Volvo finally has what it takes to give BMW a run for its money

After years of struggle to make a stand in the premium market, the S60 finally has a shot against the leading nameplates in this niche: the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, and the Audi A4. We’ve already compared the S60 to the Merc, so now it’s time to pit it against the 3 Series, the vehicle that has set the benchmark in this segment for many years.

Purchased by Geely in 2009, Volvo was subject to a makeover in recent years that saw most of its important models redesigned from the ground up and all engines that weren’t four-cylinders discontinued. The Swedish firm also developed a hybrid drivetrain under Chinese ownership. The first vehicle to sport all these novelties, the XC90, entered production in 2014, but the design and tech expanded to include the S90 and XC40 too. Come 2018, and Volvo redesigned the S60 compact sedan using the same features and technologies, turning it into a shrunken S90.

Exterior

Comparison: 2019 Volvo S60 vs BMW 3 Series Exterior
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Almost a scaled-down copy of the S90, the S60 boasts a range of already familiar design cues from the Swedish brand

The new S60 follows in the footsteps of the bigger S90 design-wise. Almost a scaled-down copy of the midsize sedan, the S60 boasts a range of already familiar design cues from the Swedish brand. The large, rectangular grille is flanked by angular headlamps featuring the "Thor’s hammer" LED lighting signature, while the bumper includes a trapezoidal center vent and tall outlets toward the sides.

The profile is surprisingly sporty for a compact that looked rather dull before this generation. The deeply sculpted character lines above the side skirts, the swooping beltline that defines the muscular rear haunches, and the coupe-style rear section of the roof enable the S60 to fit perfectly into the compact premium market.

Comparison: 2019 Volvo S60 vs BMW 3 Series Exterior
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The C-shaped taillights flank a big, squared-off scoop that houses the license plate

Also based on the S90, the rear fascia is a breath of fresh air in this segment. While the Germans focused on sportiness, Volvo went with a more elegant approach. The C-shaped taillights flank a big, squared-off scoop that houses the license plate, while the upper arms run into the trunk lid to complement the big "Volvo" lettering on the deck lid. The bumper is rather simple to look at, but the diffuser-like element and the wide exhaust pipes add a touch of sportiness, as does the spoiler integrated into the edge of the trunk lid.

Volvo also offers black trim on certain models, which takes the S60 into the performance-oriented market without the Polestar badge. It’s pretty much what BMW does with M packages for its non-M models, a sign that Volvo is finally understanding this market.

Comparison: 2019 Volvo S60 vs BMW 3 Series High Resolution Exterior
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The German sedan is almost seven years old as of June 2018

Moving over to the 3 Series, the most important thing to note is that the German sedan is almost seven years old as of June 2018. BMW did update the four-door in 2015, but exterior modifications were minimum, so the 3 Series looks pretty much the same as it did when it was launched in 2011. Does it look dated? Not really, but it’s definitely not as fresh as BMW’s newer products. The German brand has already introduced a new design language, seen on the 5 Series and 7 Series, and the compact sedan does look a bit long in the tooth when compared to its bigger siblings.

The 3 Series’ big advantage design-wise is that it looks decidedly sporty. No matter the trim, it’s one of the most aggressive-looking compacts out there and adding some optional M parts only makes things that much better. But the discrepancy between the 3 Series and the S60 isn’t as big as it used to be. While the Swedish sedan still showcases that elegant, subdued look from many angles, the new-generation S60 has climbed quite a few steps up the sportiness ladder.

The S60 is my favorite here, but I know that the current 3 Series still looks appealing and that the "BMW" badge remains strong no matter how old a model is.

Volvo S60 BMW 3 Series
Length TBA 4,633 MM (182.40 Inches)
Width TBA 1,811 MM (71.29 Inches)
Height TBA 1,429 MM (56.25 Inches)
Wheelbase TBA 2,810 MM (110.62 Inches)
Track, front/rear TBA 1,543/1,583 MM (60.74/62.32 Inches)
Ground clearance TBA 140 MM (5.51 Inches)

Interior

Comparison: 2019 Volvo S60 vs BMW 3 Series Interior
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The S60 benefits from the S90's vertical, tablet-like infotainment display flanked by tall A/C vents

The S60’s interior is heavily based on the S90 and this is a cool thing for a compact. The bigger S90 is a great example of gorgeous Swedish design that both simple and elegant, not to mention that the layout is one of the cleanest on the market. The S60 benefits from all of those features including the vertical, tablet-like infotainment display flanked by tall A/C vents, square vents at the corner of the dashboard, and the thin control panel placed above the wide center console.

