Thursday, November 17, 2011

S60 - naughty or nice? Neither.

Finally I had a chance to test drive the Volvo S60 - the latest line-up (still latest?) to the V family.  When I was growing up, my dad used to drive one of those tanker Volvos which I thought was indestructible.  Later as I mature into an income-earning consumer of my own right, I learned that Volvo is no doubt the safest car ever manufactured.  Only when I started on marketing, I realized I was fooled.  It wasn't Volvo, it's Mercedes Benz that's the world's safest car according to global safety ratings.  Volvo didn't invent the 3-point safety belt in automotive, the Americans did.  But they were the first to modernize it as standard equipment in 1959.  They weren't the ones who implemented the airbag system neither, again it was the Americans - Ford followed by GM.  And then Honda perfected it to a safety rating of 99.9999%.  So, pray tell me... where on earth did the idea of safety come about?  Probably, some brilliant marketer who figured an empty spot in the positioning map.  But anyway... back to the S60.

In terms of first look, it's definitely a lot more youthful compared to the older line-up although you wouldn't miss the resemblance in the siblings.  Nevertheless, it's still conservative to me but the curves are a lot more refine and contemporary, taking cues from what Mercedes did with their latest C youth-rangers.  In terms of interior work, if you can count on the Swedish for Ikea then you can definitely count on them for good ergonomic and functional interior design.  The cabin is well-designed for both looks and functionality and that would mean safety comes first.  The seats are not just elegant plushies but engineered to reduce whiplash to the minimum in the event of a collision.

The really neat part about the S60 is its upgraded system that's able to control the vehicle in relation to the one in front without you stepping on the accelerator or brake.  Stuff you watch on YouTube and thought it was urban legend in Malaysia.  From options like 'City Safety', 'Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) with Queue Assist and Distance Alert', 'Collision Warning with Full Auto Brake and Pedestrian Detection', and a whole load of other AI-type programmes which should help you to avoid/minimize dreadful accidents.  Although drivers should know that, these are assist programmes and not meant to be relied on, overriding the driver's intelligence.  For example, you could tell the size of the object or in which way, it will move in reaction to you but AI can't.  (Remember we talked about this, you can pre-programme a robot to respond in a certain situation but if the variables change, it will not react to the new situation).  Nevertheless, all these smart functions kinda add on to the 250k dough you'll be putting out for the assembled-in-Shah Alam CKD S60.

Now come to my favourite part of any test drives!  The drivability.  The S60 comes in 4 variants - two CKDs; T4 (1.6 turbo), T5 (2.0 turbo) and two CBUs; T5 (2.0 turbo - basically the same spec except larger navi screen) and the T6 (3.0 turbo).  I can only imagine my happy face behind the wheels of a T6 :D  Anyway, I took the T5 CBU with a 6 speed Powershift with Geartronic (which the SA conveniently calls it a DSG gearbox, haha!) for a ride and wow, was I pleasantly surprised.  It looks like a tough cookie on the outside but when she goes, she's nimble - every corner tucks neatly as she runs on straight and curves around corners - beautifully behaved.  She's also easy to manoeuvre albeit a whopping 240 horses under the hood with a generous 320Nm of torque.  So fun, but at the same time so poised.  Throttling is exceptionally smooth, going from 0-100 in 7.5s - the long stretch of road in front of me felt just like metres.  The S60 takes on about 12km for every litre which isn't exactly the most fuel-economy sedan compared to the Japanese. But hey, if you like it posh, why not.

While there's everything to like about the S60, for me, there's still something amiss.  It's definitely the most defiant one out of Volvo's current stable but it still isn't half as naughty as the Beemer's 3s or as sexy as the Merc C Avantgarde.  But it is definitely a very calm and collected addition to the family.

Who buys the S60?  30-35 years old, those who are climbing the ladder (or who have husbands climbing the ladder) in more traditional fields like professional services.  Getting married soon, just got married, married with a new kid.  Upcoming but still very traditional to family values - especially what dad thinks :) And dad thinks, "We may be successful but there's no need to shout about in the neighbourhood".  Yup, an S60 it is.

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