Lexus IS VS Volvo S60
- Good value
- Great after-sales
- Dodgy entertainment system
- Stunning looks
- Great safety kit
- Good value
- Not as fun as some
- Real world fuel use question marks
This generation of the Lexus IS has been with us for a while now, and it has a lot more to contend with than it did on its debut. The Infiniti Q50 has come and gone, but a new Audi A4 (soon to be refreshed) and a very impressive new BMW 3 Series made life difficult. And that's before everybody wakes up to Genesis, which could bloom into a real threat.
Lexus has carved itself a bit of a niche in this country, going after just about every luxury segment worth chasing (and one or two that possibly weren't...) but the IS has been getting on with the job of presenting itself to customers who have either tired of German luxury or just weren't interested in the first place.
The third-generation IS must soon be heading for replacement, so it's worth having another look to see how the Japanese challenger fares.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
That’s because this is the Volvo S60 2020 model, which is all new from the ground up. It’s striking to look at, svelte inside, and smartly priced and packaged.
So, what’s not to like? If I’m honest, the list is short. Read on to find out more.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
It's difficult to place the Lexus against any of the Germans because it's a different sort of car. Its intent is probably closer to the Benz C-Class than the more overtly sporting BMW 3 Series or the all-rounder Audi A4. All three of those cars are way ahead for cabin, chassis and engine technology (depending on spec levels, of course).
None of them feel as solid or, ultimately, as tightly built as the Lexus. The IS has a very consistent idea of what it's meant to be and it goes all the way back to the LS400 - something identifiably similar but different enough to lure you to Japan.
The new-generation Volvo S60 is a really likeable car. It follows the brand’s recent form in offering impressive, luxurious and comfortable models that also happen to offer extensive equipment and strong safety levels.
It is somewhat hamstrung by an ownership plan that can’t match its rivals on cost, but buyers could consider that they’re getting more car for their initial money, anyway.
The first IS is still - remarkably - a common sight on our roads and couldn't be more different to the current generation. This car is low and sleek, with fast glass and big bold statements, like the huge spindle grille. That grille was a bit weak when this first generation arrived, but the mid-life facelift fixed that, but didn't touch the headlights, which still look a bit melted. Then there are the "big tick" daytime running lights, which don't really work with the headlights. It's all a bit odd.
Inside, things are very grey and sober. Obviously, it's astonishingly well-built, but there are just too many carefully labelled buttons and way too many switches you can spot in your neighbour's Toyota Corolla. They're not bad buttons, they just don't fit with the vibe of the rest of the car. Everything is clear and crisp, though, and the materials feel and look fantastic. It feels properly expensive.
Svelte and Swedish it may be, but this is also one sexy looking sedan. The R-Design model is particularly attractive, as it gets a muscly body kit and bigger 19-inch wheels.
All models have LED lighting across the range, and the ‘Thor’s Hammer’ theme Volvo has been sticking with over the past few years works a treat here, too.
At the back there’s a really tidy backside, with a look that you could confuse for the bigger S90… apart from the badge, of course. It’s one of the best looking cars in the segment, and that largely comes down to the fact that it appears more resolved and luxurious looking than its rivals.
It carries its size well - the new model is 4761mm long on a 2872mm wheelbase, it’s 1431mm tall and 1850mm wide. That means its 133mm longer (96mm between the wheels), 53mm lower but 15mm narrower than the last model - and it’s built on the brand’s new Scalable Product Architecture - which is the same underpinnings from the range-topping XC90 to the entry-grade XC40.
The interior design is what you’d expect if you’ve seen any new Volvo from the past three or four years. Take a look at the interior pictures below.
For some reason, the IS has always had a tight rear seat, despite its growth over the years. Handily, one of my neighbours has the iconic original IS200, and there isn't a big difference between the two cars, despite being separated by two decades.
This IS has such a flat windscreen that you have to be careful not to whack your head when you're getting into the front seats. The glass is super-fast and no doubt that pushes the cabin space towards the rear. The front seats are uncommonly comfortable and you also get heating and cooling, so you're covered all year round for posterior thermal comfort.
Front and rear passengers enjoy a pair of cupholders each and a bottle holder in each door.
The boot swallows a suspiciously identical-to-the-Euros 480 litres.
Volvo’s current design language is common from the XC40 through to the XC90, and the ’60 Series’ range also gets the same premium treatment.
The cabin is lovely to look at, and the materials used are all beautiful - from the leather on the steering wheel and seats, to the wood and metallic elements used on the dashboard and centre console. I still love the knurled finishes used on the engine starter and controls, even a few years after this look debuted.
The media screen is familiar too - a 9.0-inch tablet-style vertical display - and it does take a little learning to figure out how the menus work (you have to swipe side-to-side for detailed side menus, and there’s a home button down the bottom, just like a real tablet). I find it perfectly usable, but I do think the fact the ventilation controls - air con, fan speed, temperature, air direction, seat heating/cooling, steering wheel heating - all being through the screen is a little annoying. I guess a small saving grace is the de-mister buttons are exactly that - buttons.
