With fuel prices climbing faster than a chimp on steroids, it's no surprise that car manufacturers are doing everything in their power to ensure their vehicles are as fuel-efficient as possible.
Volvo's efforts in this area revolve around the models in its Drive range. They're specially adapted versions of existing cars, tweaked to increase fuel economy, reduce emissions and save customers' money. The latest model to roll off the assembly line is the diesel Volvo S60 Drive -- a £27,445 executive saloon that sits above the S40 and below the S80 in the Volvo food chain.
Look and feel
Gone are the days when Volvos were 'boxy but good'. The company's now embracing curves, and the majority of its cars are real lookers. Admittedly, the S60 Drive doesn't push the design envelope -- it's the sort of car you could easily lose in a multi-storey car park for days at a time, as it doesn't really stand out. But, once you find it, you'll be quietly pleased that you own it.
You'll be even happier with your purchase once you hit the road, because the S60 Drive is a blast to drive. Alright, its 1.6-litre engine isn't especially powerful, but it has plenty of torque, so it accelerates keenly from a standstill and cruises quietly at speed. Its seats are incredibly comfortable without being too soft, the driving position is superb and, when cornering, it grips the road harder than a newborn does a lactating teat.
Scale of economy
The S60 Drive is largely identical to the standard S60 save for a few key additions that help boost fuel economy. Volvo's fitted the car with low-rolling-resistance tyres, so it glides more freely across the surface of the road. It also has a smoother undertray to improve the aerodynamics, and features some electronic trickery to tweak the behaviour of the engine slightly.
The car features a stop-start system that turns the engine off when you come to a standstill and engage neutral, before starting it up again the minute you depress the clutch and are ready to pull away. The car's engine control unit has also been reprogrammed to reduce the amount of diesel fed into the cylinders -- much like an inkjet printer minimises ink droplet sizes on a sheet of paper to prolong cartridge life.
Run, Forrest! Run!
According to Volvo, the tweaks help the S60 Drive deliver an impressive 65.7mpg on the combined cycle, and carbon-dioxide emissions of 120g/km -- impressive figures for an executive saloon. In the real world, the former figure proved a shade optimistic -- we averaged just 52mpg while driving a total of 856 miles between England and Austria, along a route that primarily involved motorways.
We did everything in our power to reach the claimed figure, driving behind lorries, changing gear as early as 2,000rpm, switching off the air-conditioning and leaving the windows closed to optimise aerodynamic efficiency. Alas, it was not to be. Your own mileage may vary.
The S60 Drive's emissions are a point of contention. It emits carbon dioxide at a rate of 120g/km, which is relatively low for a car of this ilk. But Volvo, like most manufacturers, isn't very forthcoming with information related to the other emissions produced by its diesel cars.
The S60 Drive's diesel engine spews nasty carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide and diesel particulate matter that can cause or aggravate respiratory diseases. If you live in a built-up area and you care about keeping smog levels to a minimum, we'd advise you to look elsewhere.
The S60 Drive has an absurdly long list of safety features. Its blind-spot information system uses sensors mounted below each wing mirror to detect vehicles creeping alongside the car. When a vehicle is detected, a warning light is displayed to alert you not to change lanes.
Cameras and radar sensors mounted towards the front of the car scan the road ahead for traffic. If you happen to be closing in on an object -- a car or building, for example -- at a rate that suggests an impact is likely, the S60 Drive's collision-detection system will beep audibly and cast a red warning light onto the windscreen to inform you that you, or someone else, may shortly end up dead.
Should the driver fail to apply enough brake pressure to prevent a collision, the S60 Drive takes matters into its own hands. Its city-safety feature automatically brakes, applying enough pressure to avoid or reduce collision damage. The system also works with pedestrians so, if errant children hop in your path, they're far less likely to be smeared across the windscreen. Should the worst happen, the S60 Drive's automatic wipers do a great job of removing unwanted filth.
The S60 Drive's satellite-navigation system has plenty going for, and against, it. The 6-inch display runs at a pleasant-enough resolution, so text and graphics are rendered well. It also has an interesting dual-map mode that can display two maps simultaneously -- one showing a close-up of the road you're currently travelling along, and another that shows a bird's eye view of your location.
The system has its drawbacks, though. It doesn't accept full seven-digit UK postcodes, so you'll have to manually enter part of the postcode, as well as the name of the street you're trying to find, which can prove fiddly.
Even more frustrating is the inconsistency of the mapping data. When trying to find a well-known A road in London, we were surprised to find that the road in question wasn't listed in the sat-nav's database, despite the fact that a smaller B road, attached to the missing A road, was present.
When we asked the sat-nav to guide us to that B road, it took us via the 'missing' A road and even audibly read out the name of the A road. That's an amazing feat considering the sat-nav was supposedly unaware that the road even existed.
Songs of praise
The sound quality of the basic 'performance' stereo system is mediocre, but the 'high performance' option in our test car delivers a more rounded sound. It won't trouble the Bang & Olufsen audio kit in Aston Martin's cars, but it has plenty of low-end thump, and an adjustable graphic equaliser lets you modify the sound to your tastes.
Unusually, the S60 Drive comes with an infrared remote control. This allows the driver and passengers to adjust the volume, change stations and -- if the car is fitted with an optional rear-seat entertainment package -- control DVD playback on twin 7-inch screens mounted on the back of the front-seat head rests.
The Volvo S60 Drive is a fabulous all-rounder. It's great to drive, as safe as an armour-plated house, and delivers good fuel economy. Being a diesel, it isn't quite as environmentally friendly as many would have you believe, but, filthy emissions aside, this car is a breath of fresh air.
Edited by Charles Kloet