Even taking into account the cold, wet and windy weather, my long trip up to north Derbyshire was certainly worth it.
The purpose of the trek up to the Peak District was to see Volvo’s new engine in action, with the opportunity to test it in a number of models.
Currently Volvo has more than eight different engines available for its range which isn’t exactly a large one. Very few components are shared with each unit and there are a number of different ways to try and fit these engines into the different models on offer.
All of this makes it both complicated and expensive for Volvo to operate, so the Swedish firm has come up with a solution. Two engines – one petrol and one diesel – will be tailored to the customer’s needs, whether that is frugal motoring, high power outputs or a balance of the two. These units have been future-proofed too by meeting all currently announced future emissions regulations and, alongside a forthcoming new platform, have been designed to allow electric integration as the range progresses.
There are some clever technologies at work in each of the powerplants too as the new engines not only offer more power than the old ones but also reduced fuel consumption and less weight.
Both of the engines, named Drive-E, will be 2.0 litre four cylinder set-ups with combined turbo and super-charging for the petrol and twin turbo-charging for the diesel.
The upshot of this forced induction, along with some sophisticated fuel management and low friction engineering, allows for the smaller units to offer more power and improved emissions.
The first example of the Drive-E philosophy to be launched is the diesel which, in this first iteration, produces 181hp and 295 lb ft of torque. This power is put through either a six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic gearbox – both of which are brand new and designed to the same specifications as the engine.
I was able to test a number of models during the day including the V60 estate, S80 saloon and XC70 off-road estate, but my favourite of the launch was the S60 R-Design saloon.
The engine compliments the S60 perfectly and offers an excellent balance between fast and frugal motoring. For example, the Drive-E engine will allow the S60 R-Design to hit 62mph from zero in 6.9 seconds and head on to a top speed of 140mph. These are not staggering performance figures but are more than enough for most drivers.
The most impressive aspect of the engine’s performance though is that, despite offering hot-hatch levels of speed, the S60 Drive-E still only emits 99g/km of CO2 – which puts it into the free tax bracket – and returns a superb 74.3mpg. To put that into perspective, the big German rivals can either match the Volvo’s efficiency or its performance values – but not both.
The rest of the car is now familiar to Volvo drivers and remains unchanged but the R-Design pack fits in with the engine nicely, giving the saloon a slightly edgier look while keeping everything subtle.
The theme continues inside with some comfy and supportive seats and an uncluttered dash – with Volvo’s ‘floating’ centre console a nice touch.
There is space for four adults or two and three children while the boot is of a useful size to cope with most of your needs.
Obviously though, the Drive-E diesel most contributes to the driving experience. The flexibility of the engine is superb with plenty of power and torque available almost the instant you flex your right foot. The turbos spool up quickly giving no hint of turbo-lag and the torque will push you along on a gentle wave, no matter the circumstances.
As the National Park’s name suggests, the Peak District is full of hills and is draped with some brilliant roads to let drivers admire the scenery. The Drive-E engine, with either manual or automatic mated to it, dealt with steep inclines with ease. Just by gently prodding the accelerator while climbing a long A-road gave me an increase in pace with no complaint. A run up a road that wouldn’t look out of place in the Alps – full of short, sharp climbs and tight hairpin corners – shows that the Volvo can deal with the sportier side of things too.
The driving dynamics are excellent but not quite class leading. If you want sheer driving involvement than a BMW is still king of the executive saloons. The Volvo puts up a good fight though while being handicapped a little by being front-wheel drive. Opt for the manual gearbox and you can still have plenty of fun should the conditions suit while the comfortable ride will be more useful for the majority of your time in the car.
You can really feel the effects of the engine in the handling. The reduced weight at the front allows for a car that has more grip than might be first imagined and the Volvo is easy to pilot through the bends with a clean, precise action.
Basically, the S60 was a very solid car that had little wrong with it, even if it didn’t quite excel in the same way that its rivals do. The big difference now is that Volvo has a truly world class engine which gives the S60 – and many of its stable mates – an edge that it was previously lacking. The fact that there is a new platform on its way, a petrol Drive-E unit and more power variants due in the future makes for exciting times for Volvo.