15th - 21st July 2003.
Roadtested by Neil.
There's a new boy in town, he's talking big and strutting his stuff. So what does the current hard man at Volvo
have to say. The T5 is synonymous with Volvo like the M3 and M5 are with BMW. When it broke cover in the BTCC, in
estate form no less, the message was clear - here is a Volvo that means business. The road going version uses a 2319cc
5 cylinder turbocharged engine to produce 250bhp and an impressive 246lb ft. Power is sent to the front wheels via a
5-speed manual gearbox. Does the introduction of the S60R mean this car isn't up to it or is the new car a step too far?
We test the T5 to see what it's got to offer...
The front end has an aggressive profile that looks low slung and says I mean business. From the side the front end
looks like the head of a cobra ready to pounce on anyone who dares mess. The headlights and front indicators are all in
smoked clear glass and the lower bumper has two fog lights inset into it.
I particularly like the strong side sculpturing, which begins with the bonnet and ends with the jagged rear end
highlighted by the rear lights. To me it is a clean design that is distinctive and effective. Gone are the box Volvos
of old, here is a more rounded but still solid Volvo.
The car I have kindly been given is in one of my favourite colours, a dark grey (Titanium Grey Pearl). It sits on
17inch 17 spoke alloy wheels (Tethys). The car is subtle but imposing.
Once you get in the Volvo a number of things strike you. First of all there is lots of glass
and visibility is good. Secondly, you can't see the bonnet. Thirdly the interior feels spacious both front and rear.
This is a bit of a surprise as the last S60 I was in was the S60R at Birmingham Motor show last year and that
felt quite small inside.
This car has two optional packs to add to the already pretty impressive standard equipment:
First there is the Premium pack (£1,150) which provides you with electric driver and passenger seats,
Door mirror memory, electric folding door mirrors with ground lights and electric rear folding headrests.
I particularly like the door mirror lights that are subtle (you don't notice they are there until you need them)
but are definitely useful at night - in fact all door mirrors should have them. The drivers seat has 3 memory settings
making the car easy to share, the seats themselves are very soft and you feel like you
are perched on top of them rather than gripped within them.
Then there is the Winter pack (£375) which provides heated front seats (not tested thanks to the effects of global
warming and the hottest summer on record), Headlamp wash/wipe, luxury floor mats and the very useful rain sensor. The latter
is one the best pieces of kit on my Alpina - it saves the hassle of the wiper controls and does a pretty good job of
keeping the windscreen clear (not even Global warming can stop rain in Britain).
The Cabin is finished well and this particular car has cream (Sisal) leather seats and door trimming, which works well
with the rest of the dark grey plastic fascia. As with most sporty cars, the dash and doors feature aluminium detailing that
works well too. The centre console houses a built in radio, air conditioning and sundry buttons. It also features a single
large cup holder, which hurts my symmetrical eye both closed and open. Between the front seats there is a further storage compartment,
suitable for CDs and also 2 further drinks holders. Thirsty stuff driving a Volvo..
The dashboard looks sporty and clear with chrome-surrounded grey dials, with white lettering and red needles. The steering
wheel features the radio control (right hand side) and cruise control (left hand side). The left stalk provides access to the
onboard computer which gives you: mile till empty, average MPG (25.1mpg) , instant MPG, and average MPH.
The gearbox is unique as far as I am aware in the fact that unlike other cars it does not have a leather cover around its
base. Instead Volvo use a semi-circular smooth plastic cover (dubbed the spaceball) which makes the gear stick look almost
like an automatic. This makes you think that the gearbox itself will somehow behave differently. It's slightly disappointing when it doesn't.
Another good feature is an air vent in the B-pillar. This would be particularly useful to me, as we find the rear vents in
the Alpina not that good at cooling the children down when the weather is hot. The Alpina vents are mounted on the
reverse side of the central console (like most cars). The Volvo solution is much better, although it does mean the b pillars
need to be a certain width.
