First drive: Volvo V60
Volvo launched the saloon version of its 3-Series/ A4 competitor several months ago, but it's now the turn of the big hitter – the estate version. The manufacturer expects the V60 to outsell the S60 by some margin, largely because load-luggers are still seen by the buying public as Volvo's raison d'etre.
Don't expect to hear the word estate mentioned in the dealerships much though. In an attempt to move beyond its brand appeal beyond the traditional middle-aged, middle class customer base, Volvo has dubbed the V60 a sports wagon rather than an estate car.
Whether the model pulls off the trick of making the saloon even better looking is arguable, but there's no denying that the 'sports wagon' is a fine adaptation of the S60's lines in the name of greater practicality.
Not much greater though. Volvo's secondary reason for ditching the estate tag is that the car's extra space doesn't exactly give it supertanker storage capacity. It goes without saying that the car is less capacious than the V70 above it, but the car is only 13 litres more voluminous than the smaller V50 and some way behind most of its competitors.
So there's a price to be paid for that low swooping roof line and shapely posterior, but that doesn't mean buyers won't be seduced by the V60 on the forecourt. Aside from its new bodywork the car shares almost everything else with its saloon sibling, meaning it inherits the S60's interior, which is the best Volvo has produced in some time.
There isn't quite as much rear legroom as you might expect, but it feels comfortable and the surroundings endow the Volvo with that all important premium feel. The rear seats fold away in a 40/20/40 split to reveal a flat load space, and the front passenger seat can also be flattened if required.
Underneath the V60 shares almost everything with the saloon, which means it gets much the same handling as the S60. That means it's quiet and competent, but not really incisive enough to earn the sport part of its wagon moniker.
Issues with the steering feel remains prominent, but we'd be willing to bet that most Volvo drivers will forgive the cars lack of genuine involvement given that it is otherwise a quiet, capable cruiser with a ride quality reputedly tuned for UK roads.
Volvo has also finally taken steps to improve its range of petrol engines. Alongside the manufacturer's standard powerplants, the V60 will be offered with a new 1.6-litre petrol unit in 150bhp and 180bhp outputs.
We drove the latter, and found it to be everything we've come to expect from a downsized, direct injection turbocharged engine. It's willing enough and full of mid-range energy, but also as noisy as a dentist's drill at high revs.
Lumbered with an estate car's bulk the 180bhp lump is not going to set your hair on fire either, but then it's not really intended too. Like its competitors, Volvo is offering the 1.6-litre engine for people who want high economy and low emissions without the distant rumble of an oil burner.
With a claimed 44mpg on the cards and CO2 emissions likely to be below 150g/km we've little doubt that the engine will meet the expectations of most, and so long as you avoid the mismatched Powershift automatic gearbox and opt for the six-speed manual, it is reasonably well suited to the V60's requirements.
Prices for the new car haven't been finalised just yet, but it's likely to be between £1000 and £1500 more than the equivalent S60. That may strike you as a hefty premium for a bit more boot space, but Volvo estate models – no matter what they're called – do tend to find buyers prepared to part with the cash. The manufacturer will just have to wait and see if its decision to opt for a little more style and a little less substance has affected that tradition.