Most car launches over the last 12 months have been of the high-end, the luxurious and the very premium kind. This is because India is playing catch-up and many people who didn’t have access to these cars earlier suddenly do. And then there’s the fact that most manufacturers are looking to India as one of the markets that offer hope when those in developed countries are stagnating.
Okay so you have heard all this before, right? So I shall not go on about it. What I will do instead is quickly get to how it’s been rather fascinating to see not just the likes of BMW or Mercedes-Benz flexing muscle, but others like Volvo also getting fired up. Volvo changed hands from US’ Ford to China’s Geely last year. And so it’s been focusing on getting on with the business of selling cars in the markets that matter, where image is crucial. We are talking US, Germany and, of course, Sweden. So I, like many others, would have expected India to stay a bit on the backburner. But within months of launching a very competitive and capable XC60 compact SUV, Volvo has launched the S60 sedan twins here in India.
The S60: The car is extremely well put together and has the world’s first pedestrian safety system.
This is the second generation of the S60 after the first model was phased out at the end of a nine-year run in 2009. Of course we never got that car so it’s a clean-slate start for the Indian market with the second-generation car. The S60 is built on Volvo’s Y20 platform (also known as Ford’s EUCD, or European D-class platform), which was jointly developed with Ford during the time the two were still together. Besides the S60, the platform supports a wide variety of Ford cars, besides the V70, the S80 and the XC60 from Volvo. And it is also common to the current Land Rover Freelander2.
A diesel and a petrol version of the S60 have been launched in India, and here comes the best part. The prices range from Rs 27-34 lakh. These cars are direct imports, yet the prices are on a par with the locally assembled BMW 3 series, Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz E Class.
But besides price, is there more to hook you?
Thankfully, yes. The cars are extremely well put together. This is true of the materials used in the cabin and also the engines—and their performance. I especially like the pep with which the diesel performs. While you expect the 304 bhp T6 or turbo-charged 6-cylinder petrol to be a firecracker, it’s the surprising performance on the diesel that really throws you. The diesel, or D5, is the same engine that does duty in the S80, XC60 and XC90 in India, so we know it well. It’s a 2.4-litre unit with 240 bhp on tap. And it’s very smooth, with no lag and great pick-up, and the car overall has precise steering and handling. The only downside for me on the highway was wind noise at higher speeds. The T6, though, only comes in the top-end Summum trim, is priced at Rs 34 lakh ex-Delhi, and has all-wheel drive standard. The diesel is available in two trims, Summum and Kinetic, at Rs 32 lakh and Rs 27 lakh, respectively.
But now comes the fun stuff—the gadgets on board. All cars in the premium space have to boast lots of technical features to impress buyers these days, so you get the usual DVD players, touch screens and even navigation. While the Volvo meets all those requirements—not to mention comfortable leather seats and a sunroof—it also has several safety features bundled in, something Volvos are known for.
The car has cameras, sensors and a radar-like system, to help prevent accidents. Cameras also watch out for any vehicles in your blind spot while driving, and help prevent a collision even during high-speed runs by warning the driver to brake. The S60 also has the world’s first pedestrian safety system. Pedestrian Detection automatically applies the brakes if a pedestrian is detected in front of the car and the driver does not react in time. The car’s adaptive cruise control also regulates the speed that has been set, slowing or accelerating depending on the traffic. And then there is also lane departure warning, which alerts the driver if the car starts straying out of its lane without an indicator.
I had the chance to thoroughly test all these features on a highway run from Delhi to Jaipur and back, and the technology is impressive. Though I have to say, with Indian conditions and driver habits—especially the truckers you encounter on highways—the poor car spent most of its time braking, and trying desperately to maintain safe distances. The lighter note aside, such preventive systems will help reduce accidents, and I am glad Volvo hasn’t skimped on them just to try and keep prices extremely competitive.
But good as it is, the problem for Volvo will be trying to get the car to the people that want it. With just seven dealerships, the company’s network falls woefully short when compared with that of some of the other premium brands. The good news is that Volvo has said it wants to rapidly scale this up, and cross the dozen mark by year-end. It also promises new models in the medium term to expand its portfolio, which has doubled from two to four in just the past few months. Its S80 and XC90 remain flagships, but sell just a few hundred units. The XC60 and S60 will now steer Volvo’s hope of driving sales and building its image in India. And again my favourite part in all this is that the consumer just keeps on gaining and, yes, winning too.
Siddharth Vinayak Patankar is Editor (Auto), NDTV.
Write to Siddharth at firstname.lastname@example.org