Volvo made sure that the S60 gets a few features of its own. The dash panel on the passenger side has a thicker chrome trim that moves upward between the A/C vent and the infotainment screen, while the steering wheel has a slightly sportier design thanks to the split spoke at the bottom. The center console was modified too, but it still offers plenty of room in the storage space on the right side and under the comfortable center armrest. Spend a few extra bucks for higher trims and you get leather all over the place and authentic wood veneer.

2019 Volvo S60 Interior
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The rear section looks very comfortable, with the main two seats providing optimum lateral support

The rear section looks very comfortable, with the main two seats providing optimum lateral support. There’s also plenty of shoulder room, good headroom despite the sloping roofline, and passenger legroom that rivals those of the premium German sedans. The new S60 is a massive departure from the outgoing model and it looks just like a modern car should on the inside.

Although it was revised in 2016, the 3 Series didn’t get major updates on the inside. This means that the S60 competes with a cabin that’s quite a few years old. The fact that BMW introduced a new design language on the newer sedans, including the 5 Series and 7 Series, makes matters worst.

Comparison: 2019 Volvo S60 vs BMW 3 Series High Resolution Interior
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The 3 Series is missing a fully digital display and the refinement of a brand-new car

While the overall layout isn’t that bad, the center stack feels really dated due to the numerous buttons and knobs placed between the center console and the A/C vents. The rectangular design of the latter don’t help either, while the "free standing" infotainment display is not only small, but also placed in a rather uncomfortable position for the driver.

The 3 Series is also missing a fully digital display and the refinement of a brand-new car. It fares pretty good when it comes to premium features though, as leather, aluminum, and piano black inlays are standard on some models and available on just about every trim. The standard front seats are comfortable enough, but the rear bench doesn’t offer the best lateral support. What’s more, the 3 Series is a bit cramped when it comes to rear-seat legroom.

Drivetrain and Performance

Comparison: 2019 Volvo S60 vs BMW 3 Series Interior
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The Volvo S60 hits the market with a choice of three drivetrains, all of which are shared with other Volvo models
Volvo S60 T5 Volvo S60 T6 Volvo S60 T8
Engine 2.0-liter four-cylinder 2.0-liter four-cylinder 2.0-liter four-cylinder + electric motor
Horsepower 254 HP 360 HP 400 HP combined
Torque 295 LB-FT 300 LB-FT 480 LB-FT

The Volvo S60 hits the market with a choice of three drivetrains, all of which are shared with other Volvo models. The base model uses the already familiar T5 engine, a turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder that generates 254 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. Unlike the 3 Series, this version has front-wheel drive, but an AWD system is optional.

Moving up in the lineup, there’s the T6 drivetrain. While also powered by the 2.0-liter four-pot, this engine is both turbocharged and supercharged, a system that eliminates turbo lag. This unit is also significantly more powerful, generating 360 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque. The standard transmission is also an eight-speed automatic, but the T6 comes standard with all-wheel-drive.

Comparison: 2019 Volvo S60 vs BMW 3 Series Exterior
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The T8 Plug-In Hybrid model combines the turbocharged and supercharged four-cylinder engine with an electric motor

Finally, there’s the T8 Plug-In Hybrid model, which combines the turbocharged and supercharged four-cylinder engine with an electric motor that spins the rear axle. The gas mill cranks out 313 horsepower, while the electric motor adds 87 horses for a combined output of 400 horsepower and 480 pound-feet of twist. The eight-speed automatic gearbox is standard. A Polestar Engineered package increases output to 415 horsepower, pretty close to the power of the beefed-up BMW M3.

While the bigger Volvos and even the V60 wagon get a range of diesel engines, the S60 is not available with oil burners. Volvo is slowly giving up on diesels and the S60 is the company’s first vehicle to not use them.

