Remember the 240? Volvo clearly wishes you didn’t. Instead, they’d rather you think of the thoroughly redesigned 2011 S60 T6 as “naughty” despite a bevy of new safety features. Just a tease—again—or does this Volvo actually put out?
The 2001-2009 S60 added some curves to Volvo’s traditional Amana-inspired design aesthetic, but retained strong shoulders as a link to the past. With the 2011 sedan, the shoulders have been softened and flowing curves predominate. Front-drive packaging and safety standards have conspired to distend the nose, but this is the extent of the exterior’s flaws. Unless looking more than a little like a more tightly proportioned second-gen Olds Aurora also counts as a flaw. Volvo has not copied the recent Benz-BMW practice of adding extraneous details in a bid to dial up the drama. And yet the new S60 is more eye-catching than the German competition. Unfortunately, Oldsmobile is proof that excellent styling isn’t capable of saving a dying brand.
The tastefully stylish theme continues inside the car, where as in other recent Volvos the influence of Scandinavian furniture design is evident. Materials are upscale without seeming opulent. A heavy grain to the leather lends character. In the center stack overly similar buttons ring a phone pad. Breaking these buttons up into logical groupings would make them easier to operate. Thankfully, four large knobs have been provided for the most common functions.
Front seats have long been a Volvo strength, and those in the new S60 continue this fine tradition, providing both excellent comfort and very good lateral support. The driving position is about perfect. The rear seat is a much less happy place. Despite a comfortably-shaped cushion the seat is not comfortable. Likely because of the coupe-like roofline, the cushion is mounted too low to the floor, and knee room is in short supply. The S60 has always seemed a half-size larger than the BMW 3-Series et al., but in the rear seat it certainly isn’t. Trunk space is similarly constrained, tying the 3 at 12 cubes.
When I drove (and reviewed) the XC60 R-Design a few months ago, I was impressed enough to wonder why the late V70 wasn’t as enjoyable to drive. After all, it should be easier to get a wagon, with its lower center of gravity, to handle well. And the straight six—unique in a transverse application—felt and sounded so good I wondered why anyone bothers with a V6. But couldn’t Volvo wring more than 281 horsepower out of a turbocharged 3.0-liter?
Well, for 2011 horsepower has been bumped to a nice, round, BMW-tying 300, at 6,500 rpm. Torque has also been bumped, to 325 pound-feet, all of it at least theoretically available from 2,100 to 4,200 rpm. In practice, the engine feels strong throughout its range, with hardly any turbo lag. Though it weighs nearly two tons, the latest S60 is a quick car. If only ex-parent Ford’s EcoBoost felt nearly this responsive or sounded nearly this good.
Unlike in the 2004-2007 R, no manual transmission is offered. The six-speed manually-shiftable automatic performs passably well, though it’s getting long in tooth. Newer transmissions are both more responsive and smoother.
The brakes feel firm and strong. Automatic-braking at low speeds (“City Safety” in Volvoese) is standard. A $2,100 Technology Package adds adaptive cruise, distance alert (a series of lights displayed on the lower windshield let you know when you’re getting too close, plus an audible alarm if a collision seems likely), automatic high-speed braking, pedestrian detection (on the Volvo site: “unprotected road users”), a driver alertness monitor, and lane departure warning. I did not test the automatic braking or pedestrian detection. Of the bunch, the distance alert is most likely to prove useful on a daily basis.
The standard all-wheel-drive system remains a Haldex design, though as in other recent Volvos it’s pre-charged to very quickly transfer torque to the rear wheels as needed. To this Volvo has added “corner traction control with torque vectoring.” What this means: the brakes are selectively applied to proactively counteract understeer. And it works. Until its high limits are approached the S60 has a very neutral feel for a nose-heavy car. Engage “sport mode,” seriously prod the throttle, and oversteer is even on the menu.
The biggest, most pleasant surprise with the new S60: the steering retains only a hint of the numbness that has long afflicted the marque’s cars, including the late, lamented R. By current luxury car standards it feels direct and almost communicative. The chassis has been similarly tuned with driving enthusiasts in mind. The new S60 still doesn’t feel as delicate or precise as a BMW 3-Series, and isn’t as engaging, but in terms of overall driving enjoyment it actually isn’t far off. The tested car wasn’t fitted with the $750 adaptive shocks. They’re not needed.
The dealer asked my opinion of the ride. Apparently Volvo asked them to. They’re concerned that it’s overly firm for the typical customer, and assured me that an optional “Touring Package” with a softer suspension is on the way. Personally, I wouldn’t want it. But I’m not the typical Volvo customer. That buyer is likely to find the ride overly firm. Not so much because it is firm as because the tires clomp over every bump and divot. Figure out how to eliminate this noise, and the ride would seem much better. Even with it, the new S60 sounds and feels like a premium sedan.
As it better, given the $47,610 sticker on the tested car. It’s possible to shave $2,100 by doing without the Technology Package, another $2,700 if you can live without the fantastic 650-watt audio system and nav, and so forth down to the $38,550 base price. When both cars are similarly loaded up, BMW 335i xDrive lists for $5,500 more. At invoice the difference is just over four large. Not pocket change, but still a bit close. And the 2007 R? Despite having fewer features (about $1,700 worth based on TrueDelta’s price comparison tool), it listed for $1,800 more when both cars are comparably equipped. Then again, the R died.
Volvo has not resurrected the true “R” appellation for the new S60 T6. Yet I enjoyed driving it more, thanks to a stronger, better-sounding engine, more responsive steering, more balanced handling, and a generally tighter feel. The new, come-hither styling also doesn’t hurt. So, “naughty,” even if successfully participating in Deathrace 2000 is not an option? No home run on the first outing—the new S60’s not that kind of car—but certainly good for a triple. I’d love another date. Now if only they’d offer the V60 here…
Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data