I still remember the day when I first set eyes on the original Volvo S60 – a black T5 with those gorgeous multi-spoke rims. As with most young men, Volvo wasn’t a brand that I had lust for (I was attracted to the allure of the four rings then), but the turbocharged S60 with 250 horses was a different kind of beast. Actually, the so called ‘Revolvolution’ started with the S80 before that, but the more compact S60 wore those shoulders better. Sexy, almost.

That was a full decade ago. They took their time but Gothenburg has finally given the world a new S60. Like how the original attempted to change people’s views of the brand, the new S60’s mission is to change one’s perception that Volvo’s are dull to drive. This car is the most sporting Volvo has ever made. Heard that before? We’ll find out if it truly is, but one thing is for certain – this S60 looks the part.

Continue reading the report after the jump.

Like the old S60, this new one doesn’t debut a new design direction. The production XC60, which is a faithful rendition of the XC60 Concept of 2007, had the honour. Design chief Steve Mattin, whose team came up with this new look, describes it as “pumping up visual volume” for Volvos to be a “magnet for the viewer’s eyes.” His goal in words is this: “If you say that you recognise a Volvo from 50 metres today, I want to get to the point where you will instantly spot it from twice that distance in the future.”

The XC60 is an eye catcher all right, but the S60 takes it a step further. It has the same face, but trades the crossover’s more upright front for a slim, low and wide nose that reminds this writer of a snake. Like the XC60, the S60 also has a twin LED bar arrangement for the driving lamps, but the headlamps are more swept back on the saloon and feature “eyebrow” indicators. With highly sculpted bumpers/air intakes, it’s quite an imposing sight in rear view mirrors.

If the head is serpent like, the profile looks slippery. Volvo’s trademark shoulders have evolved from arrow straight to a gentle wave, not unlike that on the Audi A5. Overhangs have become unfashionable since the old S60 debuted, so the wheels are pushed more to the corners of the car, although not as much as a 3-Series.

“Four-door coupe” is in vogue these days, and also very overused, although none can accuse Volvo of doing so – the S60’s roofline is more sweeping than some real coupes, and the C pillar flows straight down to the tail lamps without flattening out.

At the rear, the elements that will catch your eye are the tail lamp clusters. Instead of the usual blocky items, the S60’s are cut into a curve. They house two lines of red strips that seem to be inspired by Puma shoes. There are two exhaust pipes – one on each side – jutting out from the must-have “diffuser style” rear bumper.

The overall look is sporty yet graceful and sleek, not overtly muscular or aggressive, just like how a modern Volvo should be. Size wise, the S60 doesn’t stray far from the compact exec template set by BMW and Mercedes, which is the segment this Swede is aiming at. The S60 has a slightly bigger footprint though; its 2,776 mm wheelbase is 16 mm longer than the the identical measurement of both the E90 and W204, and the Volvo’s overall length breaches 4.6 metres, unlike the sub 4.5-metre Germans.

The most dynamic Volvo ever? Certainly, if based on looks alone, but how about the meat in the pie? Volvo Car Malaysia gave us a go at these Singapore registered units recently and we got to experience the S60 on both highways and B roads. It was a very pleasant drive, and quite a revelation, if not exactly mind blowing.

Looks aside, the S60 made a very good first impression. Step in the cabin and you’ll find a typically warm and inviting Volvo interior, although it’s all very modern. Volvo’s brand of Scandinavian minimalism and ergonomics is easier felt than explained with words, but we’ll try.

Although it looks fresh, the layout and elements are familiar. The floating centre console – now angled slightly towards the driver – features four big knobs and a cluster of buttons for the audio and climate.

The humanoid shape is genius and there’s no diving into menus or multiple steps for simple everyday functions. Sounds elementary, but you’ll be surprised that not everyone gets it right. The brushed metal trim is fit for a fine timepiece, and the dials are as legible as a good watch should be.

One new element is the colour screen above the centre console, which has displaced the air con vents into a rather unusual layout. It displays menus, settings and camera views from both ends of the vehicle, which can be shown together on a split screen.

The vital contact points are fine, too. Volvo seats are among the most comfortable in the business – they’re big, cushy and perfect for long journeys, although those who are used to firmer and grippier German chairs may not like them. True, a tighter hug wouldn’t have gone amiss, but one can’t have it all.

The inviting rear seats are deeply scalloped but the middle section is relatively flat, so the third person won’t have it that bad. The sloping roofline may lead one to think otherwise, but rear headroom isn’t an issue. Volvo actually designed two cutouts where rear passengers’ heads would be, freeing up a few extra centimetres.

