relevant corners as well as advanced traction and stability control are standard on the S60, along with an enhanced City Safety function that can now brake automatically at speeds of up to 50km/h.
It's pretty clear then, that the S60 is at the cutting edge of safety. But has it fulfilled its maker's ambition of evolving into a more desirable, more aspirational brand?
The most recent upgrade was a good start and the sedan now has a more appealing frontal design thanks to a wider grille and new headlights that the designers say were inspired by a wolf's eyes. Not that there's anything truly aggressive about the S60's look - it's simply clean, purposeful and somewhat elegant.
But forget the wolves, Volvo's interior stylists claim to have created a “warm and cosy” interior that makes you feel like you're in a warm Swedish house on a cold night. I can't tell you whether they've succeeded because that one hasn't been ticked off my bucket list as yet, but the cabin does have a rather pleasant feel thanks to its smart new selection of trims and materials, comfortable seats and ample space for occupants in the front and back. The boot feels a little restricted though, but that's mainly down to the fact that a full-sized spare wheel has been squeezed in for our market.
There's a good spread of standard kit in the D5 Elite model that I drove, including leather seats with electric adjustment for those in the front, automatic climate control, cruise control and a what Volvo calls a 'High Performance' audio system linked to a seven-inch screen.
FIVE-POT DIESEL GRUMBLE
As for the more important performance aspect of this car, the D5 six-speed automatic fares relatively well for a diesel-powered compact premium car. Its five-cylinder 2.4-litre turbodiesel not only emits a pleasantly off-beat soundtrack, but it strikes a good balance between performance and economy.
With 158kW available at 4000rpm and 440Nm from 1500, the D5 is comfortably brisk and something of an overtaking champion, although acceleration off the mark falls short of exciting. On the sensible side of the equation, my long-distance jaunt saw the Volvo sip a respectable 6.5 litres per 100km at speeds in the region of 120km/h.
The ride was comfortable over most surfaces and it was quiet as a cocoon. It felt solid through the corners too and the steering certainly feels firm and communicative enough at speed.
This Swede makes a good enough case for itself and although the D5 it is priced on the steep side of things, it does offer a power and torque advantage over similarly priced sedans. If you want to set yourself apart from the German herd, be sure to take this one for a test drive.
Just a pity that it hasn't learned to make coffee yet.
Volvo S60 D5 Elite
Engine: 2.4-litre, five-cylinder turbodiesel
Gearbox: Six-speed automatic
Power: 158kW @ 4000rpm
Torque: 440Nm @ 1500-3000rpm
0-100km/h (claimed): 7.6 seconds
Consumption (claimed): 5.9 litres per 100km
Price: R468 800
Warranty: Five-year/100 000km
Maintenance plan: Five-year/100 000km
BMW 320d AT (135kW/380Nm) - R458 500
Honda Accord 2.2 i-Dtec AT (132kW/380Nm) - R446 800
Mercedes C220 Bluetec AT (125kW/400Nm) - R477 000
Peugeot 508 2.2 HDi GT (150kW/450Nm) - R510 800