Volvo S60 – Not naughty, but nice

Volvo S60 - Not naughty, but nice

Last month we asked the question, “Volvo’s S60 – Is It Naughty Enough?”, as we reviewed Volvo’s Naughty campaign used to launch the new S60 and V60 saloon and estate.

When examining the vast array of videos, microsites and social media content we concluded that there was simply too much – the average viewer neither has the time nor the interest to wade through 24 videos (now 26 including the recent V60 promotions) and such dilution of their focus can subsequently undermine sharing on social media channels as our brief analysis of the views and shares appears to prove.

The response we received from readers at the time was one of suspicion, doubting the likelihood of a truly fun Volvo and figuring that with such a double-barreled charm offensive, Volvo were turning up the volume on their promotional activities to drown out any dissenters. “Let the car speak for itself…” they told us, rather than telling us how naughty it was – whatever that means!

So last weekend we joined Volvo’s Naughty Track Event and we brought along competition winner Kevin Matthews to provide a readers’s perspective. Kevin previously owned a Subaru Impreza Turbo, so he should be able to smell a rat if Volvo’s marketing team has been overly ambitous in it’s numerous references to the S60’s sporty nature.

You can read about Kevin’s impression of the day in the seperate article, “Naughty Volvo, The Competition Winner’s Story”.

What’s the S60 really like?

I’ve driven plenty of Volvos in the past, they’re safe, quite quick sometimes but ultimately a bit… beige. Let’s face it, Volvo’s average customer is a million miles away from the type that frequents a certain Munich brand, so when Volvo say that the S60 is a sporty and dynamic car to drive, I peg my expectations back a few notches.

First up in our Naughty Volvo experience is the Pro-Drive event, where a professional racing driver shows us around the Top Gear track at Dunsford. I step in beside Brazillian race driver Tommy Erdos – former British Formula Renault champion, BTCC competitor and race finisher in the Le Mans 24 Hours. As befits a top-level driver Tommy’s style of driving is smooth, economical and fearless.

He starts slowly showing me around the track, then after a lap he ups the pace. First up Tommy explains how much he enjoys driving the S60 around this track, “…it’s not boring, in fact it’s great fun to really get the S60 sliding – my passengers love that!” Tommy demonstrates just how balanced the S60 is when trail-braked into the left-right of Hammerhead, the S60’s tail kicks out as we brake and turn for the left-hander but the transition into the long right-hand corner exit is undramatic, there’s little understeer and the S60’s body control made the maneuver look easy.

The Top Gear track layout at Dunsford

The next trick Tommy wants to show me is the flat-right through Wilson Bend towards Follow-Through, his initial turn-in is aggressive to show how stable the S60 is at these high speeds (110 mph at this point), he really takes liberties with the S60 (and its Continental SportContact3 tyres), but despite the howls of protest from the tarmac beneath us the S60 isn’t fussed. He carries the speed into Follow-Through with his right-foot pinned to the floor – we’re well above 100 mph at this point and I can see that Tommy’s enjoying taking the S60 by the scruff of the neck in a way that would feel unnatural in most ordinary road cars.

Bacharach Bend is perhaps the most difficult on the circuit to get right, it’s unsighted and its exit leads into Gambon corner – another important corner which leads onto the longest straight and where the start/finish line is located. Surprisingly the S60 responds well to a lift of the throttle, so if entry speed is a little too ambitous into Bacharach the driver can still trim the S60’s line before tackling Gambon.

This is very un-Volvo like. Shouldn’t it be understeering horribly by now?

We're entering Bacharach Bend at around 90 mph and Tommy has lifted to dial in some oversteer before the next corner, Gambon. This is the maximum lean-angle you'll experience in the S60.

On our cooling-down lap Tommy explains that the S60’s chassis is essentially inert yet still responds well to a driver’s bidding, so the average driver will just feel confident and safe, whilst the more experienced driver can enjoy taking liberties safe in the knowledge that the S60 will not bite back. Ahh, so that’s why Volvo were calling the S60 the Naughty Volvo – strong and sensible on the outside, but when nobody’s looking it likes nothing better than to lay big black lines along the tarmac.

The S60 and I are going to get along just fine…

Behing the wheel

Our first taste from the driving seat of the S60 was with V70 Police car sat directly behind us – there’s nothing to fear but fear itself! A series of activities ensued – being chased through a slalom, practicing lift-off oversteer and testing out Volvo’s pedestrian detection with auto braking technology. As we progressed through the day our respect for Volvo’s achievements became ever more clear.

A scene we all dread, but this was just part of the fun on Volvo's Naughty Track Event.

The transformation Volvo have achieved over previous models is truly remarkable, the S60 steers crisply with just enough weight and feedback to suit enthusiast drivers Its brakes stood up with little protest to the punishment of repeated track use and it was genuinely fun to hustle around the various courses laid on for us on the day.

But does it stand comparison with BMW’s 3-series, or Mercedes’ C-class? Surprisingly the answer is yes. The S60 is solid, well made and a step above the Mondeo/Insignia crowd in terms of prestige and quality, but more importantly it’s been thoroughly well developed as a drivers car. Who’d have thought we’d be saying that about a Volvo?

Thanks: I’d just like to thank all the drivers and instructors that made the Naughty Volvo Event such fun for all who attended. A big hand for the pro-drivers including James Rhodes, Tommy Erdos and Ross Hockenhull, who pounded around the track lap after lap in the S60, despite being used to driving much faster cars. We’d also like to thank Fusion Events who ran the day smoothly with a smile on their faces and plenty of enthusiasm – we highly recommend them if you’re looking for a top-notch event management team.