Volvo is a byword for sobriety. This is, however, a good thing. There are many, many people in the world who only like Merchant Ivory films and Ken Bruce on Radio 2. People who buy those orthopaedic shoes from the back of colour supplements. They probably also buy those commemorative plates with pictures of 17th-century warships on them. Someone has to.
These people are in for a shock. Although not as much of a shock as Volvo intended. The new S60 is, according to the man wearing the corporate suit, ‘Volvo's sportiest car ever'. Listen carefully. A few octogenarians have probably just keeled over in your street. But in truth they've nothing to fear. The new S60 is still a Volvo through and through: reassuringly sensible.
It may look a bit zippier, in a vague homage to Lexus, manufacturer of the second most worthy and boring set of saloons on the planet, but any real designs on dynamic ability are half-cocked. Although certainly quicker through a set of bends than the outgoing model, the new S60, with its dead steering and uncertain auto' gearbox, is never, ever going to trouble the likes of BMW or Merc.
We drove the top spec, all-singing, all dancing all-wheel-drive 300bhp T6 petrol, and while it was fast in a straight line and flat through the corners, it didn't communicate enough to build confidence in the driver. The absence of a paddle-shift option also makes the whole ‘sporty' assertion feel pretty disingenuous.
Add to that the fact that the ‘dynamic chassis', which is standard in Europe, makes the car noticeably stiffer and therefore less comfortable, and you have a product in limbo, neither doing one thing nor the other to the best of its ability. Inside it's comfortable, spacious and clearly very well knocked together: the essentials are all in place, but this sporting pretension does no one any favours.
In fact the S60's real USP, and this is so very Volvo, is a world first in new safety technology. And it's brilliant. Onboard cameras and radar read the road ahead and are programmed to recognise pedestrians. At up to 35kph the car will stop you running one over even if you look the other way and do nothing to prevent it. A boon for the aforementioned 80-somethings.
It's clear then, that safety is what Volvo does best, and that's to be celebrated. After all, not everyone wants to drive fast instead of safe. Why that message is being diluted here is a mystery, but the remarkable news that Volvo is aiming to have ‘no fatalities or serious injuries' in its cars by 2020 will steady the ship. And might worry BMW and Merc rather more than a slightly stiffer chassis.
Performance: 0-60mph in 6.2secs, max speed 155mph, 28.5mpg
Tech: 2953cc, 6cyl, 4WD, 300bhp, 295lb ft, 2700kg, 231g/km CO2