With the stylish and sporty S60, Volvo wishes to transform its image and fortunes in India, writes HORMAZD SORABJEE

As you climb up the luxury car segment, it isn't what's under the skin that's important but the skin (and the badge). Volvos have been known to build safe and solid cars but ones that are a bit boring. Though Volvo is proud of the first two attributes and will hang onto them dearly, it desperately wants to add some spice to its designs to take on the likes of Audi, BMW and Mercedes.

In comes the S60, Volvo's new breed of sexy and sporty saloons to come out of Gothenberg. In fact, Volvo has gone so far to say that it's the sportiest saloon the company has ever made.

As much as the S60 is an important car for Volvo around the world, it is a particularly significant car to transform its fortunes in India. Volvo currently sells cars only in double digits a year, so if the S60 can even manage to grab a small share off these other saloons, it could give Volvo a many-fold increase in sales.

Getting it one step closer to success is the car's styling. The design has a hard-to-miss dynamism and the highlight is the coupe-like profile along with the flowing C-pillar that extends all the way back to the tail-lamps. Another interesting design element is the pronounced shoulder line which has a double wave extending from the headlamps back to the rear lights. The S60 looks absolutely stunning from the front and yet every bit a Volvo, which until now was a contradiction in terms. The aggressive nose with swoopy headlamps and distinctive ‘marker' lights is hard to miss.

The S60's interior isn't quite as enticing as its exterior and is typically understated. However, there's a nice logic to the minimal style with large dials and well located controls. The ventilation controls with Volvo's trademark humanoid figure are really easy to use but the dials for the temperature and audio system are so similar that they get a bit confusing. The ‘floating' centre console, typical of Volvos, is quite unique and, apart from being stylish, is practical too with useful storage space behind it.

The S60 scores on the comfort front too. Though you sit quite low both in the front and back, the seats are large and extremely comfortable. Legroom is generous all around and in terms of interior space the S60 has the measure of its German rivals.

S60 also has lots of equipment and it sets a new standard for safety in this class with innovative features such as Pedestrian Detection which will be standard even on the India-spec S60.

Just two engine options will be available in the S60 for India. The D5 diesel is the same unit that powers the XC90 and S80 but it's the petrol motor that that we are more excited about. The petrol S60, badged T6 with its 3-litre, turbocharged, inline-six cylinder motor belts out 304bhp and a massive 44.8kgm via a six-speed gearbox. Power goes to all four wheels and hence is more than a match for the 3.2 V6 A4 Quattro. But how does it drive?

The turbo engine has a strong mid-range as expected but what's better is the way the boost builds up nice and early in the rev band. The result is a linear strong shove in the back and enough pace. Though the Volvo turbo-petrol doesn't rev as freely as a BMW straight six, it is seriously quick with a claimed a 0-100kph of time of just 6.5 seconds and a top speed of 250kph. For a car with so much power and sportiness, the auto transmission is a bit of a letdown. It's not enthusiastic and there are no paddle shifts, so manual operation is done with the old-school prod of the gear lever. The gearbox responds faster in ‘sport' mode and it kicks down quite quickly but you need to adopt a relaxed driving style to enjoy this car.

The D5 diesel is a 2.4-litre, five-cylinder unit developing a healthy 205bhp and 42.8kgm of torque which again gives it more grunt than most of its rivals. The S60 diesel always feels it has a surplus of power and torque. The company claims a 0-100kph time of 7.8sec. But again, this engine doesn't seem as finely honed as the ones from Germany. It sounds a bit gravelly and falls a tad short on refinement, the slow gearbox exaggerating its boomy nature.

The S60 had a chance to display its sporting ambitions on twisted roads. The steering has lots of feel and with 2.6 turns, lock to lock is very quick. In fact it's a touch too quick and you often find yourself adjusting your line into a corner. But once you get used to the helm, the S60 can be hurled around like no other Volvo and the four-wheel-drive T6 just bites the road especially when exiting corners. The chassis is ultimately tuned for comfort which, on Indian roads, is a good thing.

The charm in the S60 lies in the feel you get from the car. It gives you the impression that it will be a pleasure to own. Volvos in India come with honest pricing and even more honest service. Though prices are not announced yet, the fully loaded petrol T6 will retail for around Rs. 26 lakh while the diesel D5 will cost around Rs. 33 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi). The S60 could well be the car that changes Volvo's perspective in the Indian car buyers' mind.

Keywords: Volvoluxury car