I didn’t have a ruler on hand, but the three-spoke steering felt smaller than usual for a Volvo, and is nice in the hands. Not so sure about the cream coloured inner rim though. Bear in mind that the trim colour of this Singapore spec car may not make it here; we’re likely to get a more sober palette.

But we are getting a very high spec CBU cars at launch, so expect a fully loaded S60 with memory electric seats, keyless entry, xenons, big wheels and a host of safety toys. The latter includes Pedestrian Detection with full auto brake, City Safety, Rollover Protection System, Collision Warning with Auto Brake, Driver Alert Control, Blind Spot Info System (BLIS) and Advanced Stability Control. It’s a Volvo after all!

Speaking of safety, Volvo prepared a demo run for us involving an inflatable doll. The objective was to try for ourselves the effectiveness of Pedestrian Detection. PD not only detects human presence in front of the S60 (via radar on the grille and camera on the windscreen – radar detects object, camera determines if it’s human), but will fully brake the car if the driver somehow doesn’t react to audible and visual warnings. It works.

The S60’s new dual-mode radar’s wider field of vision ensures that pedestrians about to step into the frame can be detected early on. The higher resolution camera makes it possible to detect the pedestrian’s pattern of movement. It works to prevent collisions at speeds of up to 35 km/h. At higher speeds, the system will engage to slow down the car as much as possible to minimise impact and injury.

This is actually a development of City Safety, which made its debut on the XC60. This means that besides humans, full auto brake also responds to vehicles in front that are either at a standstill or moving in the same direction as the S60. It all sounds like magic, but Volvo designed these aids to backup a driver if he loses attention, not as a replacement for good defensive driving and full attention on the road. At the end of the day, the most effective safety equipment is the driver himself.

We didn’t fall asleep at the wheel that’s for sure. These Singapore registered units were 2.0T models with a 2.0-litre turbo four-pot producing 203 hp and 300 Nm of torque from 1,750 to 4,000 rpm (320 Nm on overboost) – putting it well above the 320i, 323i and C200 CGI in the numbers game. 0-100 km/h is done in 8.2 seconds and top speed is 230 km/h. That 0-100 time beats both BMWs and matches the Merc’s.

It’s also a modern downsized engine from the GTDi family that sends off the familiar five-cylinder engine from the old S60 to retirement. If there’s anything we miss, it’s the old lump’s tunes, not its fuel consumption. This one is rated at 8.3 litres per 100 km on the mixed cycle, or 12 km/l.

Numbers aside, the engine itself is par for the course. Like other modern direct injection turbo motors, there’s no shortage of low end go and one doesn’t need to work it to the max to go fast – even if you do explore the 6,500 rpm redline, it’s smooth and unstrained at the top end. The 6-speed Powershift dual-clutch transmission performs as expected, which is very good but ultimately not as slick as a DSG. By the way, there are no shift paddles.

Volvo has two suspension settings for the S60 – Dynamic and Comfort, with the difference in shock absorbers and anti-roll bar thickness – and Malaysia will get Dynamic. We didn’t get to try Dynamic because the test cars were in Comfort spec, but they performed very well throughout, which left us wondering if the “sportier” suspension will be too uncompromising – only time will tell.

The S60 feels refreshing and miles better to drive than its predecessor and big brother S80. In both high speed highway cruising and lumpy B roads that would’ve caused the S80 to bottom out, the S60 (in Comfort spec, remember) held on well. Body roll isn’t a distraction while body control is surprisingly decent. It’s a softer, better damped ride than a 3-Series that’s for sure, which is a desirable trait in my opinion.

Very surefooted and stable, the impression it gave me was similar to when driving the Mk6 Golf TSI flat out for the first time on a dark and wet Icelandic morning – not overtly sporty in nature but good to drive fast and without any vices. The smaller steering wheel is nice and the rack is precise and quicker than before, although there’s not much absolute feel transmitted. Grip is good, too. Good enough for most people most of the time, but there are better entertainers in the class.

The most dynamic Volvo ever isn’t a hollow boast. The S60 shows that its creators has got hold of how a modern Volvo should drive – turbocharged speed, safe, secure and not awkwardly out of element when hustled. Add in a stylish and comfy cabin and you’ll have a competent premium saloon that offers something different from the usual German suspects. A good addition to the class, we say.

The S60 will be launched in Malaysia at the end of March, and will come in two variants – this 2.0T and a range topping T6 powered by a 3.0L turbo in-line six with 304 hp/440 Nm, paired to a six-speed Geartronic (torque converter) auto ‘box. The T6 will also ship with Volvo’s self adjusting FOUR-C active chassis. Estimated pricing is RM350k for the T6 and RM290k for the T5. Local assembly is planned for the third quarter of the year, and will most likely include smaller engines from the GTDi family.

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