Comparison: 2019 Volvo S60 vs BMW 3 Series
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Unlike the S60, the 3 Series is available with a diesel too
Model 320i 328i 340i 328d
Config/No of cyls/valves In-line/4/4 In-line/4/4 In-line/6/4 In-line/4/4
Effective capacity cc 1,998 1,998 2,998 1,998
Max output 180 HP @ 5,000-6500 RPM 250 HP @ 5200-6500 RPM 320 HP @ 5500–6500 RPM 180 HP
Max torque 200 LB-FT @ 1,250–4,500 RPM 258 LB-FT @ 1450–4800 RPM 330 LB-FT @ 1380–5000 280 LB-FT
Type of transmission 6-speed manual (optional: 8-speed Steptronic) 6-speed manual (optional: 8-speed Steptronic) 6-speed manual (optional: 8-speed Steptronic) 6-speed manual (optional: 8-speed Steptronic)
Acceleration 0–100 km/h 7.2 (7.3) seconds 5.9 (5.8) seconds 4.8 seconds TBA
Top speed 235 KM/H (146 MPH) 250 KM/H (155 MPH) 250 KM/H (155 MPH) TBA

The 3 Series is available with five engines in the U.S. First on the list is the 2.0-liter four-cylinder in the 320i model. The turbocharged unit delivers 181 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque. While this mill is no match for the T5, the one in the 328i model, rated at 250 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, is. More oomph comes from the 340i sedan, powered by a bigger, 3.0-liter inline-six that churns 320 horsepower and 330 pound-feet of torque. Needless to say, a solid alternative to the S60 T6.

The 2015 facelift brought a hybrid drivetrain for the first time. Sold in the U.S. as the 330e iPerformance, it combines a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine and a 80-kW electric motor. Total output sits at 252 horsepower and 310 pound-feet, significantly less than the S60 T8 Plug-In Hybrid. Unlike the S60, the 3 Series is available with a diesel too. It’s called the 328d and uses a turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder that’s good or 180 horses and 280 pound-feet of torque.

Each model is available with all-wheel drive, except for the 330e iPerformance hybrid.

Technology

Comparison: 2019 Volvo S60 vs BMW 3 Series Interior
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The compact sedan borrows everything from its bigger S90 sibling, starting with the state-of-the-art Sensus infotainment system

Technology-wise, the S60 is packed to the brim. The compact sedan borrows everything from its bigger S90 sibling, starting with the state-of-the-art Sensus infotainment system that comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, a 4G network, and all the cool features of 2018. Sensus also provides access to a new navigation system and connected services.

There’s bigger news in the safety department. Volvo are traditionally known as extremely safe cars, and the new S60 is no exception from this rule. The safety package is again similar to the S90, so you get systems like Lane Keeping Aid, Driver Alert Control, Road Sign Information, Run-off-Road Mitigation, and Run-off-Road Protection. It also comes with City Safety package, which is able to detect vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists, and large animals and hits the brakes if necessary. This system is always active at speeds above 2.5 mph.

Comparison: 2019 Volvo S60 vs BMW 3 Series Exterior Wallpaper quality
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The feature that really sets it apart from other vehicles in this segment is Pilot Assist, which turns the S60 into a semi-autonomous car

Things get even better if you’re willing to spend extra on options. The list includes Blind Spot Information, Rear Collision Warning, Cross Traffic Alert, Adaptive Cruise Control, Distance Alert, Park Assist Pilot, and the 360-degree camera. But the feature that really sets it apart from other vehicles in this segment is Pilot Assist, which turns the S60 into a semi-autonomous car. When activated, it controls acceleration, braking, and steering, making life easier for the driver in moderate and heavy traffic.

Being a few years old, the 3 Series isn’t as impressive when it comes to tech. Sure, it still has all the necessary features if you select enough options, but don’t expect the fancy tech you find in the much newer S60. Because it was last updated in 2015, the 3 Series doesn’t feature BMW’s latest infotainment system. Not that the old one has big issues, but you’ll have to wait for the new-generation model to get the good stuff. The system is accessible through the 8.8-inch on the dashboard, which also provides access to the navigation system and the ConnectedDrive features. The good news is that both have been improved in 2015, while the heads-up display was updated to full color.

