Two non-German mid-size luxury sedans are evaluated by two of our journos. Each vehicle may receive a maximum of five (5 = excellent) and a minimum of one (1=terrible) stars per category from each tester. Both added their opinions below these ratings; tester two in italics.
I like the long sloping rear window. The front spindle grill and more aggressive styling in front also suits the car. I did find, however, that the sporty look completely falls flat the further back you go so that by the time you look at the vehicle from the rear, it’s finished in a more timid fashion.
Volvo’s much sportier lines and revamped styling in the S60 ensure that this sedan is certainly eye-catching. Bulges and flares with hidden kinks that catch the light all serve to ensure that Volvo’s exterior styling offers are anything but boring. Our silver test model looked an infinitely more exciting choice of vehicle when parked next to the Lexus. More importantly, two large rectangular exhaust pipes with a broad boot ensure the design lines didn’t fall flat at the end. A good looking car from both front and rear!
Not a bad-looking luxury sedan but it has ungainly proportions and the doors are too slab-sided. Front and rear light clusters look snazzy but it has a touch of the mundane about it. Boot lid feels and sounds flimsy.
Tight, clean, understated aggression drawn with good lines, the Volvo S60 is one of the best-looking sedans on our roads at the moment. Looks good in front of the church or night club.
Power output & delivery
Delayed reaction from the transmission means that power output is also delayed – the car pulls away beautifully once you get going but initially it all feels a bit flat. Power delivery was a bit jerky and ambivalent at times as the vehicle struggled to decide on gearing.
Spunky take off, instant and precise power delivery. I loved the surge of power from the turbo-charged engine and always felt as though I had ample spare to play around with. Delivery is smooth and constant.
The 2.5-litre engine is lively and has such good torque output that I initially thought it was a turbo. Doesn’t make the greatest noise but that’s what you want in a quiet, comfortable sedan. Our average consumption hovered around 9L/100km.
The Volvo’s growling 2.0-litre turbo engine has way more power and torque than the Lexus’ so it’s only natural that it helped itself to an extra litre per 100km compared to the ES250. I detected almost no turbo-lag but slight mid-range hesitation occasionally.
Fantastic handling on the open road – takes curves and cambers in its stride and road holding is excellent. Steering is a bit numb and removed. Switch over to sport mode hardens the steering and gives a more direct driving experience, but without much more sportiness to the actual performance. I would definitely consider the Lexus as more of a cruiser vehicle than a sporty vehicle.
The Volvo S60 offers only what you would expect from a Volvo – good, solid handling. It has an appalling turning radius (as always) but you somehow feel inclined to forgive the vehicle this as the over all ride is so comfortable. The ride is a little harder than the Lexus, but infinitely more sporty. This made town driving a lot more comfortable than in the Lexus.
The Lexus surprised me through a set of twisty roads with its high grip levels and negligible body roll. Very comfortable cruiser but its steering isn’t quite as involving as the Volvo’s. Not a hint of torque steer from this FWD.
The S60 has the better steering but our test car’s optional 18-inch alloy wheels with low-profile rubber cost it some ride comfort points. Handles well, steers beautifully and hardly any torque steer.
Gearbox & brakes
Brakes are good and responsive. Gearbox left much to be desired – response lag and also constant override when in ‘manual’. Car constantly makes its own decision about gearing. Found that it kicked down too much, especially on steep inclines which would have the effect of catapulting the vehicle forward, resulting in an awkward accelerator-brake moment before you rear ended the vehicle in front of you. Manual shifting is made through a tip-tronic style gear lever. I prefer paddle shift if I’m not driving a vehicle with a manual transmission. Being such a massive vehicle, I found the brakes to take a little slower than I would have preferred, which meant you needed to apply them with a modicum of forward planning.
I experienced the Volvo as having a very short first and second gear. This is most particularly noticeable during town driving under normal traffic conditions. Generally however, the response from the gearbox is sharp and responsive and the 8-speed geartronic automatic transmission is exceptionally smooth. The S60 offers a fantastic kick-down for speedy launches and offers a much sportier response and ride all around. The very best in safety features accompany the braking tendencies in this car, ensuring absolute confidence at all speeds.
