Model tested: Volvo S60 T6 AWD R-Design, turbocharged 3.0-litre six-cylinder, six-speed automatic: $69,150
The Volvo S60 is being labelled as the sexiest and naughtiest new mid-sizer on the market. But is it really? It has just picked up International Sedan of the Year Award, and its range spreads from a fuel-efficient D5 turbodiesel to a full-blown turbocharged all-wheel drive T6 petrol. It all sounds like the makings of an elegant, intelligent sedan.
Even though the Ford-Volvo marriage has been officially annulled, the Volvo S60 is based on Ford's EUCD platform (underpinning the current Ford Mondeo). On top of the already well-received Ford Mondeo base, Volvo has implemented a variety of new technologies and Norse finesse to the platform, including big leaps forward in pedestrian safety, a suave interior decor and splashes of contemporary yet cool design.
Our test car is the top of the range T6 with the R-Design package. The R-Design pack ($4200 option) includes a sharp new bodykit including a low chin spoiler on the front (so sharp it will scrub out on driveways if you're not careful), a piano black grille with an 'R-Design' badge, and a racy rear diffuser setup at the back. There's also a subtle boot lip spoiler and dark-accented 17-inch alloys to top it off. It looks great and reminds you - and onlookers - that this is not your average boring person's Volvo.
As far as equipment goes, the T6 R-Design comes with the same 3.0-litre turbocharged straight-six Ford SI6 engine as the standard T6, producing 224kW of power and 440Nm of hill-flattening torque. The interior is then filled with everything a modern driver needs, including a comprehensive multifunction LCD display with sat-nav, electric front seats, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, a sunroof and push-button engine start/stop.
As you'd expect, the S60 is also filled to the brim with safety equipment. Apart from the usual plethora of air-bags, five-star ANCAP safety, SIPS and WHIPS (side impact protection and whiplash protection), centre-stage in the S60's safety-tech ensemble is the City Safety pedestrian detection system. Using cameras and sensors mounted underneath the rear-view mirror, the system is capable of applying the brakes before a potential collision occurs at speeds under 30km/h.
So if you're trundling down a mall or pedestrian-busy street and someone walks out from behind a parked car, the system will automatically detect the walker and apply the brakes for you - if you don't get a chance to brake yourself. Similarly, the system will stop you from rear-ending someone if a car in front suddenly stops, as long as the difference in speeds between you and the vehicle in front is under 15km/h. (Adaptive cruise control and blind spot warning, also using this camera and sensor technology, is optional).
Interestingly, the car has a new Dynamic Stability Traction Control system which has been developed to blend safety with enhanced driver enjoyment (in a Volvo, who'd have ever thought?). Using an Advanced Stability Control program, the S60 is engineered to eliminate understeer and improve stability under serious cornering.
The system also incorporates a torque-vectoring differential setup which sends power to individual wheels according to available traction. For instance, if you're steering around a left-hand bend, power is sent to the outside (right-hand) wheels to help pivot the car around. The intensity of this assistance is changed to a more aggressive setting when the Sport Mode is selected.
Speaking of using in-car controls, the multifunction screen allows you to navigate your way through all of the media platforms very easily. Whether you're tuning radio stations, sorting through USB playlists (or even playlists streamed from your mobile phone via the Bluetooth connection), or changing driver's settings like the DSTC and City Safety, it's all incorporated into the display.
The dash fascia isn't cluttered with too many buttons, so you're not bewildered by functions. The screen itself is quite high in resolution as well, which is perfect when using the sat-nav as you can clearly see street names and interpret directions with just a quick glance. It's all about user-friendliness.
The rest of the R-Design cabin features tasteful, soft-touch materials. It's not a case of 'see how many bright colours we can use to scream how sporty it is'; the S60 goes for a more calm and professional look. The seats are covered in three shades of grey, including a matt neoprene/textile finish highlighted by shiny leather trimmings and Alcantara. The centre fascia is constructed of a metallic patterned-finish face and floats like all new Volvo dashboards.
It's a very warm and friendly environment inside the S60 R-Design. The seats feel secure and hip-hugging without being too sharp or edgy, and they feature dual-layer cushioning to provide exceptional long-journey comfort. The dashboard and steering wheel are well positioned and the climate and media functions are in arm's length.
