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2011 Volvo S60 T5: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged direct-injection petrol engine with six-speed dual-clutch transmission, front-wheel drive, 177kW and 320Nm - $51,950
It’s a four-door Volvo that comfortably seats five adults, is loaded chock full with active and passive safety kit and has a four-cylinder engine under the bonnet. Have you fallen asleep yet?
Then can I suggest you wake up and keep reading, because the Volvo S60 T5 is anything but boring. Give the right pedal a good squirt and the moment the rev counter nudges 3000rpm this Volvo morphs into a proper sports sedan with handling to boot.
It’s a bit of surprise to be honest, and certainly not the kind of performance I expected when I was told to review the entry-level mid-sized S60 with a four-cylinder powerplant.
For starters, and before I even hop in the car, let me just say that this is the best looking Volvo since their P1800 was launched in 1961. That said, Volvo wagons have always caught my eye, given they were the first manufacturer in the world to make station wagons look good with their 850 model.
The latest S60 lifts Volvo’s styling to a new level that has this car competing head-to-head with the both the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4 line-ups on styling alone. Along with such praise, I do however have one issue while on this subject. At the risk of sounding somewhat contradictory, I’m not one hundred percent sold on the front-end styling. It’s just not at the same level as the rear three-quarter look, which I happen to think is a cracker of a view. Perhaps it’s the slight teardrop appearance of the front light assembly that prevents me from giving it five stars in the overall styling department.
But that’s about where any criticism from me starts and stops in relation to the Volvo S60 T5. After all, looks are subjective, aren’t they?
After a week behind the wheel of the entry-level model, I would need a very strong argument as to the need to step up to the T6 or D5, with such strong performance from this four-cylinder, front-wheel drive setup. It might have a displacement of only 2.0-litres, but when you factor in direct injection and turbocharging, that changes everything. Peak power is 177kW at 5500rpm and the all important torque tops out at 320Nm from 1800rpm all the way through to 5000rpm. While there’s some light lag if you drop the right pedal to the firewall in one move, the T5 still manages the 0-100km/h sprint in a reasonably rapid 7.5 seconds. Top speed is listed as 230km/h.
Frankly, as a daily driver I’m not too concerned about 0-100km/h times. It’s far more important to have strong in-gear acceleration for safe overtaking on the freeway and the multiple-lane changing manoeuvres that seem so necessary when driving in a large city such as Sydney.
The wide torque band produces a wonderfully versatile engine that is decidedly performance-orientated in character, but just as happy in the peak-hour crawl. There’s a reasonable exhaust note too once you climb out of second and into third, although that’s about all you’ll hear inside this cabin, as the NVH management is utterly superb.
While it might be the entry-level S60 model, Volvo don’t seem to have held back on the level of kit, both luxury or mechanical. Standard fitment in the transmission department is a six-speed ‘Powershift’ (Volvo speak for dual-clutch) transmission that must rate as the smoothest shifting unit in the business. It’s also quick and seamless, and there’s none of that annoying low-speed jerkiness that some of the German cars seem to suffer from. In fact, if it weren’t for the instantaneous shift of power from one gear ratio to the next, you would swear blind that it was a svelte automatic 'box from the German driveline and chassis experts, ZF.
About the only thing missing from the driving experience thus far is a set of paddle shifters. If you happen come across a nice, quiet, twisty route, and you’re any kind of enthusiast, you’ll find yourself shifting sequentially via the drive mode selector. Unlike some, the manual mode will happily allow the engine to spin up to the redline, so you’ll need to watch that. Mind you, the automatic mode is quite effective, as it will hold the gears ratios until 6000rpm under full load before shifting up a cog.
As you might expect from a sports sedan weighing less than 1600kg, the Volvo S60 T5 handles superbly. Turn in, even at speed, is reassuringly quick, and there’s a high level of grip from the Continental ContiSportContact3 tyres.
