Volvo V60 D4: with power comes responsibility

6 February 2014

Volvo V60 D4 front view

Volvo V60 D4
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Good: Drive-E engine is state of the art
Bad: The rest of the V60 isn’t
Price: from £23,495
The Peak District is famous for its breathtaking views of craggy hillsides, peaceful pastures and verdant woodlands. Today, however, I might as well be driving through a concrete tunnel. Thick, sleet-filled fog – possibly the inside of an actual cloud – has dulled my surroundings into a featureless grey tube, from which livestock is inclined to emerge without warning.

At one point I have to wait patiently while a stubborn sheep stands and ponders a cattle grid. At length, rather than turning back, it crouches low and creeps gingerly forwards across the bare strips of iron, before trotting happily onwards. I had thought that feat was supposed to be impossible.

Volvo V60 D4 side view

Today’s Volvo V60 D4 has done an equal job of confounding expectations. With an official CO2 score of just 99g/km, pinned onto 1.6-tonnes of sizeable estate car, you might reasonably deduce an agricultural, hay-bale-laden tractor turn of pace. The reality is arrestingly different.

From rest to 62mph requires just 7.6 seconds of determination, while flat out turns up at twice the legal limit. On the steep, rippling roads of the Dales, the D4 feels brisk, brawny and entirely persuasive. And the trip meter has just climbed easily past 50mpg.

Volvo V60 D4 engine bay

The D4’s remarkably smooth and refined 2.0-litre, four-cylinder diesel engine is the source of these apparent contradictions, including a combined-cycle promise of 74.3mpg and Euro-6 level cleanliness. Peak power is 178bhp, and maximum torque of 400Nm is available from 1,750rpm.

Under the bonnet lies the first of a new wave of “Drive-E” engines from the Swedish company. The label that once singled out the most fuel-efficient Volvos has been dusted off to become an umbrella brand for the firm’s new powertrains.

As lead engineer Anders Agfors explains, this is the first fruit of a rationalisation project stretching back to when Volvo was owned by Ford. In 2007, the Swedes offered eight different engines and an equal number of gearboxes, with very little commonality to be found amongst their oily innards. As a result, in 2009, the company embarked on its current strategy to create a single four-cylinder engine architecture. Spanning both petrol and diesel applications, the single design will yield eight different power outputs – and come supplemented with hybrid electric motors for the highest levels of performance. A similarly curtailed range of transmissions is also part of the plan.

Volvo V60 D4 cockpit

Now, with Volvo owned by China’s Geely, the strategy makes perfect sense – making the most of a relatively modest development budget in a world where every maker must squeeze more power and refinement out of steadily reducing quantities of fuel.

Some of the technology employed to meet these goals verges on the baffling. For example, the diesel engine’s common-rail design employs i-Art technology, developed by Japanese supplier Denso. The approach employs four pressure sensors, one integrated into each fuel injector, rather than a single sensor on the rail. The aim is incredibly precise rationing of the fuel supply. By monitoring vanishingly brief pressure waves as they travel along the rail, the engine’s management computer is able to deduce exactly how much fuel reached the combustion chamber, and can compensate with up to nine separate squirts of diesel for every burn – apparently three or four injections is the norm. The software even learns as it goes along, adapting to the characteristics of each cylinder to improve both efficiency and refinement.

Volvo V60 D4 front interior

This strategy alone accounts for a 2% saving in fuel, Agfors says, among a roster of more readily comprehensible measures such as reduced weight, lower internal friction and twin turbochargers that collectively produce a 20 to 30 per cent saving.

The 99g/km result – available with both the S60 saloon and V60 estate – will come as a boon for company car drivers, and should help Volvo in its aim to grow UK sales by a tenth during 2014. Indeed the new engine is sufficient to make the smaller and much slower V40 D2 edition look as if it’s not really trying, with its 94g/km score. Not even a hint of hair-shirt sacrifice is required to choose the V60 D4, aside from the need to stir the middle stick.

Opting for the auto version of the V60 or S60 D4 takes official emissions up to 109g/km, and probably into no-cigar territory from a tax perspective. I also find the new eight-speed, torque converter transmission a little muddled in feel, as if it doesn’t quite know where to settle with so many gears to choose from. The six-speed manual, by contrast, is a pleasingly precise, no-nonsense piece of kit.

The auto does, however, make it much easier to squeeze impressive real-world economy from the D4, despite the on-paper fuel-economy penalty. There’s even an “Eco” button on the centre console to help, which unlocks a coasting mode when the throttle is released, cuts the enthusiasm of the aircon, and triggers the engine stop-start function as I slow through 4mph rather than waiting for a standstill.

For the moment, Volvo doesn’t offer a dual-clutch transmission, which might allow the auto to duck under 100g/km as well. One does seem to be in the pipeline, however.

Drive-E engines will also appear under the bonnet of the upcoming new XC90 soft-roader, expected early next year and employing the company’s new modular platform structure, which is intended to cut both cost and weight. Given that the V60 is, by comparison, based on a rather creaky and hefty platform, might the new XC90 manage to squeeze its way to 99g/km as well – down from today’s dismal 215g/km? Sadly Agfors isn’t about to give the game away: “Whatever CO2 scores it gets,” he says, “you can be sure they’ll be good.”

For now, that’s also my verdict on the V60 D4. A truly remarkable engine makes this a very good choice.

Volvo V60 D4 rear view

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