AS every sun-seeking holidaymaker knows, you have to get up early to beat the Germans to the best deckchairs on the beach in your Mediterranean resort of choice, writes William Scholes.

It probably isn’t stretching the metaphor, or the national stereotype, too far to suggest that when Germany’s premium car-makers turn up pool-side at the Costa del Mid-Size-Sports-Saloon, they don’t just bring one towel, they bring a bale.

So dominant are the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class in this part of the market that no-one else has really got a look in.

Many have tried. The Lexus IS, with its refined hybrid drivetrain, company car-user-friendly benefit-in-kind tax rate and epic build quality, has made a better go of it than most.

Alfa Romeo’s svelte Giulia is as great to drive as it is to look it, but remains a rare sight; Jaguar’s XE is undercooked and unloved.

And then there’s Volvo. Its 3 Series rival is the S60 and though a fine car in its own right, earlier versions hadn’t been able to get up early enough to drape a towel over the best deckchair.

Until now, that is. The latest, new-to-Northern Ireland S60 doesn’t just pack a towel, it kicks sand in the face of BMW, Audi and Mercedes. It is an outstanding offering, and among the sternest competition to yet face the German triumvirate. There is a caveat, but we’ll come to that later.

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The latest, new-to-Northern Ireland S60 doesn’t just pack a towel, it kicks sand in the face of BMW, Audi and Mercedes. It is an outstanding offering

First, a bit of context. Volvo has been on a seriously impressive winning streak in recent years, with every new model it has brought out rocketing to the top of its respective class.

The transformation started with the large XC90 in 2015; it set the template for what has followed. The XC90 established a fresh and modern design language that manages to be – at least to these eyes – classy, low-key and confident; it’s a riposte to the Germans, whose designs are variously baroque, bland and blingy.

The interior was a leap forward too, in terms of quality and design, with Volvo opting for a large, portrait-orientated touchscreen in the middle of the dashboard and a decidedly uncluttered, button-free approach.

Industry-leading safety gadgetry included a suite of technology called ‘pilot assist’, which can steer, brake and accelerate the car.

Volvo also pinned its hopes on all-new four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines – a bold step when the premium market puts great store in six-cylinder units – as well as hybrids.

After the XC90 came a slew of other new award-winning cars – the smaller XC60 SUV, the V90 and S90 large executive saloon and estate and a zeitgeisty small SUV called the XC40.

There is also a new V60 mid-size estate. It may well be my favourite ‘real world’ car of the moment, particularly in V60 Cross Country guise.

The V60 is built in Sweden, but the S60 comes here from an all-new factory in South Carolina – BMW and Mercedes also make European market cars in the United States – and differs from its key competitors in not being offered with a diesel engine. It is the first modern diesel to take this approach.

It’s also front-wheel-drive, in a part of the market where rear-wheel-drive prevails. This should not matter much – the Audi A4 has hardly suffered for being mainly front-drive, after all.

The V60, as is Volvo’s way, is a supremely comfortable and relaxing car in which to travel; the S60 has more dynamism, but remains refined and soothing. It’s a well-judged blend.

The lack of a diesel may put off potential customers, though. Despite the negative publicity – mostly ill-informed – a diesel engine with around 190bhp is still a staple in the mid-size saloon market.

Instead, the S60 can be ordered with a 247bhp petrol unit, badged T5. It is paired with an eight-speed automatic gearbox, covers the 0-60mph sprint in 6.3 seconds, has a top speed of 145mph, a best combined fuel consumption of 39.8mpg and CO2 emissions of between 149g/km and 155g/km.

For both more performance and company car-pleasing CO2 you can also find a T8 hybrid on the pricelist.

There are two versions – a ‘standard’ 296bhp model and a brawnier ‘Polestar Engineered’ car with 314bhp, each paired with an 86bhp electric motor. CO2 emissions are as low as 39g/km. The T8 gets all-wheel-drive.

Away from the drivetrains, the S60 launched in sporty R-Design Edition trim, with Polestar Engineered and Inscription trims also on the pricelist.

R-Design Edition seems to include pretty much everything you would need – pilot assist, head-up display, 14-speaker Harmon Kardon sound system, smartphone integration, 19-inch alloy wheels, and sports seats.

The S60 can be ordered with a 247bhp petrol unit, badged T5. It is paired with an eight-speed automatic gearbox, covers the 0-60mph sprint in 6.3 seconds, has a top speed of 145mph, a best combined fuel consumption of 39.8mpg and CO2 emissions of between 149g/km and 155g/km

What makes the S60 stand out from the opposition, and make it the most convincing challenge yet to the Germans, is how it looks – muscular and modern, it takes Volvo’s design language and successfully channels it into sports saloon form with rare flair. Mazda is perhaps the only other manufacturer with the same consistency and cohesion of design across its range.

The S60 is priced from £37,935 on the road. Expect to pay closer to £50k for a T8 drivetrain, with the high performance Polestar Engineered car starting at around £56k.

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