Volvo put enormous effort into chassis tuning for the S60 and benchmarked the BMW 3 Series and the Audi A4. Head of Vehicle Dynamics at Volvo, Egbert Bakker, said of the car when it was first launched,
"It must be agile, responsive and great fun to drive. In addition, it must offer extraordinary security even in the most difficult conditions. A Volvo must be poised and predictable in Sweden on an icy winter’s road, on a Californian country road at the height of summer. We have our own chassis DNA. It’s fun but always with security. That’s the one reason why we only offer front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. It gives greater predictability.
"It’s not just the suspension, we have gone right through the chassis from steering right through to tyres – always with the goal of providing maximum enjoyment combined with safety."
It’s also positively reassuring to know that a lot of the development work on the S60 was done on the notorious British B-roads (poorly surfaced like those in Australia) with substantial input from former British Touring Car Champion John Cleland, who knows a thing or two about chassis setup.
The S60 T5 variant gets the standard or ‘Dynamic’ chassis tune, for adept handling and a thoroughly pliant ride. You can also option the more advanced Four-C Chassis with ‘active’ suspension for more ride control with several settings available at the touch of a button.
Even the brake pedal pressure seems perfectly set up for surefooted braking but without the overly sensitive nature that some makes seem to subscribe to.
This is the only front-wheel drive variant in the S60 stable, but there’s little or no torque steer, even when trying to induce such on-road behaviour. Moreover, the steering is beautifully weighted from dead centre and is quick to respond to driver input. The steering wheel itself is typical Volvo: easy to grip and very tactile.
If other carmakers want a lesson in ergonomic perfection, they best get hold of a Volvo S60, for an all too easy study in the art of driver-focused cockpits. The floating console is turned in towards the driver at precisely the right angle so that all the switchgear can be accessed without moving your torso a single centimetre. It’s a simple design but clever in its execution. Scandinavian minimalism is what they call it.
That includes the simple round analogue instrument dials, which are refreshingly uncluttered and easy to read at a quick glance.
The standard leather sports seats (‘sport’ because they’re well bolstered on the seat base and seat back) up front are incredibly comfortable and non-slip unlike some other leather upholsteries. The rear seats are also nicely contoured and provide similar levels of comfort for passengers. There won’t be any problem with the flow of air to the rear seats either, given there’s a proper vent half way up the B-pillars for added comfort. It’s all been well thought through by Volvo’s interior designers, even to the point of specially shaped buttons for volume control on the steering wheel, which eliminates the need to look down.
Everything is soft-touch inside here. It's not surprising really, when you realise that Volvo introduced the padded dash to the automotive world back in the 1960s. The only hard surfaces inside this S60 would be the ‘real’ polished metal trim on the console and doors, and the quality of this metal work is on par with Audi.
Despite its entry level status, the S60 T5 comes loaded with plenty of creature comforts, including full leather trim, auto lights and wipers, one-touch windows all-round (that’s front and rear), retractable side mirrors when locking and unlocking, power driver’s seat, rear park assist, climate control, cruise control, 17-inch alloys, auto-dimming rear view mirror, electric park brake, proximity key, high performance sound and Bluetooth phone and music streaming.
The bog standard sound system in this car is worth a special mention. It’s an eight-speaker unit which produces better sound that my Bose SoundDock and the Bluetooth music streaming works a treat with my iPhone 4.
That’s a lot of kit, and it doesn’t include the encyclopaedic inventory of almost every known safety system available today, which is also standard fit across the S60 range, including Volvo’s own low-speed crash avoidance system, City Safety.
Fuel economy for the level of performance is good at 8.3L/100km combined, but I was enjoying the car way too much to care about how much I spend at the petrol station, so just over 10L/100km was my effort at economy driving. It's a Euro5-compliant engine and CO2 emissions are 193g/km.
It’s stylish, roomy and loaded with luxury kit and safety features. The Volvo S60 T5 is a proper sports sedan that undercuts all three prestige German manufacturers by at least several thousand dollars.
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