Smoking Quietly In The Opisthodomos

It’ll be hard to complain about this one. The people at Volvo unveiled the Volvo S60 saloon. You can read more about it here and here and here.

2019 Volvo S60: source

However, good and all as those websites are, not a single one of them will provide a close-up design analysis as you will find if you simply click on the highlighted text.

What you get when you digest all the annotated photos here is that Volvo’s designers have re-stated saloon car ideals. The glasshouse is distinct from the lower body. There is a clear boot and bonnet volume. Sneaky cheeky, they have also made the car look a bit rear wheel drive. Why not? Audi does it. The near vertical snout thrills. We have waited decades for this.

2010 Volvo S-60: Autocropley

Volvo have decided to go with plain bodysides too. Maybe when this car is dented to bits in Midwestern shopping mall car-parks they might regret that. Still, the Alfa 156 had no rub-strips either and I haven’t noticed them being lunar landscapes of small depressions. The only bit of decor then seems to be the rising waist-line and the rather silly wrinkles around the wheel arches. Neither are deal breakers though.

Original photo source: Autocropley

The S60 is a restrained yet striking bit of design work. It is both true to Volvo values and not beholden to them. In this car and the superlative S90, Volvo have the two best-looking saloons on the market.  Brands offering blurry and indistinct styling ought to be worried.

2019 Volvo S60: Autocropley
2019 Volvo S60 design review. Original photo source.

Since this is the saloon, we ought to take a look at the back.

My boring window line

I am unsure about the curve linking the top edge of the rear light clusters (see below). Like the S90 it is almost a bit untidy. It isn’t untidy. The diagonal of the tab where the badge sits is the noisy element. In a design this calm, that is not needed. In the image below I have altered the window line to make it more conventional. It’s all I know how to do. This is not the only conventional alternative – mine makes it look like a B6/B7 Passat. Others make it look like a BMW.

2019 Volvo S60: Source

Back to the front again:

2019-Volvo-S60: source

This front end works because it does one single thing and does it clearly. The figure-ground relation is easy to work out. Some small angles give the design a little bit of motion (working much better than the rear). I really didn’t need to highlight the main elements of the bumper at all but I did:

2019 Volvo S60 design review. Original photo source.

With a very small change to the window line this would be perfect. Yet I quibble. Overall, Volvo have produced a really pleasant and satisfying saloon design, as good perhaps as the 2000-2009 car and vastly better than the outgoing car which will be remembered as the forgotten Volvo only.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

30 thoughts on “Smoking Quietly In The Opisthodomos”

  1. Lovely car – cracking romp through the design features and look outs, thanks.

  2. Remembering Volvo’s stodgy 1980’s offerings, who could have predicted that they’d end up winning?

    It’s interesting to me how all manufacturers have essentially converged on the same lower front spoiler design, an evolution of this sort of thing, which I think was itself inspired by contemporary Formula One front spoilers:

    1. Also, how are people embedding images in these WordPress comments?

  3. Good morning Richard. An excellent analysis of a good design, overworked rear lights apart. Like you, I’m not a great fan of the slightly random uptick in the DLO but, overall, the design is pleasingly calm and clean. It’s commendable that Volvo is largely resisting the fashion towards excessive ornamentation afflicting its peers.

  4. Hi John, I embed images by uploading the image to Imgur, a picture sharing app, then inserting the link into the post. As soon As I post the message, the link changes to the image itself.

  5. At Geneva, I talked to T Jon Mayer, who was in charge of S/V60’s exterior, at some length.

    He spared my any babble about ‘premium’ this and ‘aspirational’ that, but instead explained how influential in ‘getting’ Volvo it was to have spent a considerable amount of time at Gothenburg. And that quite a bit of Volvo’s stylistic success is down to the fact that Thomas Ingenlath simply has ‘excellent taste’, which suggests Volvo care as much about marketing research as staff’s instincts. Oh, and the 60 models are full CAD designs, putting to shame the likes of BMW, who have the resource to use full clay models, but obviously don’t put that capacity to good use.

  6. The C pillar is a little bit disappointing… there’s that somewhat random uptick in the side window line, and – urgh! – a bit of fakery with that plastic blanking plate aft of the door. A pet hate.

    However, overall this is fine piece of work, but I prefer the V60, which to my mind is even better (and even more Volvo).

  7. Thanks yet again for the lovely write up, Richard.

    Regarding the car itself, I figure the small uptick at the root of the C pillar is a bit of a compromise that they had to resort to. The DLO at the rear has a shape that is vaguely reminiscent of the S90’s, but they had to make do without the fourth pillar and without the overall length and space of the bigger car. Also, the angle of the glasshouse at the rear is a bit more acute, making it that wee bit more racey than the long and elegant S90’s gentle slope. I think it’s alright, the silhouette of the rear, from B pillar, all the way to the length of the boot, reminds me ever so slightly of the E60 (say what you want about that car, it still has those lovely proportions)

    Actually, I did not expect a commentary for the S60 to come out so soon, I was about to comment on Eoin’s write up earlier about the Lexus aesthetic because when I first laid eyes on the S60’s rear, I immediately saw inspiration from the current generation Lexus IS with a few of its design cues. Wonder if any of you do too? From the side view, the rear light angles down towards the wheel arch, the panel gap is routed down at an angle (the chosen photos of the car above are in red, which hides a crease that) subtly connects to the rising belt line at the other side of the wheel arch. I also see some cues from the way the shoulder line forms a bit of a haunch, and the DLO with that small piece at the root. Am I alone?

