This is an all-out sports saloon, aimed squarely at prestige compact executive rivals like BMW's 3 Series, Mercedes' C-class and the Lexus IS200. British designer Peter Horbury's brief was to create a saloon that looked like a Coupe front and rear - in his words "a Ferrari you could get in and out of" - and the result is one that should sit snugly in the boardroom carpark amongst the massed ranks of Mercedes', BMWs and Audis. It's unmistakably a Volvo: check the C70-style rear three-quarter view, the V70 front end and the distinctive S80 'catwalk' shoulders which run the entire length of the car. Yet somehow, there's a sense of style and spirit we've not seen from Gothenburg in the past.
Much the same is also true inside, though the cabin draws heavily on the approach already used in the S80 and V70 models. Here however, there's a sportier feel, courtesy of the three-spoke leather-covered wheel, the bucket seats and, on T5 manual models, a 'spaceball' gearlever surround (an aluminium dome that pivots beneath the stick). Probably more significant than all that however, is the amount of space you'll find in the rear, thanks to a 'cab-forward' design which has freed up more space for those on the back seat. Three people will fit but Volvo expects many customers to opt for a special two-seater rear bench with more sculpted, supportive seating for a couple of adults.
Safety of course, remained uppermost in the designers' minds throughout development: Volvo may have ditched many of its marque values in recent years but it can't afford to lose this one. Hence the inclusion on every model of dual-stage airbags for front driver and passenger, SIPS (the company's patented Side Impact Protections System) with side airbags, WHIPS (the Whiplash Protection System), an inflatable curtain to save your head from smashing against the side glass and five three-point seatbelts.
It's a Volvo. You tell us.
(approx based on a 2000 T5) Middle of the road prices for this compact executive flier. A clutch assembly is around £190, whilst an exhaust system is in the region of £400. Thin front brake pads will require the thick end of £60, whilst rears are £40 a pair. A new alternator will require alternate plans for £180, but a new starter motor is a fairly reasonable £120. A replacement headlamp is £180.
As part of Ford's Premier Auto Group, Volvo has a responsibility to not only offer class-leading safety and environmental performance - the S60 had to be a winner on the road. In certain respects, most notably when considering £ per bhp, it succeeds admirably. Take the entry-level 2.0-litre turbo model, with 180bhp. Faster and generally better equipped than all of its direct rivals, it's also much cheaper than rival German marques: cars like the 163bhp Mercedes C200K or the 170bhp BMW 320i. In fact, you could probably afford to step up to the S60 2.4T and still save money. Here, there's 200bhp on tap, enabling the rest to sixty sprint to be dispatched in just 7.6s on the way to 143mph: that's a useful improvement on the already rapid 2.0-litre version (8.8s and 140mph). The 2.5T that replaced it is even more impressive.
Next up is the 250bhp T5 SE, capable of sixty in just 7.0s on the way to 155mph. To rival this kind of performance, you'll need either a BMW 330i or a Mercedes C320: either way, expect to spend between £6,000 more on a dealer's forecourt. And just to drive home this advantage, a 300bhp T5R is available for those who really like their Volvos quick. If you'd like to cut your fuel bills you can even opt for an LPG or CNG powered Bi-Fuel model that's dramatically more cost effective and is even greener to boot.
The 163bhp S60 D5 diesel version acquits itself superbly, especially as its Volvo's first in-house stab at a diesel engine. Capable of hitting 60mph in 9.2 seconds on the way to 130mph, it will still return an average of 47mpg. This unit was demoted in the range hierarchy and rechristened the 2.4D with the 185bhp D5 introduced to take its place as the oil-burning range-topper.
But then, we've seen powerful Volvos before. Cars that floundered when it came to the twisty stuff. The old S70, for example, never really qualified as a true sports saloon, even in its most bespoilered forms. Is this car different? Handling has much to do with body stiffness - as anyone who tried to make an S70 change direction at speed will testify. Without it, you can make the springs as stiff as you like: it won't make much difference.
Hence the need for a completely new approach, aided by the use of the impressive platform already developed for the larger S80 saloon and the new V70 estate. In the case of the S60, this has allowed for a 70% improvement in torsional rigidity. The provision of such a strong foundation enabled much else to be achieved. Take the suspension, tuned to deliver progressive movement, rather than lurching forward or back during heavy acceleration or braking. Over and above this, two ride set-ups are available, tuned for either comfort or handling response.
There's also a 'wheel-at-each-corner' design with reduced overhangs that lower the polar movement of inertia, enabling sharper steering responses and a crisper turn-in. Plus there are the usual electronic aids. All models get Volvo's STC Stability and Traction Control system, plus there's the (sadly optional) DSTC active anti-skid programme: enter a corner too fast and it automatically cuts in, reducing the throttle and selectively applying the brakes. If you're thinking of trading a four-wheel drive Audi in for a Volvo S60, finding a model with DSTC could well ease the acclimatisation process, especially in the wet.
Like countrymen Saab, Volvo offer a beguiling blend of big horsepower and sound practicality. If you're the sort who understands the subtler nuances of left-foot braking, lift-off oversteer and heel and toe gearchanging, the S60 probably won't be your thing. If you're after solidly built and effortlessly quick transport that makes everything else look a little contrived, the S60 comes up trumps. A basic 2.0t looks to be the pick of the range, at least until the D5 model starts fetching sensible money.