Volvo Cars India is all set to enhance its presence in the premium luxury sedan segment where it faces tough competition from the well-established, mainstream German luxury trio ofMercedes-Benz India, BMW India and Audi India.
For a quick perspective, Mercedes-Benz India sold 2,386 units in the first quarter of 2020, followed by BMW India’s 2,365 units. In comparison, Volvo Cars India registered cumulative sales of 2,687 units over the entire 2019 calendar.
A relatively small retail presence as well as the lower snob value associated with this Scandinavian brand in India have been among the top reasons for the smaller sales count of Volvo Cars, but the company has shown consistent uptick in performance over the last four years.
Sales have nearly doubled from 2016 courtesy an appealing product portfolio and aggressive localisation strategy,combined with simultaneous expansion of the retail footprint, which today has reached 24 touchpoints across India. Clearly, Volvo Cars India is gunning for its targeted 10 percent market share by 2020 – a two-fold increase from 2017.
The fact though remains that the luxury-car segment in India is still a miniscule category within the overall passenger vehicle industry, cumulatively selling over 35,000 units in 2019 and forming just 1 percent of the total demand for cars. And now, the unprecedented dawn of the Covid-19 pandemic has brought about a harrowing situation for these high-end products as discretionary spending and buying power have slumped to an all-time high.
Luxury-car sales slump
According to the vehicle retail data released by the Federation of Automobile Dealers Associations of India (FADA), luxury-car sales in India in July 2020 imploded to clock a mere 924 units and register a 58.8 percent year-on-year decline over 2,242 units sold in July 2019. Of these industry-wide numbers, Volvo Cars India, however, was the least impacted among its peers, absorbing a 34.8 percent YoY hit to its sales which dropped from 135 units to 88 units.
While it was running in the fast lane on account of strong momentum received by its most-affordable offering – Volvo XC40 crossover – introduced in July 2018 and later updated with a petrol engine late last year, the company had strategised to build up on that demand by introducing more products and offering value to the Indian consumer.
Almost 60 percent of its current model line-up in India is locally assembled including the likes of the best-selling XC60 and even flagship S90 and XC90 models, and the Volvo Cars India is now in the works to introduce the updated version of its entry-level sedan – Volvo S60 - early next year.
In the present-day world where financial prudence is perhaps the most-sought-after personal habit, buyers even in the luxury-car space are seen giving weightage to products lower down the price range. The pandemic has certainly shifted demand downwards, prompting carmakers to serve this category with accelerated efforts. Recent examples include the launch of the Audi Q2 crossover, BMW’s 2 Series Gran Coupe as well as Mercedes-Benz looking to bring its A-Class sedan to India very soon.
Signature hammer-shaped LED DRLs give a family look to the front-end of the S60.
Enter the Volvo S60 and the car will give competition to the likes of BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Audi A4, which is also slated to be refreshed early next year. It is built on Volvo’s global Scalable Product Architecture (SPA), which is a modular platform and can support multiple drivetrain options including an all-wheel drive system and a hybrid powertrain as well.
The new S60 is the third-generation model of the sedan that will be launched in India nearly two years after the discontinuation of its predecessor in July 2019, and will be available in a single T4 Inscription trim.
Simple and understated
The Volvo S60 looks understatedly sporty in its design, with a dash of sophistication built into the various exterior elements. The chrome grille with chunky Volvo emblem at the front is flanked by a pair of sharply-designed headlamps that flaunt the signature hammer-shaped LED DRLs. The bulging bonnet has two muscular lines flowing into the edges of the grille, giving an aggressive look to the front end of the car.
The side profile looks in a class of its own, bearing a timeless design where light brush strokes of muscle act as subtle accents on a clean metallic canvas. The well-balanced proportions of the long hood and a stubby rear overhang,along with a rearward-sloping roof add to the requisite sportiness in design which gets embellished by the large 18-inch multi-spoke wheels.
The rear is quintessential Volvo with C-shaped LED tail-lamps adorning an arched boot lid that gets a big Volvo badge in the centre. The windscreen gets a vey sharp rake angle to add to the athleticstance, while dual chrome exhaust tips round off the simple and exuberant styling in a subtle manner.
Opulent and high-tech
One is greeted into the cabin by an upmarket interior layout that is inspired from Scandinavian furniture and is executed beautifully in terms of the craftsmanship. There is liberal use of plush materials including the leather on the dashboard and seats, knurled dials on the AC vents and start-stop regulator, as well as piano-black inserts on the steering wheel.