The Japanese six-speed automatic is smooth and suits the luxury car well. Push harder and it stays lethargic while becoming disobedient. Kick-downs can take a while. No shift paddles; and the tip-shift function won’t change gears when you want to. Easily modulated brakes with loads of driver aids.
Eight speeds of modern perfection, I suspect ZF. The first two ratios are quite short while the opposite pair is very tall for extra cruising economy. Gear changes are instant but a few harsh ones did creep in. Brakes are just as good as those on the Lexus.
I found that the Lexus, when compared to the Volvo lacked considerably in interior styling. I’ve never considered this before but the finishes felt a bit plastic-like and cheap as compared to the solidity of the S60’s finishes. In styling in general, the Lexus is comfortable enough and smart enough. But there-in lies the problem. For the price, it’s just enough…. Nothing to rave about or write home about. However, coming to the rescue is the fact that comfort options such as seat heaters, a sun-roof and climate control are all standard features in a Lexus – something to consider if you’re price and comfort conscious.
The S60 on the other hand offers a far superior interior finish – from the chic aluminium inserts with their curve enhancing swoop on the doors to the fine white stitching in the leather, the comfortable padded steering wheel and a certain je ne sais quoi that the Swedes have when it comes to style, especially style you can live in. I found the Volvo’s styling and finishes more than adequate for this class of sedan.
I’m taking a lot of points off the Lexus here because I’m OCD and this cabin makes me nervous with its odd angles, weird layout and surfaces which don’t line up to anything. Materials and finish are ok-ish, but not as premium as the Swede. Trip computer is erring on the small side.
Same as the exterior – crisp and modern. Minimalist layout means the floating central section – which just doesn’t get old – is a bit cramped. Digital displays are a must but which one to choose?
Boot & cabin space
Boot is big enough to take two x medium suitcases, a couple of laptops and some items shoved down the side. Nothing to write home about. Cabin space on the other hand is ultra impressive with masses of legroom front and back. Rear seat passengers will be able to stretch out and really enjoy their ride, without hampering the comfort of those in front either. The fact that the boot carries a full sized spare wheel makes up for the fact that its dimensions weren’t as impressive as one could have hoped.
I was disappointed by the Volvo’s small boot – sufficient for a bag of golf clubs and not much more. Likewise, as compared to the Lexus, I found that the cabin space, especially in the rear to be a bit cramped. However, when one considers that it offers no less than some other sedans in its class (think Audi A4 etc), this is hardly a mark in its disfavour. What is disappointing is that somehow, the small boot isn’t even due to a full spare wheel being housed beneath it, the S60 offers only a space saver wheel limited to 80km/h speeds. You wouldn’t want to get flat wheel far from home in this one.
The ES250’s first and very well-deserved win in this comparison. A supersized American family would feel happy in here, rear legroom is hilarious. The boot shape isn’t ideal but its size is. Full-size spare wheel.
While there’s enough room for four, maybe five adults, the S60 doesn’t stand a chance against its rival. The more snug dimensions are mirrored by a small boot with an extremely high floor covering only a space-saver spare wheel. Pathetic.
Infotainment & luxury features
With the advances that have been made in terms of infotainment systems, I found that of Lexus to be sadly a bit behind the times. With time being of the essence to most people these days, we don’t want to have to fiddle and consult a tome of an owner’s manual just to try and get our phones paired to the vehicle’s Bluetooth. Neither do we want to tear our hair out in frustration trying to navigate the system with a temperamental ‘mouse’ that clearly was built with a will of its own. And I’d like to be able to see what tune I’ve selected on the audio system once I’ve managed to get it going, and not have the menu display to whatever the car feels at whim to show – be it consumption figures, where I’m at on the map or something else. Rant over.
By comparison, I found the Volvo system easy to navigate through its set of dials and buttons and simple and intuitive. Enough said.