    1. Thanks – it’s the DTW service. I haven’t dealt with the surfaces though.
      Maybe you could mark-up an image? I see the bumper-body panel gap being alligned to a crease on the lower body-side.

    2. I do see what millions is referring to with regard to the Lexus IS and yes, there is a slight… reflection.

      The current IS is a very well proportioned, rather overlooked design in my view. People can’t or won’t see past the more outré aspects of its extremities. It deserves more than the vitriol or apathy (delete as appropriate) it has so far attracted.

  8. It’s actually hard to tell from the pictures, but it the area I’ve highlighted part of the light cluster, or a shadow cast by the light cluster?

    1. I wondered about it as well. In the image of the white car above it looks like a red shadow. But it seems very constant to be a shadow. How peculiar.

    1. It´s a shadow. Did you see the memoir in today´s edition by Andrew Frankel. There´s a photo of James May before he got really bloated.

    2. Happy to see you got Imgur figured out, John. It’s not exactly intuitive! (Well, not to me, at least…)

  9. There’s a lot of current design themes here, I’m seeing Kia and Alfa Romeo Giulia and Jaguar XE. And perhaps some Lexus, yes. Considering the convergent evolution of car design, it is inevitable most makers work from the same envelope, that’s why that dynamic upkick in the window becomes so important, because it’s one of the few design traits that makes the car unique. It isn’t there to blend in, it is there to stand out. And it worked on you lot, you have been talking about it all morning. You react on it just because it is disharmonic on purpose. “Blending it in”detracts from the sole purpose of a gimmick like that.

    But I wanna talk about something else, namely demographic. There’s a certain demographic that enjoy design from an aestethic point of view, and this car is made for those people. Middle class or upper middle class, academics, professionals, well payed. These people have money and taste, but doesn’t always like to flaunt them. They could afford a BMW, Mercedes, Audi, or even a Porsche or Tesla. They had an Audi A4 when that was the iPhone of cars, they would buy a Tesla if it was only a bit more affordable, and they would considering a Lexus if that wasn’t so passé.

    This is the Lexus crowd, where Volvo is on their way of usurping Lexus on their own home turf, and Volvo may very well become the sensible choice in that crowd. These kind of people bought a Bang & Olufsen in the 80’s because it was the only stereo that actually looked any good. These people prefer an iPhone over an Android derivate on the form factor alone, they want it because it looks good and above all, it makes them look good using it. They’re vegans because that’s what you are these days, they say no to flying because they’re against climate change, and they downsize their cars to something small or preferrably electric to minimize their carbon footprint.

    And they’re in their thirties to forties with kids that have to be driven on school runs. They could easily buy a car in double that price range but they chose a Volvo because it’s the smart and sensible choice in that crowd. It’s smart and good looking and everything that they stand for. And Volvo has read that crowd better than anybody in the business right now, the current Volvo range is everything these people want and will ever need.

    1. Maybe the vegans aren´t even driving. I think the vegetarians will go for the Volvo though. With the S90 Volvo have really hit the nail on the head. It´s imposing and elegant versus everyone else´s design shouting match. I wonder how this will fare against the 3 series and A4 where conceivably it might be hunting customers.

  10. Why is a vertical snout “correct” for a saloon? Who says so and why? I’ve learnt a lot at DTW about design, but never read such an unequivocal statement before so am intrigued.

    It does look half decent, although just going by pictures I like the 508 myself, which I’ll likely never see in the flesh. Whether this one, and all S60s are supposed to be made in Volvo’s new US factory, will have a reasonable price in the upcoming tariff war, is a point worth considering. They’re overpriced now for the current model in Canada. Volvo’s CEO was ruminating darkly on the matter today:

    1. Bill: you are correct to query my language. I am afraid and embarrassed to concede that in the article “correct” was used as shorthand for “is very acceptable to this author”. I think it looks acceptable in the context of formality. Verticals or near verticals on a car suggest stasis as opposed to motion. Limousines tended to be more upright. The tension between the actual need for forward motion (requiring directionality in the silhouette) and the bluff front is, I think, satisfying. Volvo also buck the tendency for a pointy, arrow-like profile and that distinguishes the car. It makes it look less a mainstream c-class car e.g Astra, Golf, Focus. I hope this clarifies things a bit.

  11. For me, this car looks quite attractive. There’s very little to dislike – the kink in the window line, the ears of the boot lid protruding into the rear lights and the lights’ fingers extending on the boot lid and the silver spar in the front lights (they call it ‘Thor’s hammer’).
    The rest is quite likeable, particularly when compared to the rolling horrors currently coming from the German big three.

    When it’s time to replace my current A4 this could be one of the candidates, together with an XE or a Giulia (the latter in theory only).

    Looking at their website is a bit worrying as it’s impossible to get any information on the available engines. That makes it highly probably that it’s another auto only wheezy downsized auxiliary engine.
    This and the touchscreen in the interior would this car for me.

  12. It’s lovely – very ‘lean’ looking without being insubstantial. It’s also not a clone of the S90, which is good. That said, you can get it with a dished silver grille (like the S90) and I think that looks better than the flat black grille shown in most of the pictures. Volvo are going to need more factory space.

    1. This was a surprise flop. From all the S70s and S60s sold down the years I´d have thought there was a happy and big customer base who would carry on with Volvo ownership.

    2. Looking at the design again, the first word that came to mind was ‘polite’, for some reason. I guess it’s far too sinuous and ‘light’ for today’s market.

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