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A FAST ’N’ FURIOUS FACE-OFF

WORDS JAMES WHITBOURN

V VOLVO S60 T5 R-DESIGN JAGUAR XE 25t PRESTIGE

PRICE & EQUIPMENT 20 POINTS

Just under $65K buys you either of these mid-size sedans.

Opposing drive layouts aside, they have plenty in common, including the fact they’re less-chosen alternatives to the Germans. In this spec, the XE shares a high level of standard equipment with the S60 but its space-saver alloy spare beats Volvo’s sealant kit. 15/20 Common features include auto wipers and lights, sat-nav, voice control, Bluetooth, hill-start assist and a rear-view camera. But the Volvo misses out on a driver’s knee airbag, while much of the advanced safety tech (collision warning with full auto brake, lane-departure, forwardcollision, blind-spot info) costs extra. 14/20

INTERIOR & VERSATILITY 20 POINTS

Unique ‘Jaguar Drive’ selector is central to the XE’s understated, ambient-lit interior. It gets leather-faced 10-way power adjustable front seats with four-way lumbar adjust and driver-side memory, a powered steering column, 8.0-inch touchscreen and 380W Meridian audio. A 40/20/40 rear seat is handy and 455L boot generous. 16/20 Sportier in R-Design trim, yet decidedly Scandinavian, the S60 interior is nevertheless appealing. Shorter 2776mm wheelbase doesn’t unduly affect cabin space, though boot only holds 380L. Smaller 7.0-inch display screen betrays cabin’s age and some minor controls are unintuitive, but Harman Kardon audio quality matches the Jag’s. 15/20

PERFORMANCE & ECONOMY 20 POINTS

Mechanical similarity and weight parity fail to explain why the Jaguar is slower and thirstier on paper than the Volvo. On the road, however, the Jag’s 177kW 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine pushes the 1530kg XE with verve and offers effortless shove in most situations courtesy of a 340Nm torque plateau from 1750-4000rpm. 16/20 The S60 is up a mere 3kW and 10Nm and weighs just 3kg less than the Jag. Front-drive means it’s not as quick off the mark, but in-gear response is enthusiastic and at 6.3sec, it gets to 100km/h half a second quicker than the Jag. It’s also thrifty (6.4L/100km versus 7.5) but the new four doesn’t match the warble of Volvo’s old fiver. 16/20

RIDE & REFINEMENT 20 POINTS

Blend of poise and ride polish is so good it’s almost French (back when supple ride was a Gallic cornerstone). XE rides with terrific compliance, with road and suspension noise enviably well suppressed. Slightly narrower tyres and fatter sidewalls than the S60 help, but it likely has more to do with the suspension. 18/20 More firm than floaty, with a suspension calibration that favours taut absorbency. The R-Design ‘sport chassis’ brings stiffer springs and dampers than in lesser variants, for a greater handling focus than the non-sporting Prestige-spec Jaguar. Top marks for body solidity and quietness, and long-haul occupant comfort. 15/20

STEERING & HANDLING 20 POINTS

With well-connected electric steering and a beautifully balanced rear-drive chassis, the Jag doesn’t need gimmicks to handle, though its torque-vectoring system, which uses the brakes to point the car, can be felt helping it around corners. It’s the XE’s balance and involvement (and its lovely ride) that helped it win a comparo last issue. 18/20 Sport chassis can’t make up for the S60’s single biggest departure from its rival (and most competitors) – frontwheel drive. It still handles obediently, responds with accuracy and resists bodyroll well, but where the Jag’s pilot will continue to uncover layers of ability, the Volvo driver will ultimately be left a bit underwhelmed. 14/20

POINTS SCORE

83/100 74/100

VERDICT

The Volvo S60 missed the grid for last month’s Audi A4-meets-rivals comparo, but, like the Jaguar XE, it’s a less-chosen model that deserves a look. However, while Jaguar delivered a car to make eschewing the usual Euro suspects not only worthwhile but the smart choice, the Volvo makes it more difficult to justify foregoing the alternatives. The Jag looks sharper, has a classier interior, rides with supreme comfort, and involves and entertains its driver. The XE provides similar performance to the Volvo, with the benefit of reardrive power-down, and both offer eight-speed autos, idle-stop and good efficiency. Perhaps there’s greater value at $50K with the S60 T4 – a price point only the Infiniti Q50 can match – but it is Jaguar head-and-shoulders above Volvo in this circa-$65K showdown.