The S60 is Volvo's neglected middle child. Baby brother S40 is hipper, faster, and gets all the chicks. Older brother S80 is bigger and more luxurious. Where does that leave the S60? Not languishing on dealership lots, given that it's Volvo's best-selling sedan (if barely). But I'm hard-pressed to figure out why. Apparently, Volvo can't figure out why either– the S60 has purportedly been on the chopping block for a couple of years now, though no one seems willing to make that final cut yet. So let me take a stab at it.
From the outside, the S60's unmistakably a Volvo. It comes with the standard Volvo-esque design cues, with little to differentiate itself from the other sedans save subtle trim differences (the T5 gets a spoiler, this one gets bupkis). These cars are so anonymous they're part of the standard package you get when you enter a witness protection program. Maybe it's a safety feature: people are less likely to accidentally swerve into your car if it doesn't suddenly catch their attention (I'm sure people who drive Lambos and STIs get that all the time).
The interior is imbued with adequate, standard, not-an-inch-more-than-necessary luxury. The leather on our tester was unsightly and about as baby's-bottom buttery as a pleather diner booth. Don't look up; that rat-fur headliner will prove beyond a shadow of doubt that the beancounters had their dirty, dirty way with this car.
The S60's premium package includes wood trim, which is a surprisingly nice fit for the taupe interior. A ginormous center stack dominates the dash, its glove-friendly, intuitive buttons lost in oceans of plastic. It also sports a vertical storage slot that defies understanding– anything you put in there slides out at the first press of the gas.
Also incomprehensible: a flip-out rear seat cupholder in the armrest that renders the rest useless whilst deployed. Maybe I'm a big baby that wants to put my elbow somewhere comfy.
And Junior doesn't need a big gulp anyway, if you can even fit him in the ridiculously undersized rear seats. This is bigger than the S40? No way. The larger proportions seem to mostly go towards trunk space instead of rear seating room; disappointing for anyone shopping for a "family" sedan.
Starting up the S60's engine reminded me a lot of my mother, if only because she grew up driving tractors. I apologize and retract my earlier dismembering of the Ecotec in the G5. Only John Deere himself would enjoy the unholy racket the five-cylinder turbo makes. While the engine makes entirely satisfactory loud rumbling noises during brisk acceleration, it also makes them all the rest of the time, even at idle.
So on one hand, there's nearly no turbo lag, it being mitigated well by high torque at low RPMs. On the other, it's the noisiest turbo I've ever encountered (or I'm just a spoiled enthusiast who likes the turbo magic of a Subaru or Volkswagen). Sure, the S60's mill provides an appreciable amount of propulsion, but Nine Inch Nails concerts are easier on the eardrums. Anything this loud should sport a sub-five-second 0-60 or STFU.
Handling-wise, the S60 is safe, in the "nothing special" sense of the word. The sedan does a great job handling average bumps on average roads in average conditions. The steering is numb, but not in an overly disconcerting way. Even without any road feel, you still feel in control of the car. There's nothing to be excited about, or anything to truly hate. I would wager that the power and handling are perfect for 90 percent of the general driving population. More demanding drivers would pick it to pieces.
And speaking of safe, the S60's technologically advanced safety features rule the roost. Unfortunately, those same features push it to a punishing 3500 lbs. A few hundred pounds less in steel and safety features might just make this ugly duckling into a swan, but something has to set Volvo apart. Too bad the Subaru Legacy GT scores higher on crash tests and is a thousand times more fun (and only marginally cheaper quality-wise). Even Ford touts safety as a selling point. And let's not talk depreciation. The S60 tanks faster than Ikea furniture.
The S60 falls short on the luxury features, too. A new IS250 costs the same as a leathered-up S60 and comes with some truly indulgent options. (Forget grocery bag holders, why doesn't the Volvo have pre-collision avoidance and parking assist?) I don't even know how it competes with the S40 turbo unless you're too wide for the S40's seats.
Maybe the Volvo S60 is a great car and I don't get it, but I can't think of anything that this car does that someone anyone else doesn't do better, including Volvo.