There are obligatory steering wheel-mounted controls as well so you don't need to take your hands off the wheel to change stations/playlists, or to adjust cruise control settings. Basic Bluetooth phone settings can also be initiated using a button on the wheel.
Boot space is on par with most other mid-sized sedans and the rear seats can be folded down to provide poke-through versatility. Rear passenger legroom is satisfactory for this car segment, however, overly tall passengers will experience the odd head-butt with the roof lining due to the way the roof is designed - a compromise for the good looks.
The rear seats are upholstered in the same fashion as the front, sporting highlighted stitching, mildly-bolstered right and left seats and prominent headrests. Rear passengers are treated to their own flip-down armrest and their own air vents, which are conveniently placed on the B-pillars.
The S60 is targeted at younger buyers, with a major marketing campaign going on at the moment promoting its 'sexy' and 'sculptured to move you' personality. The R-Design goes a step further and has been tuned to offer more driver enjoyment via enhanced handling.
This variant is lowered by 15mm over the standard T6 thanks to shorter and stiffer springs. A front strut brace connects the top of the front struts to ensure maximum rigidity, while mono-tube dampers replace double-tube items on the rear to ensure quick response to bumps while cornering.
On test, the R-Design was extremely surefooted. There's no immediate understeer at turn-in, even after a bootfull of power, the outfit remains settled and drama-free. Feeding on the power during very tight corners will provoke some tug at the wheel as the transverse-mounted, front-wheel-drive-inclined engine layout tends to pull the front wheels slightly before sending power to the rear, but it never puts you in a moment of insecurity. The Haldex all-wheel drive system is very responsive in almost all situations, and on take off, the car departs like a train; straight and true.
The engine feels strong and keen to rev. It sounds good, too, with a quiet hum turning into an angry, higher-pitch roar as it makes its way to the 6000-plus-rpm redline (0-100km/h can be achieved in 6.1 seconds). A faint turbo whistle does echo its way through cabin, creating an element of theater.
There doesn't appear to be any turbo lag from the engine, but the gearbox does give off an unusual moment of hesitation. If you're in a hurry on take off, there's a slight pause, as if the car is asking you 'are you sure you want to do this?' Even when the gear level is flicked over to the 'S' mode - which engages the Sport Mode of the DSTC - the car doesn't really leap off the mark as quick as you'd think. Once around 20km/h is reached though, the full 224kW is rapidly put through to the ground. And I mean rapidly. One minute it's a calm and collected Volvo, the next, you're riding a seriously exhilarating surge of acceleration.
In 'D', the transmission did seem a bit clunky during stop/start traffic, and while negotiating give-ways - a distinct clunk was heard on a number of occasions (this may be exclusive to our test car though, it might have been time for a scheduled service). During spirited driving, normal 'D' mode is also a bit doughy and the gearbox tends to want to shift into higher gears as soon as possible to save petrol.
Regardless, if you are planning on tackling some curves, this is actually a case where using the tiptronic-style shifter is the better option. If you're in the right gear at the right time, the combination of 440Nm of torque and the all-wheel drive system truly is smile-inducing. It's very capable of providing proper sports-car-like g forces in the bends, especially with the standard Continental ContiSportContact 3 tyres.
CarAdvice's Anthony Crawford also drove the car for a few days. He said:
You need to forget about that old adage that elderly hat-wearing old bowls drivers only drive Volvos. Nothing could be further from the truth with the S60.
Volvo has been making ‘cool’ cars for years, think P 1800 two-door coupe that Roger Moore drove in the spy series 'The Saint' and again, when Val Kilmer drove a turbocharged C70 Coupe in the in the 1997 'The Saint' remake.
Volvo was also the first car maker to build proper sports wagons too. That was the era of the 850 wagon and the potent 850R – which nobody could deny was a sought after bit of kit for the true motoring enthusiast.
You can tell I’m a fan of the Swedish marque (although it is currently owned by Chinese company, Zheijang Geely Holding Group) I’ve always thought they represented a prestige buy at considerably less money that it’s German counterparts. That's certainly what the new owners in China expect of the brand - as well as metastasizing its safety credentials elsewhere throughout the Geely empire.
You can get into a Volvo S60 2.0-litre T5 sedan for as little as $51,950 but don’t go thinking that won’t give you much in the way of performance, because you would be wrong. Under the bonnet sits an advanced four-cylinder turbocharged direct injection petrol engine, which is good for 177 kW and 320 Nm from just 1800-5000 rpm. It also means that acceleration off the line is a not too shabby. The benchmark 0-100km/h sprint takes just 7.5 seconds.
