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Swedish for “solid effort”
True confession time: I’ve long been a fan of Volvo products. I find the C30 to be just flat-out cool. I think the current S80 is one of the most underrated cars on the road. And I consider the original S60 (and particularly the more potent R version) to have been a decent alternative to the ubiquitous BMW 3 Series.
The problem with the original S60 is that it was introduced back in 2000—and a decade between new models is an eternity in the car business. There was also a significant amount of uncertainty surrounding Volvo after Ford declared that it wanted to sell the Swedish brand in late 2008 and possibly even more uncertainty when a Chinese company, Zheijang Geely Holding Group, was announced as the buyer this past August.
In order to turn the company around, then, it’s imperative that new product hits the market—so there’s a lot riding on the all-new 2011 Volvo S60. Let’s see how it fared during a recent road test.
First of all, there are many familiar aspects to the new Volvo S60. Continuing an established tradition for Volvo, the interior exudes a uniquely Swedish version of luxury. There are high-quality touches throughout, but the cabin is not obviously luxurious, it’s more of a clean design.
The sections that run along the dashboard are soft to the touch and in long, continuous pieces. The instrument panel is logical and easy to read, but with a suitably business-like look. The steering wheel pushes this agenda even further; its three-spoke design is very sleek. The floating centre console is also well-considered; and the iconic Volvo climate control switches are so logical, it’s surprising that they haven’t been copied by another manufacturer yet.
The test car also featured two-tone seats in brown and black that looked good on their own and served to highlight the many fine metallic touches throughout the interior. Of course, the seats themselves were also well-cushioned, another Volvo hallmark—there are definitely far worse ways to spend a long Sunday drive than from behind the wheel of a recent edition Volvo. (Side note: The seat-heaters are not nearly powerful enough, though; it’s almost as if the Swedish mavens of safety worried too much about potentially burned backsides.)
In terms of the mechanical bits, the model tested was the 2011 Volvo S60 T6 AWD, powered by a turbocharged 3.0-litre DOHC 6-cylinder petrol engine. Output for this powerplant rings in at 224 kW and 440 Nm, sufficient to give the Volvo some decent kick off the line. The power is transmitted via a 6-speed automatic with manual shift capability (albeit only through the gear lever), while traction is supplied by an electronic all-wheel drive system.
As noted, the S60 has some spirit to it, but falls short of being a true sport sedan; in this respect it’s similar to the less exciting versions of the 3 Series… but a little less engaging still. Acceleration figures for the car were not provided, but based on seat-of-the-pants testing, I’d estimate that the Volvo completes the sprint from 0 to 100 km/h in around six seconds flat.
With respect to the ride and handling, the new car is definitely a bit edgier than the original S60 base model; its speed-sensitive steering is crisper and Volvo have done away with the adjustable suspension system that seemed to range from mushy to a bit less mushy. The car’s suspension system, a MacPherson front suspension and multi-link set-up in the back, is very refined, while anti-roll bars front and back have brought further control to the situation.
The all-wheel drive system seemed to give up little in terms of capability and refinement when compared to the systems found on its direct rivals. Even with the traction control turned off, the healthy turbo could generate little in the way of front wheelspin; the computers controlling the torque distribution having become very smart. (There’s only one place for Volvo to go from here and that’s in the direction of torque-vectoring.)
There’s no question that this version of the S60 is a better starting point if your goal is to eventually offer a racier S60 R model. A little bit more power, a more tightly sprung suspension system and either a 6-speed manual transmission or a paddle-shifter equipped 6-speed automatic, and you’re off to the races.
Another distinguishing characteristic of the Volvo brand is, of course, its long list of advanced safety features. The S60 T6 comes standard with a plethora of airbags and ticks all the proper boxes when it comes to the braking system, traction control system and stability control system, and also provides other features such as whiplash-reducing front-seat headrests.
In addition, many markets will enjoy the optional Driver Support Package, which includes a driver alertness monitoring system, blind spot warning system, park assist, adaptive cruise control, and pedestrian detection with full auto brake. This final system—an evolution of the City Safety system that debuted with the Volvo XC60 back in 2008—will reportedly bring the S60 to a complete halt automatically if it detects a pedestrian in its path.
I’m of two minds with regard to City Safety and Pedestrian Detection: If they work consistently and reliably, fantastic. However, in a pair of much-publicized demonstrations by Volvo, both systems failed to work properly at least once, either through operator error or some other misstep. More to the point, though, if you’re driving a car and you need to rely on systems such as these, you should stop driving and start taking public transit—you’re a danger to yourself and to others.
All things considered, the 2011 Volvo S60 T6 should find an audience, given that it’s priced competitively when compared to its sportier competitors from Germany (read: less expensive), and its more mundane rivals from Japan and America (read: only slightly more expensive). While the exterior design is softer than the last-generation S60, the new saloon is definitely a more serious offering from a performance and quality standpoint. Now, let’s see what Volvo has planned next for the S60 line—and for the entire brand.
Australian pricing for Volvo S60:
- S60 T5 - $51,950
- S60 D5 AWD - $57,950
- S60 T6 AWD - $64,950