Volvo S60.
Volvo S60. Drive

Luxury range on Volvo's radar

VOLVO management and its new Chinese owners may be publicly disagreeing over how premium the Swedish brand should be positioned in the future, but its Australian subsidiary is clear its new S60 will steal sales from German luxury rivals such as the BMW 3-Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

Geely Automotive’s desire to push its new acquisition even further upmarket with a limousine has so far been rebuffed, with Volvo boss Stefan Jacoby stating a preference to focus on simplicity and originality.

Volvo Australia believes the next-generation S60, replacing a model that was 10 years old, has never been better equipped to take on German luxury rivals. It’s a common theme from Swedish car makers, with Saab once going after the 3-Series – and failing dismally, before the brand was all but folded.

While targeting category leaders has often led to failure by brands as diverse as BMW, Lexus, Peugeot and even Proton, Volvo expects the model to help propel it to record sales in 2011.

Volvo’s XC60 and XC90 SUVs account for nearly two-thirds of the 3902 sales to October this year, though the company expects to sell 1500 S60s in 2011 as it targets a total of 7000 for the year.

“I think that [mid-size luxury] segment demands good handling and demands a high level of quality,” says Volvo Australia boss Alan Desselss. “And in terms of materials used in the car, in terms of dynamic handling, the S60 is equal to or better than the Audi A4, as a starter.

“In terms of size and safety we’ve got them [all the German rivals] beat. And in terms of pricing we’ve also got them [all] beat.”

The luxury market is a lot more fickle than features alone, though, with the badge playing a major role in sales.

Desselss says at least a third of the S60’s sales will be conquests in a segment that accounts for about 20,000 vehicles – and about 30-35 per cent of the total sales volumes for Audi, BMW and Mercedes, as well as Japanese luxury contender Lexus.

The S60, he says, will help to transform the brand from one that is renowned as an SUV/wagon company.

“Currently the Volvo showroom predominantly attracts buyers of SUVs and wagons, not sedans,” says Desselss.

“The traditional sedan buyer is not going to a Volvo showroom, but I believe the success of the S60 will rub off on the likes of our other sedans such as the S80 and S40.”

Priced from $51,950 to $64,950, the S60 is priced to take on lower trim levels of the 3-Series, C-Class and A4.

All-wheel drive is standard on the diesel-powered D5 and range-topping T6 model that is powered by a 224kW 3.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine.

The entry-level T5 model doesn’t arrive until the first quarter of 2011 – about the same time as the V60 wagon twin –  when it will present with front-wheel drive and a new 177kW direct injection turbocharged four-cylinder.

All models come standard with what Volvo calls a ‘dynamic’ chassis – a suspension tuned with a firmer set-up for firmer, sportier handling, and developed with the assistance of former British touring car racer John Cleland. A softer ‘Touring’ suspension is a no-cost option for buyers seeking a more comfort-biased ride.

The new Volvo S60 has quicker steering than the old model that has been around since the turn of the century, adaptive shock absorbers are optional, and Volvo further emphasises the sportier nature of this model by including a disable function for the electronic stability control system.

An R-design variant will also be imported in the first half of 2011, which Volvo says will be the best-handling version of the S60 – and its V60 wagon spin-off.

Safety, of course, hasn’t been neglected for the latest Volvo.

The S60 debuts the company’s new pedestrian avoidance technology that uses a combination of camera and radar to detect a potential impact and bring the car automatically to a full stop from up to 35km/h if the driver doesn’t react to an audible warning. It can also reduce the impact from higher speeds, potentially reducing injuries.

The Pedestrian Detection with Full Auto Brake technology costs $4175 as part of a package that also includes adaptive cruise control that will warn the driver if they are getting too close to the vehicle ahead and can be set to stop and go automatically in slow-moving traffic.

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