In true Lexus fashion, the ES250 spoils you with a high standard specification list. Bluetooth, navigation and audio functions are flawless but the mouse-operated system isn’t. It looks outdated and keeps changing screens to something you wanted two days ago. Very frustrating. The climate control works well, as long as you like 18 degrees. Set it to any temperature, auto or manual fan mode, it will blow freezing air at you. Sunroof is a no-cost option.
The Volvo’s compact climate control and infotainment system are more intuitive and compliant. You can see the song name or radio station at the top of the screen in any menu, among other useful info. Lexus take notes. The Volvo loses a point because its toys cost extra, although the prices are reasonable.
Driver aids & safety
With an unprecedented 10 airbags added to the other standard features that include ABS brakes, stability control, electronic braking and more, the Lexus can hold its own against the famously safety-conscious brand that is Volvo. Quite frankly, I could find nothing much in it in comparing the two. Volvo could offer more options than Lexus, but in terms of standard features, the ES250 is right up there too.
With the very be all and end all in safety features, the S60 offers the lot – ABS, stability control, 6 airbags, City Safety as a standard feature (this vehicle can think and prevent minor collisions at low speeds for distracted drivers) and more. Our test vehicle also offered Volvo’s BLIS option – an additional driver aid for blind spot awareness. With plenty of beeps, warnings and more, from parking sensors, blind spot sensors, traffic sensors, sensor sensors, it will be a wonder if we actually need to do anything in the cars of the near future. Certainly, I found myself desensitized at times by the sensors….. and a poor thing that would be if we actually came to rely on our cars instead of our own ability to drive properly.
Ten airbags. TEN! On top of that, lane keeping and blind spot assistants are standard.
Although it can’t match the Lexus airbag count, the S60 is a very safe car and has the same not-so basic electronic driver aids. Fancier stuff like lane keeping and blind spot assistance costs extra.
Value for money / Price / warranty
In the end, for many people their decision to purchase a specific vehicle off their shortlist of top choices boils down to a couple of pertinent questions: How much can I afford? What do I get for my money? How long is the service plan – or when will I have to start coughing up more? In other words, which vehicle will give me the most bang for my buck? To this end, Lexus offers an exceptionally attractive package – a mere glance at what standard features are included in the cost would have most people hauling out their chequebooks. However, I’m not convinced that I’d buy one anymore for myself. You see, I like to feel that I got something solid and well finished and I’m afraid that for all its impressive specs, the ES250 didn’t do it for me.
On a cold-blooded service/ warranty statistic, the Volvo could offer me an additional year, larger service intervals but not much more aside from much more impressive fuel consumption (a VERY relevant factor at today’s fuel prices) However, where the Volvo wins is the fact that it feels like better value to me. I love the style, the finishes, the solidity of the vehicle and in the end, despite the more practical questions that need to be answered, even though it’s the pricier of the two, I would take the S60 any day – because I like it. And in the end, you need to like what you drive.
The Lexus ES250 represents excellent value but its warranty and service intervals fall short of the S60’s.
Good value, also when compared to German rivals. Unfortunately, we chose the wrong Volvo for this comparison – an S60 T4 (132kW) is the ES250’s direct rival and considerably cheaper. These savings would spec it up to the Lexus’ level; or you could choose this T5 for its extra oomph.
I love Lexus, I enjoy the big “Americanised” feel of their cars. However, over the space of a few years of testing cars now…
…I’m afraid that Volvo has far surpassed other manufacturers in my eyes with its fresh, bold designs and innovative use of features and above all, the finishes make their cars so, well, perfectly finished.
Big on space and features, the ES250 can’t match the S60’s drive train or ease of use. If you want lots of room and comfort at a great price, stop looking right now. This is the car for you.
The S60 looks and feels cooler than its rival. Faster too, but also more expensive. It doesn’t have the toys or space of the ES250 but irrespective of this outcome, I would park this in my garage.
Lexus ES250: 66/90
Volvo S60 T5: 75/90