Safety is a key part of the car and evidence of this is throughout the interior with airbags front,
side and rear (this acts as a full length side curtain). In addition the door sills are branded with SIPS (Side impact protection system)
Boot space is good, mainly due to the shape and orientation of the space rather than its volume(424 ltrs). The levers
to lower the split-folding seats are conveniently positioned in the boot sides.
From the off the car feels fast and the ride feels soft. The gear box is fine, the spaceball doesn't really make
any difference when you come to use the stick and the progression through the gears is good. The power is definitely
there and with the combination of torque and power there aren't really any low spots in the power delivery. There is however
great engine noise: Get to about 3,500rpm and the noise is almost primeval. The turbo adding an edge to
the smooth 5 cylinder growl. This is a car for midrange grunt.
Ride is soft - softer than most of the cars I have driven recently. This combined with the
soft seats gives you a kind of floating feeling, which goes a long way to restricting the speed
you travel on more twisted roads. The car handles well but the general feedback is very woolly and
you therefore feel that you should ease off. In addition when you get to a bend (or two) the car
rolls and this again makes you ease off. All in all the Volvo suits the environment it is likely to spend
most of its life - on dual carriageways and motorways. Here the ride comforts your journey and the roll isn't
that obvious as the bends are less brutal.
Motorway / Dual Carriageway driving
I spent around five and a half hours driving the Volvo one day and came away feeling relaxed and happy. On Motorways and
dual carriageways the car is in its element - with only the more severe bumpy surfaces exposing the soft ride mentioned
earlier. In addition the lack of steering feel on the more challenging roads isn't an issue.
The power is great in the car and on the last leg I enjoyed a little fun with a Lotus Elise driver, the Volvo
performing well with the fly weight Elise - We never had the traffic light opportunity but on the move the T5
matched the Elise's acceleration.
The car works well in town, as mentioned earlier visibility is good. The car had optional rear parking sensors which
assists town use too.
This where the Volvo struggled - or at least I let the feedback hold me back. Put simply the car is too soft to be pushed
comfortably on a twisty road. On a number of occasions I found the car wobbled under braking. The brakes themselves worked
well, although feel could have been better. The car has DSTC (Dynamic Stability / Traction Control) as standard - without it
the 250bhp struggles to get onto the road, with it there is no noticeable
unwanted involvement by the car - so the system works well. As with most high powered front-wheeled drive cars
this system is almost a must have.
To be fair to Volvo this car is not fitted with the sports pack - which will give you (along with bigger wheels (18inch)
and tyres (235/40), lowered sports chassis and 'load compensating suspension'). The pack costs c. £1,800 and for all I know
may transform the car. Without it the T5 would struggle to stay in touch with most sports saloons on the more interesting
The normal T5 costs £26,295, with the car being reviewed a further £2,500 (£28,757). At this price the T5 has rivals from
Alfa Romeo (3.0 V6 & 156 3.2 V6 GTA), Audi (A4 3.0 quattro sport), BMW (525d SE, 525i SE, 325i sport, 330d & 330i SE),
Jaguar (X-type 3.0 V6 SE & S-type 2.5 V6 sport), Lexus (IS300), Mercedes (C240), Saab (9-5 3.0 V6) and Volvo's own
S80 2.5T SE. That's some very capable saloons and means the Volvo has its work cut out. In its favour the car
is spacious, comfortable, safe and pretty darn fast. It's styling is also a little different and to me offers a
stylish alternative to that of it's competitors.
During the test I was surprised to find that some of my colleagues and friends
had a bit of Volvo 'snobbery' in that they dismissed the car as 'oh it's a Volvo'. I'm not sure where this originates
from and maybe that is something you do with a Volvo - you either love it or hate it?
As for me I think I would love the car with a harder suspension. As things stand I like the car -
so maybe it's not that black and white after all. The new kid also has its work cut out, it will be interesting to
see what the S60 R has to offer....
Thanks to Volvo for the loan of the car.