Who makes the best engines in the world? Well up until now, like most things in the automotive sector, that honour has been almost exclusively reserved for the Germans, with BMW being the most successful of all.

Porsche, BMW, Audi and Volkswagen owned five of the eight categories in last year’s International Engine of the Year Awards with Ferrari, McLaren and Ford playing a small part on the periphery.

Only a handful of interlopers have intruded since the awards began in 1999 – Toyota, Honda, Subaru and Mazda have all had their 15-minutes of fame, but it would take a brave man to bet against BMW and an even braver engineer to try and take them on.

But that’s what Volvo are now doing.

More power, less fuel consumption

Not content with merely updating their cars, the powertrain experts at Volvo’s Gothenburg HQ set out in 2009 to beat the best in their class, not only for power but also for fuel efficiency.

The all-new Drive-E engines are the result – a single architecture serving both petrol and common-rail diesel variants, replacing eight engine architectures which were previously spread across three separate platforms. They’ve designed them for future electrification, with space in the floorplan for the battery pack and room for an electric motor at the front or rear.

The result is improved efficiency by up to 35% (compared to current models), an average weight saving of around 50kg and considerably stronger performance.

Take the S60 D4 which we drove on this test. The new 2014 model delivers an extra 15bhp, accelerates from zero to 62mph in 6.9 seconds (2.3 secs faster than before) and yet achieves nearly 9 mpg better fuel economy (at 74.3 mpg) with CO2 emissions below the magic 100 g/Km.

To put that in perspective, the latest MINI Cooper D Hatch with its radical new 1.5-litre 3-cylinder engine produces 98g/km of CO2, just 1g/km better than the much larger 2.0-litre Volvo S60.

Such alchemy puts all of Volvo’s competitors to shame, but the team are not resting on their laurels according to Anders Agfors, Programme Manager for the VCC Powertrain Project, “.. we set out to beat the class benchmarks, but we don’t know what plans our competitors have which might move these targets further on. That’s why the VCC programme will continue making these engines more efficient but also fun to drive.”

So what’s it like to drive?

Power delivery

During the course of a wet and windswept afternoon in the Derbyshire Peak District we drove the S60 fitted with both 8-speed auto and 6-speed manual gearboxes and came to one very straightforward conclusion – choose the auto, it’s wonderfully smooth, responds cleanly to the steering-wheel mounted paddles and eliminates the flat spots in the D4’s power delivery which blight an otherwise faultless performance.

Apart from the inevitable metallic clatter at idle, this is a diesel engine which sounds and performs much like a petrol engine. It’s a little peaky in the mid range but revs to the limiter with barely unabated vigour.

We’ll reserve judgement on Volvo’s claim that it will “turn V8 engines into dinosaurs” until the 227bhp D5 engine arrives later in the year, but it would be difficult to recommend one of the petrol variants when the diesel engines are this good. The same engine will power the new XC90 replacement (using the new SPA platform) and will power the V40 and V40CC from the second-quarter in 2014.

Eight engine derivatives are currently planned; including the 118bhp/250Nm D2, 148bhp/320Nm D3 and 227bhp/480Nm D5. These will be joined by a 138bhp/250Nm T2 petrol, 187bhp/300Nm T3, 242bhp/350Nm T4 and 302bhp/400Nm T6 with both T4 and T6 joining the range in November 2014. The petrol engines feature a 30Nm overboost, while the T6 uses both supercharger and turbocharger to deliver its seamless performance – much like Lancia did in the 1980s with its Group B rally inspired Delta S4.

Before moving on from the subject of performance, there are two more things you need to know. The flat-spots I refer to with the manual D4 were exaggerated by the steep and hilly roads around Matlock, on the flat you might not notice them, but nevertheless gears 1 to 4 were the only ones we needed with 5th and 6th reserved for longer motorway journeys.

Volvo’s all-new 8-speed auto is not without its niggles. In auto guise new powertrain comes with three drive modes (Eco, D-Mode and Sport) but even in Sport the auto box changes are simply too slow on full-throttle upshifts. Use the paddles and the shifts are on a par with the manual, so bear this in mind if you take one out on a short test drive.

Power is always on tap with the auto D4, so do yourself a favour and spend a little more money. You’ll thank me.

Refinement and Economy

According to Volvo, mating Denso’s i-Art technology with an injection pressure up to 2500 bar is “as significant an innovation as the lambda sensor was back in the 1960s.”

Unlike conventional diesel engines which operate between 1800 and 2000 bar, Volvo uses pressure sensors in each fuel injector making it possible to continuously adjust the engine settings for more precise combustion control. Knowledge is gathered at each injector which continuously learns and calibrates to improve engine performance.

The result is better refinement, lower emissions and more power.

Volvo-XC60-D4-2014_G5The XC60 D4 we had on test ‘struggled’ to drop below 40 mpg.

Very clever stuff, but the average driver will appreciate its fuss-free power delivery and consistent performance – the front-wheel drive XC60 we drove resolutely refused to fall below 40 mpg on test, with above 50 mpg being easily achievable. Volvo claim 62.8 mpg on the combined cycle with an impressive 74.3 mpg for the 170kg lighter S60.


Volvo predicts this new D4 engine will ‘double’ the sales of its predecessor, mainly due to its attractive Benefit in Kind (BIK) tax rate and zero rated road tax bill. Compared to a BMW 320d SE, the S60 D4 Business Edition costs around £71 per month less in tax payments (in the 40% band), while the XC60 D4 FWD R-Design costs £84 per month less than the equivalent Land Rover Freelander.

Volvo expect the new D4 engine to account for around 25% of S60 sales, 30% of V60 and XC60 sales and between 35% and 40% of V70 and S80 sales, so the message being preached is once of common sense – but that’s rather missing the point.

BMW’s sales success was built on their belief of being ‘the ultimate driving machine’ – confidence breeds success even more so than common sense and the new Volvo has a lot to feel confident about.

But true to form, the quiet Swedes are rather more bashful than the Germans. Their latest slogan is simply ‘Made by Sweden’.

Watch the video below and see what they mean.

They say: Sweden is our home. Mountains, vast forests, long distances, sun, rain, darkness, snow and ice. This inspires and challenges us when we develop our cars. The Swedish wilderness is our heritage and it is here we find our strength. Just like (Swedish footballer) Zlatan Ibrahimović.