The received wisdom is that Volvos are boring and so are estate cars. On paper, then, the V60 shouldn't stand a chance. It should, by all rights, be the most yawn-inducing hell box on the planet.
Those who drive one, however, will discover it's actually rather entertaining. It's one of a new breed of so-called 'naughty Volvos', and, as such, it promises accurate, fun handling and a rapid turn of pace, all wrapped up in a safe-as-houses package that starts from £23,670.
Right angles be gone
The V60 eschews the 'boxy but good' aesthetic that Volvo is famed for, in favour of a surprisingly curvaceous design that's devoid of right angles. It's clearly an estate, despite Volvo insisting it's a 'sports wagon', but there's no doubt it's a relatively attractive vehicle.
Climb inside the V60 and you'll find a warm, welcoming cabin with comfortable seats on which to plant your exhausted bottom. Like the exterior, there's nothing spectacular about its design, but the total package is a pleasing one, particularly for techies. It's littered with buttons, flashing lights that warn you of impending danger, and even an infrared remote control that lets you adjust the stereo and sat-nav. There's certainly plenty going on, and most of it's pleasant.
Our test model, the sporty V60 R-Design, comes with an aluminium trim on the wing mirrors, aluminium pedals, special floor mats, a leather steering wheel, a pollen filter and 18-inch Ixion aluminium alloy wheels.
What it doesn't come with is a great deal of space. There's plenty of room in the back for rear passengers, but the 557-litre capacity of the luggage compartment isn't anywhere near as impressive as the space you'll find in some of the V60's rivals. In fact, it doesn't offer much more room than the 400 or so litres of luggage space provided in the Honda Jazz Hybrid super-mini, although that car is capacious for its class, admittedly.
Driving the V60 fills you with a feeling of confidence. It might be an old Volvo cliché, but it feels so remarkably well put together that you'll doubt anything -- slippery roads, a crash, global warming -- could possibly harm you. It really is like climbing into an unusually comfortable tank.
You'll never forget that dangers exist, though, because the V60 constantly reminds you of things that could go wrong. It has a host of safety systems that bleep and flash to get your attention, plus a few that will actually take control of the vehicle if you fail to heed the warnings.
Volvo's Blind Spot Information System provides a constant reminder, thanks to a rear-facing sensor and lights embedded in the wing mirror, that cars, bicycles or motorbikes might be lurking in areas not visible in your mirrors.
When driving above 40mph, Driver Alert Control uses a camera to monitor the road ahead and computers to analyse your steering wheel movements, thus deciding whether you're driving erratically. If it deems you're getting tired and not paying enough attention, it will visually, via messages on the instrument binnacle, suggest it might be time for a break.
The same camera is used as part of the V60's Lane Departure Warning system, which beeps to keep you alert when you're drifting gently out of lane without using the indicator. The camera is also used as part of Volvo's amazing City Safety feature, which automatically applies the brakes when it detects that a person has stepped in front of the car while you're travelling at low speeds. At high speeds, a radar system helps the V60's adaptive cruise control to match the acceleration and braking -- but not steering -- of the car immediately in front.
Handle without care
With such an abundance of safety features, you could be forgiven for thinking that the V60 is something of a stick in the mud, but you'd be wrong. The car, despite being an estate, is an absolute blast to drive. We had the pleasure of testing the V60 with Volvo's just-below-flagship T5 engine -- a 2-litre petrol model that delivers a muscular 237bhp.
Despite weighing a hefty 2.13 tonnes, the T5-equipped V60 goes like freshly laid stink. It's by no means brutal -- you'll need a V60 with the larger T6 engine for that -- but 0-60mph takes a mere 7.5 seconds and it'll keep going until the speedo reads 143mph or one of the safety systems decides it's time to apply the brakes.
Any car with a big enough engine can hit those sorts of numbers, but not many could keep up with the V60 when negotiating difficult bends. Volvo's fitted the car with McPherson struts -- a type of suspension system that's often used on high-performance vehicles.
The V60's design sacrifices ride quality ever so slightly, but lends itself to fast, accurate cornering. Throw the V60 around a series of sweeping bends and it'll shift its weight gracefully and predictably, giving you the confidence to push it even further. It's a fabulously responsive car for its size and you'll only realise you're driving an estate when you get out, walk away and look over your shoulder to admire it.
Let it entertain you
The V60's cabin has a luxury feel. That impression is aided in no small part by a pretty decent entertainment system. It's not groundbreaking in any way, but the audio set-up delivers punchy, cabin-filling sound that rarely distorts at high volumes. There are also plenty of source options, including iPod, iPhone, USB, MP3/WMA CD, Bluetooth streaming audio and DAB, so you'll never be short of something to listen to.
The Volvo V60 isn't as practical as some estates, but, what it lacks in luggage space, it makes up for in fun. It's an extremely entertaining car to drive, particularly with one of the larger T5 or T6 engines fitted. It also handles well enough to give sporty hatchbacks the slip, and comes with a staggering array of safety features.
Edited by Charles Kloet