Even though the ambience is dark, the wooden ivory inserts across the dashboard and ahead of the front armrest on the central console try to break the monotony of the cabin, whilst the panoramic sunroof aids getting more light inside. Electronically-adjustable memory function front seats are well bolstered and the there is enoughto keep occupants engaged in terms of infotainment with the vertically-oriented 9-inch touchscreen being the centre piece of attraction.
Volvo’s proprietary ‘Sensus’ operating system forms the core of this infotainment unit and controls a host of in-car as well as safety functionalities of the S60. While the system is fluid to use, it could be a little cumbersome to navigate through its plethora of options and control settings if not acquainted well. There is built-in telephony, connectivity as well as 3D navigation support. The display also doubles up to offer high-definition feed from the rear camera while reversing the sedan. The main 9-inch infotainment screen is also complemented by a fully-digital driver display behind the steering wheel, which apart from showing the dials, mirrors things such as navigation to offer a safe viewing angle to the driver.
In terms of audio, the 14-speaker Harman Kardon sound system offers an extremely well-tuned setup that would be to the fondness of most audiophiles looking for a vehicle in this class of cars.
After the launch of the XC40 last year, Volvo Cars India had given a glimpse into its future roadmap for the country, indicating a heavy-reliance on petrol powertrains, in-line with its global strategy. As a result, the S60 will be introduced in a single 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged T4 petrol engine option that develops 190bhp and 300Nm of torque. All that power and torque is transmitted to the front wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission.
Volvo S60's 2.0-litre, turbocharged petrol motor develops 190bhp and 300 Nm of torque and delivers a pleasing driving experience.
We tested the car for over 500km on a round-trip journey from Delhi to Jaipur and found the motor to be very well suited for both relaxed and spirited driving styles. The power comes easy into the rev range and the gearbox is able to deliver the punch by upshifting in a linear fashion. It is also always game for disbursing quick bursts of power whenever one puts the foot down even in the Comfort mode, which will serve the purpose for 90 percent of the needs rather well. For a 2.0-litre turbocharged motor, we found the Volvo S60 to be quite fuel-efficient too, consuming only around 13 litres of regular petrol for a 100km run, as per the multi-information display.
The ride quality with the 235-section Continental PremiumContact tyres was well absorbent too and the high-speed manners of the S60 are respectable in terms of its mature ride and handling. The low-slung sedan gives ample confidence to push through fast corners, however, an all-wheel drive setup would have taken things a notch higher.
Pilot assist, standardsafety net
Just like all Volvos are synonymous with safety, the S60 is no different. To start things off, the SPA platform has earned a full five-star rating in the European NCAP by using a high composition of ultra-high strength boron steel in the construction of the passenger compartment. The sturdy built is followed by the host of active safety systems running in the hindsight, driven by various sensors and cameras mounted at different places on the car.
The Volvo City Safety, for instance, is programmed to identify vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists and even large animals coming in one’s way, and issues warning to intimate the driver; brake or even steer away autonomously to prevent an accident at city speeds. The lane-keep assist, on the other hand, generates a strong haptic feedback on the steering wheel to dissuade driver from changing the lane ever so often.
On the highway, we were able to test Adaptive Cruise Control that adjusts the set speed by automatically braking to maintain a safe gap with the vehicle in the front, as well as the Pilot Assist semi-autonomous functionality, which is a rendition of the full-autonomous driving technology of the future. In the Pilot Assist mode, the S60 can run autonomously up to speeds of 130kph, given the road conditions are good and there are proper lane markings for the camera and sensors to follow. The system monitors lane, as well as vehicles ahead and on the side of the car so as to steer and brake to maintain its set pace in a constant fashion.
Uniquely, the car also comes with an oncoming collision mitigation function, which engages the brakes to prevent a head-on collision, a situation which could be an easy find on the Indian roads.
Overall, the new Volvo S60 is quite an impressive offering that sets the right bells ringing for both an enthusiastic driver as well as young family buyer. Although it’s low on the desirability quotient a Volvo commands in the market, the S60 makes up for it with its fool-proof safety features and an enjoyable driving experience behind the wheel.But, with Volvo going the CBU route for the initial period of sale after the car’s launch, it would be interesting to see how it positions the brand-new sedan compared to its rivals which are heavy on localisation to redeem profits in this growing segment.