If you're old enough to remember Volvo's transition from staid family values to surreal performance back in the 1980s, the Swedish marque's T-series moniker will carry certain connotations. Models like the original T5, with tyre-shredding performance, rock-hard suspension and the odd banana-yellow paint job got the motoring world's attention.
Good times. But those times are gone now - at least in the context of this car, the new V60 T6. Ironic acceleration and obscene looks are all very well when you desperately need an image change (just ask Skoda), but these days Volvo is more focused on being considered sophisticated executive transport. Think Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
The V60 (or S60 if you opt for the sedan body shape) is the marque's best shot against the established premium players: it's the most stylish Volvo in the showroom, certainly the most modern, and it plays in a segment where the Germans are the established masters. We're talking Audi A4, BMW 3-series and Mercedes-Benz C-class.
The T6 is the flagship of the V60 range. It looks the part, boasts a 3-litre six-cylinder turbo engine with 224kW/440Nm and the six-speed automatic transmission is matched to all-wheel drive. With the V60 still in the ambitious rather than established stage, you'd expect a price advantage and you'd be right: the T6 is $83,990.
The Audi A4 Avant 2.0 TFSI quattro, for example, has less power and less performance but costs $90,900.
The T6 powertrain is less polished than its rivals, but makes up for it in character. The six gargles its way to peak torque at 2100rpm and gets this shapely wagon to 100km/h in just 6.2 seconds. The automatic gearbox has "just" six ratios - Audi and Mercedes offer seven, the forthcoming 3-series boasts eight - but it's hard to fault the quality of shifts.
The gearbox seems calibrated to maximise the engine's torque rather than kick down under increased load, but I think that's quite deliberate. The T6 is engineered to give an impression of sophistication rather than sportiness - something that's reflected in the chassis, even in the so-called Dynamic specification offered in New Zealand. That's not a bad thing - a point of difference from the aggressive nature of its German competitors, and with AWD as standard it's a genuinely quick and relaxed all-weather express.
We usually regard Audi as the benchmark for cabin quality in this class. I'd say the Volvo is nearly there on fit and finish, and ahead on style and ergonomics. The bolder aspects of the maker's interior design have been toned a bit, but the V60 cabin is still clean and very distinctive.
It might be a Volvo wagon, but the V60 is more about style than space, and the 430-litre loadspace is bettered by some family hatches.
But Volvo's still about safety, right? Yes indeed, although most of the cutting-edge stuff remains an option. The groundbreaking City Safety auto-braking system - which can prevent a 15km/h nose-to-tail collision - is standard. But if you want stuff like blind spot warning, lane departure and adaptive cruise control - all standard on a $55,000 Ford Mondeo Titanium - you'll have to stump up another $5490 for the Driver Support Pack.
Volvo has been owned by Chinese maker Geely since last year. If there are any ramifications in terms of design and engineering they are yet to be seen, as the V60 was created under Ford.
Probably the most significant change under the Chinese is that you can be sure Volvo will still be around in five years, which means you can buy the V60 T6 with confidence. Recommended.
Volvo V60 The bottom line:
Less overt than an Audi, more comfort-oriented than a BMW - cooler than either? Volvo V60 T6 is the quiet achiever in the compact-executive class.By David Linklater Email David