Behind the wheel, the S60 T6 R-Design feels very quick. Leave you right foot planted, and the bucket load of torque means acceleration doesn’t let up. Make no mistake this is a quick bit of kit and there’s little if any turbo lag. The only occasional annoyance is with the six-speed adaptive Geartronic transmission, which seems slow to kick down. There’s a ‘sports’ mode, which will hold the gear ratio a little longer and allows for manual shifting, but sadly, there are no paddle shifters.
Looks aside though, from the moment you open the door and lower yourself into the S60 R-Design sports seats, you’re immediately aware that this is not the standard Volvo S60 set up. It’s noticeably lower to the ground than it’s less powerful stablemates.
Volvo engineers have also sharpened the steering in the R-Design and that’s a welcome addition. Volvo’s of the past have not possessed the directness in the steering that set’s BMW apart from all rivals in this segment.
It might be only 15 millimetres, but the over all effect of the lower and stiffer suspension set up is immediately felt when you push this thing hard into a few corners. It’s not quite as agile as a 325i or 330d, but it definitely falls into the performance category as far as handling and agility go. There is a small compromise in the ride quality, certainly it’s firm but the handling benefits alone make this a worthwhile sacrifice, even for mild enthusiasts.
Turn in hard and fast, and there’s very little body roll, just a slight tip in, but it goes no further than that. The front end hangs on well too. All-wheel drive is standard fitment on the S60 T6 and T5 variants, and the benefits can really be felt in torrential rain, as was the case with our test. Not once, even under pronounced acceleration from a standing start at the lights did the car have to fight for grip, and it was just as sure footed at speed through bends.
Inside the R-Design is just as good if not better that one or two of its German counterparts. There are plenty of proper metal accents throughout the dash and door trim, and these are on par with Audi standards. However, it’s the R-Design sports seats that I rate as top shelf for sheer comfort and support. They are made using a combination of three different fabrics including Alcantara, and would have to be some of the most comfortable I’ve ever sat in. Even the uniquely shaped head restraints, which form part of Volvo’s unique Whiplash Protection System, are comfortable.
It’s not so much opulent luxury, but more of a minimalist approach to cockpit design with high quality and functional switchgear in all the right spots for minimal driver distraction, that I like.
Volvo use a top end multi-component system with Dynaudio loudspeakers for their premium audio, and you’ll go along way to find a better sound than this unit.
Even at $69,150 the S60 T6 R-Design represents outstanding value for money against any of its German rivals. In some cases, the difference in price against equivalently specced cars is more than $20,000.
Moreover the R-Design has the looks and performance to position it as a worth competitor to all players in the sports luxury segment.
So what else do you have to choose from in the medium-size sedan segment? The S60 falls into that airy gap between the not-quite full-blown prestige German entrants and the cheaper Korean/Japanese rivals. Cars like the Kia Optima ($36,990) and Honda Accord Euro ($31,490) are far too cheap to be in the same category, while the uber-premium German options like the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class stretch too far into your bank account to be a true rival.
Direct competitors in terms of price include the Citroen C5, Volkswagen Passat and the Subaru Liberty. On paper, this T6 model is the most powerful out of the three main contenders, but it does have the highest fuel consumption average; 10.1L/100km (we couldn't get the test car down below 10.4, even during regular highway driving).
So if fuel consumption is a more important factor to you over performance, it might be best to check out Volvo's S60 T5 (8.3L/100km) or D5 (7.1/100km), or take a look at new Volkswagen Passat V6 Highline (9.7L/100km), the Citroen C5 3.0 HDI (7.4L/100km) or the Subaru Liberty GT (9.7L/100km).
The Volvo S60 T6 R-Design can't match the BMW 3 Series for refined steering and handling, and can't quite match the Mercedes-Benz C-Class's comfort and smoothness, but the Volvo S60 is a superb all-round package. It's unique (makes up just 1.2 percent of the market share [2011 VFACTS]), well-priced, is an excellent performer and offers leading edge safety. But above all, it does feel, surprisingly, a little bit naughty. Image-wise it's as far from the hat-wearing persona most people associate with the brand as the new head office in China is from Volvo's old head office in Gothenburg.