You also get GSP-based gear selection, called ConnectedShift, for automatic transmissions. On the flipside, navigation isn’t standard on the entry-level models. Much like the Comfort Access keyless entry, it requires an upgrade to the Premium Tier. Also, there’s no semi-autonomous capability since BMW introduced this technology with the latest 7 Series, which arrived after the 3 Series was facelifted in 2015.

Pricing

Comparison: 2019 Volvo S60 vs BMW 3 Series Exterior
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The Volvo S60, the company's first vehicle to be manufactured in the U.S., retails from $35,800

The Volvo S60, the company’s first vehicle to be manufactured in the U.S., retails from $35,800. For this amount you get the base T5 model in entry-level Momentum trim. Go with the R-Design or Inscription models and the sticker jumps to $41,900 and $42,900, respectively. Next up is the T6, which comes with AWD as standard. The Momentul trim starts from $40,300, while the R-Design retails from $45,400. For the luxury Inscription model, you need to pay $47,400.

Moving over to the T8 Plug-In Hybrid, it starts from $54,400 for the R-Design version, while the Inscription model costs $55,400 before options. For all the prices above you need to add $995 for destination.

The S60 is also available via lease through Care by Volvo, a premium subscription service with a monthly flat rate and no down payment. Specific pricing is not yet available, but Volvo says that a well-equipped S60 T6 AWD Momentum will be available for $775 a month through the program, while the S60 T6 AWD R-Design will cost $850 a month. The T8-based Polestar Engineered is also included in this program, but pricing information is not available as of June 2018.

Momentum R-Design Inscription
T5 FWD $35,800 $41,900 $4
2,900
T6 AWD $40,300 $45,400 $47,400
T8 Twin Engine Plug-In Hybrid eAWD Not Available $54,400 $55,400
Destination Charge $995 $995 $995
Comparison: 2019 Volvo S60 vs BMW 3 Series High Resolution Exterior
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The BMW 3 Series has a similar starting point, retailing from $34,900 in 320i trim

The BMW 3 Series has a similar starting point, retailing from $34,900 in 320i trim. However, this model is significantly less powerful than the base S60. The good news is that you can opt for AWD, which increases the sticker of the 320i to $36,900. The 330i, which comes close to the S60 in terms of performance, starts from $40,250 in RWD trim and from $42,250 with AWD. That’s a significant $4,500 premium over the Swedish model.

The range-topping gasoline model, the 340i, which goes against the T6, costs $48,950 before options. Adding AWD increases the price to $50,950 before options. Moving over to the 328d diesel model, pricing comes in at $41,750 and $43,750 with xDrive all-wheel drive. Finally, the 330e iPerformance hybrid starts from $45,600. BMW’s hybrid is almost $10,000 more affordable, but the performance and the range are far behind the Swedish sedan.

2018 BMW 320i Sedan $34,900
2018 BMW 320i xDrive Sedan $36,900
2018 BMW 328d xDrive Sedan $43,750
2018 BMW 330i xDrive Sedan $42,250
2018 BMW 330e iPerformance $45,600
2018 BMW 340i Sedan $48,950
2018 BMW 340i xDrive Sedan $50,950

Final Thoughts

Comparison: 2019 Volvo S60 vs BMW 3 Series Exterior Wallpaper quality
- image 784202

Needless to say, this comparison isn’t exactly fair, as it brings together a car that was just introduced and a vehicle that’s been in production since 2011. There are newer compact premium sedans to compare the S60 against, but this showdown proves that Volvo has made tremendous progress in recent years. The new-generation 3 Series that’s just around the corner will probably get matching technology, better engines, and an improved hybrid drivetrain, but it’s very likely that it won’t be a significantly superior vehicle. If anything, it will be able to compete with the S60 on equal ground, but there’s a big chance that it will be more expensive in comparable trims. What we need to learn from this is that a badge may be misleading. Volvo doesn’t have the appeal of BMW nowadays, but when it comes to compact premium cars, the Swedish sedan is by far the better option.

Further reading

Comparison: 2019 Volvo S60 vs BMW 3 Series Exterior
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Read our full review on the 2019 Volvo S60.

Comparison: 2019 Volvo S60 vs BMW 3 Series High Resolution Exterior
- image 629381

Read our full review on the 2018 BMW 3 Series.

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