There is a volume knob with a play/pause trigger as well, which is great. And there are controls on the steering wheel as well.
The storage in the cabin is okay, with cup holders between the seats, a covered centre bin, bottle holders in all four doors, and a rear flip-down armrest with cupholders. Now if you’re reading this review you must have a thing for sedans. That’s cool, I won’t hold it against you, but the V60 wagon is clearly the more practical pick. Even so, the S60 has a 442-litre boot space, and you can fold the rear seats down for extra room if you need it. The opening is a decent size, but there is a slight intrusion at the top edge of the boot that can limit the size of things that’ll fit as you slide them in - our bulky pram, for instance.
And keep in mind, if you choose the T8 hybrid, the boot size is a little compromised by battery packaging, with 390 litres.
Price and features
At $59,340, the IS300 Luxury opens the range, stacking up well against the obvious luxury competition. That scores you a 10-speaker stereo, 17-inch alloys, dual-zone climate control, heated and cooled electric front seats, reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, active cruise control, sat nav, auto LED headlights with auto high beam, headlight washers, keyless entry and start, partial leather trim, power everything, auto wipers, and a space-saver spare.
The standard complaints about the Lexus entertainment system still apply - it's hard to use, is devoid of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and takes longer than it should to learn where everything is. The sound, however, is excellent from the 10 speakers, the screen is huge and (mostly) pretty and the sat nav works quickly and without fuss.
The S60 sedan range is attractively priced, with entry level variants undercutting some of the big name competitors.
The starting point is the S60 T5 Momentum, which is priced at $54,990 plus on-road costs. It has 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and tail-lights, a 9.0-inch multimedia touchscreen supporting Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well as DAB+ digital radio, keyless entry, auto dimming rear vision mirror, auto dimming and auto folding wing-mirrors, dual-zone climate control and real leather trim on the seats and steering wheel.
The next model up the range is the T5 Inscription, which lists at $60,990. It adds plenty of additional gear, with 19-inch alloy wheels, directional LED headlights, four-zone climate control, a head-up display, a 360-degree parking camera, auto-parking assist, wood interior highlights, ambient lighting, heated front seats with cushion extensions, and a 230-volt power outlet in the rear console.
Stepping up to the T5 R-Design gets you more grunt (info in the engine section below), and there are two options available - the T5 petrol ($64,990) or the T8 plug-in hybrid ($85,990).
Extra equipment for R-Design variants includes ‘Polestar optimisation’ (a bespoke suspension tune from Volvo’s performance division), 19-inch alloys with a unique look, a sporty exterior and interior design pack with R-Design sports leather seats, paddle-shifters on the steering wheel, and mesh metal interior finishes.
There are some packs available, including the Lifestyle Pack (with panoramic sunroof, rear window blind and a 14-speaker Harman Kardon stereo), the Premium Pack (panoramic sunroof, rear blind and a 15-speaker Bowers and Wilkins stereo), and the Luxury Pack R-Design (nappa leather trim, blonde head-lining, power adjustable side bolsters, front massage seats, heated rear seat, heated steering wheel).
Engine & trans
Under the long bonnet is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine with a very reasonable 180kW and 350Nm, carrying the code number 8AR-FTS. An eight-speed automatic sends the power to the rear wheels and will propel the 1680kg machine to 100km/h in seven seconds flat.
You can tow 750kg with an unbraked trailer and 1500kg braked.
All of the Volvo S60 models use petrol as part of their propulsion method - there is no diesel version this time around - but there are a few details when it comes to the petrol engines used in the range.
The T5 engine is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo motor. But there are two states of tune offered here.
The Momentum and Inscription get the lower state of tune - with 187kW of power (at 5500pm) and 350Nm of torque (1800-4800rpm) - and it uses an eight-speed automatic with permanent all-wheel drive (AWD). This powertrain’s claimed 0-100km/h sprint time is 6.4 seconds.
The R-Design model takes a higher tune of T5 engine - with 192kW of power (at 5700rpm) and 400Nm of torque (1800-4800rpm). Still eight-speed auto, still AWD, and a little quicker - 0-100km/h in 6.3sec.
At the top of the range there’s the T8 plug-in hybrid drivetrain, which also uses a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo engine (246kW/430Nm) and pairs it to an electric motor with 65kW/240Nm. The combined outputs for this hybrid drivetrain equate to a phenomenal 311kW and 680Nm, and that makes its 0-100km/h time of 4.3sec all the more believable.
And then there’s the fuel consumption…
The sticker on the windscreen suggests you might get 7.5L/100km, drinking premium unleaded. Unfortunately, and despite my fervent efforts, the best I could manage was a far more sobering 12.7L/100km.
That's not a great result, and it's quite similar to the 200t I drove a couple of years ago. Even with stop-start.
The official combined fuel consumption of the S60 varies depending on the powertrain.
The T5 models - Momentum, Inscription and R-Design - all use a claimed 7.3 litres per 100 kilometres, which on the surface appears a little high for a vehicle in this segment.
But there’s a great evener in the T8 R-Design, which uses a claimed 2.0L/100km - now, that’s because it has an electric motor that can allow you to drive without petrol for up to 50 kilometres.
From the driver's seat you get that very appealing sense of solidity that you get in every Lexus, even the baby SUV UX. That's partly because when a car weighs this much, it helps soak up the bumps. Lexus has a particular ride quality, even in its sportier variants, that makes you feel safe and cosseted.
The steering's weight is light, but not so light you can't feel what the wheels are doing, yet it's not overly chatty.
But the main contributor to the feeling of solidity and safety is realising how unbelievably quiet and smooth the IS is. Even the turbo four is the most distant of whirrs (without sounding bad), smoothly dishing up the power and torque. I'll admit to more than mild surprise when I saw the 0-100km/h time of seven seconds - it just doesn't feel that quick, but the speed does indeed pick up.
The eight-speed automatic could be more decisive - I often found myself grabbing a lower gear because the transmission had been a bit tardy picking the right cog. It could also drop into third or fourth a little too firmly when in Sport mode. It wasn't bad, it just felt like it was making a last-second decision to pick the gear and then ramming it home a touch enthusiastically. In normal city driving, however, it's smoother than the butter through which a Barry White track is being played.
As a sporty sedan it does okay, too, but the suspension is really set up to keep everything calm and comfortable. The electronics cut in early and often on slippery surfaces and even Sport mode is pretty tame. And that's perfectly okay.
The Volvo S60 is a really nice car to drive.
That might seem a little lacking in terms of descriptive wording, but ‘really nice’ sums it up so well.
We mainly spent our time in the sporty T5 R-Design, which is impressively quick when you engage Polestar mode, but never leaves you feeling like you’re at the ragged edge. In normal driving, with Normal mode engaged, the engine response is more measured, yet still sprightly.
You can feel the difference between the R-Design version with the T5 engine and the non R-Design models, which run a 5kW/50Nm deficit. Those models offer better than adequate grunt, and you might find you don’t really need the extra punch.
The R-Design’s engine is smooth and revs freely, and the transmission is a smart thing, too, shifting almost imperceptibly and never really setting a foot wrong in terms of gear selection. The S60’s all-wheel drive system allows easy progress and plenty of traction, while the R-Design’s 19-inch wheels with Continental tyres offer heaps of grip.
The steering isn’t as engaging as in some other luxury mid-size models - it’s not quite as much a point-and-shoot weapon as a BMW 3 Series, for instance - but the steering wheel is easy to turn at low speeds, offers decent response at higher speeds, though it’s not overly engaging if you’re an enthusiastic driver.
And the ride is mostly quite comfortable, though sharp edges at lower speeds can upset things - that comes down to the 19-inch wheels. The T5 R-Design model we drove is fitted with Volvo’s Four-C (four corner) adaptive suspension, and in Normal mode there was slightly less stiffness over patchy sections of road, while the Polestar Mode made things a little more aggressive. The other models in the range have non-adaptive suspension. The S60 T8 R-Design we drove at launch was a little less comfortable, feeling a bit more easily upset by bumpy sections of road - it is considerably heavier, and it also misses out on the adaptive suspension.
The cornering stability from the suspension is impressive, with very little body roll through faster corners, but just be mindful that a Momentum - which has 17-inch wheels - could be a better pick if you often drive on rougher roads with varied surfaces.
The IS lands with eight airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, brake asssist, forward collision warning, forward AEB with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, active-safety bonnet and tyre-pressure monitoring.
There are also two ISOFIX points and three top-tether anchors.
The IS scored the maximum five ANCAP stars in December 2016.
Volvo is synonymous with safety, so there’s no surprise that the S60 (and V60) scored the maximum five star Euro NCAP crash test rating when tested in 2018. They haven’t been put through the ANCAP ringer yet, but a maximum five-star score is a given.
Standard safety equipment for all S60 models includes auto emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian and cyclist detection, rear AEB, lane keeping assist with lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring with steering assist, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, and a reversing camera with front and rear parking sensors (plus 360-degree surround view standard on all but Momentum grades).
There are six airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain), plus there are dual ISOFIX child seat anchor points and three top-tether restraints, too.
Lexus offers a slightly unusual four-year/100,000km warranty, which I guess is a good way to separate yourself from the Euro competition, who are stubbornly sticking with three years. Added to the warranty is four years of roadside assist.
Also throwing a punch at the Euro manufacturers' generally lacklustre after-sales offering, Lexus offers to either come and fetch your car from you for servicing or will give you a loan car for the day. And you'll get your car back freshly washed and vacuumed, too.
All of this (and a reputation for bulletproof reliability) is intended to lure you away from the Germans.
Volvo covers its models with the equivalent of the ‘standard’ level of cover in the luxury segment - three years/unlimited kilometres. It will also back its cars with the same cover for roadside assist for the duration of the new car warranty. That doesn't move the game on.
Servicing is due every 12 months or 15,000km, and customers can now purchase a three-year/45,000km inclusive service plan for about $1600 - which is considerably more affordable than the previous service plans. Volvo has made this change based on the feedback of customers and reviewers (and because the other brands in the market offered more aggressive plans), so that's a plus.