Judge me if you must, but when I think of “naughty Swede,” NSFW images of a blonde au pair in a slutty French maid outfit flash in my head. It therefore struck me as a bit odd that Volvo, long known for being the Birkenstock of the auto, would start running TV and internet ads calling the new S60 “naughty.” What exactly is a naughty Volvo? As the former owner of a V70R, I had to hit Volvo up for one to find out.
Now that Volvo belongs to the Chinese, it would seem that a new corporate direction is working its way through Gothenburg. It’s not some crazy new idea but an old one: profitability. Apparently Volvo’s new Asian masters want Volvo to actually make some cash, and to that end a drastic reduction in the brand’s US lineup is already underway. With an automotive austerity campaign underway, expect to see only a few Volvo models on showroom floors, with the S60 occupying the volume sales leader position. This of course places the new Swede in some serious competition with the likes of the Audi A4/S4, BMW 3-Series and Mercedes C-Class. Does Sweden’s most popular sedan have what it takes?
Though the new S60 has grown compared to the outgoing 2009 model, the competition has grown as well, meaning the safe cars from the land of ABBA are no longer a “half-step” between the vehicles from the German competition. With an overall length of 182-inches and a wheelbase of 109.3-inches, the S60 could even be said to be a “middle of the pack” contender. Similarly, the 300HP twin-scroll turbocharged 3-liter inline 6-cylinder engine and 6-speed automatic lands the new S60 solidly at the upper end of the Euro competition (at least on paper). But does that make the S60 “naughty”? Not quite.
The 2011 S60 carries a $37,700 base MSRP in T6 AWD trim ($30,975 for the newly announced T5 FWD model), which represents an increase of approximately $1000 over the previous top-end S60. Luckily, that’s still a relative bargain in the Euro segment where competition in the form of the BMW 335xi starts at $43,100 and Mercedes C350 starts at $39,990 (especially when you consider standard equipment). Volvo forum-fan boys are all aflutter over Volvo’s continuing price hikes. Sorry cheap Swede fans, the truth of the matter is Volvo needs to remain a premium brand in the USA to be profitable. Until we are all buying Chinese built Volvos, labor rates in the EU will keep Volvo’s premium cost structure and premium brand position.
From the outside, the new S60’s sheet metal is a departure from Volvo’s traditional past, but still retains the strong shoulders of the outgoing S60 and something of the iconic Volvo two-box style . If it were not for the over-sized proboscis, the design might rival the original S80’s form for the most elegant Volvo ever penned, but as it is, passengers and observers were mostly undecided whether they likes the new schnoz. Light pipes in the tail lamp modules, subtle swoops over the wheel arches, and a coupé-like C-pillar conspire to add a touch of modernity to the new S60, but taken as a whole the new S60 is still more conservative than mischievous. Naughty? I’m not so sure, especially without the bright orange paint our tester came with. I’m also not sure naughty sells cars; Audi’s latest cars wear sheet metal that is the “Midwest farm girl” of the auto industry, and their sales are on fire.
While the exterior might be a departure for Volvo, the interior is typical of the Nordic brand: high quality parts, logically-placed controls and subtle Scandinavian style. Volvo entered the 21st century with interiors that were class leading in design and materials, but in the past decade the competition has evolved and improved. While Audi may have little to fear, and I’m sure the next generation 3-series will continue to build on BMW’s interior renaissance, the S60 delivers materials an interior build quality on par with the best in the Euro luxury market. How about the rest of the competition? Mercedes’ C-class interior feels cheaper than the new S60 and the Acura TSX is cute but the fake wood and plastics are only a mild step above the Honda line.
Anyone familiar with Volvo’s product portfolio will feel right at home in the S60, as interior appointments are mainly borrowed from, or are subtly tweaked versions of those in the S80. From the seated-Swede shaped climate control buttons, to the large easy to use dials, the interior continues Volvo’s tradition of function and form being equally important. All the controls are easily within reach and fairly logically laid out. The only fly in the ointment is the key-fob slot to the right of the steering wheel. If you decide not to opt for the $550 “PCC” key-less go option, your fob will need to be inserted in this hole while driving, meaning the rest of the keys are free to bang on the dash ad nauseum. I understand the need to have a low MSRP, but really, given this design, the PCC key should be standard.
Our tester is proof that Volvo still loves the less pedestrian interior color combinations. In a world where even Subarus are suddenly becoming mainstream beige, we can only hope Gothenburg keeps the quirks and odd colors inside and out. In a world gone bland world, they make Volvos all the more interesting. Sadly the “Creamcicle” white/orange interior in some of the press photos is not an option in the USA. Pity. Still, the orangeish-brown leather interior is striking when accompanied by the shiny copper metallic paint job our tester had. Naughty? Bring me that Creamsicle interior or something in lime green and then we’ll talk.
If there is one area where the old S60 was severely lacking it was the electronic gizmo department. The 2011 S60 may not be revolutionary, but it is thoroughly modern. In addition to offering optional radar cruise control, lane departure warning, and monitoring your alertness, it also finally offers basic luxury features such as Bluetooth, iPod/USB integration, Satellite and HD radio as standard features. Speaking of audio, the base and up-level sound systems both deliver excellent sound with the 12-speaker Audyssey system easily matching the high-end systems from the competition in terms of clarity and beat-for-the-buck. The heart of the system is the all-new high resolution 7-inch screen (standard in the USA, other markets may get a standard 5-inch screen) is bright and clear with well-designed graphics and intuitive, logical menus. The new system combines audio, vehicle and navigation settings together and is controlled by a knob and button in the center console, or via a scrolling wheel/button on the steering wheel.
The interface proves to be fairly responsive and delivers high quality graphics, however with self-proclaimed competition being the BMW 3-Series, I have to ask why Volvo didn’t pop a BMW-like wide screen display in there? Opportunities lost. Still, the only thing I found myself missing was a broader range of voice commands for controlling audio devices, alá Ford Sync. The Swedish rumor mill indicates we should expect this same infotainment system to trickle down to the XC60 in a mid-cycle refresh and the S80/XC70 sometime later. Meanwhile, the system offers a nice twist to Volvo’s safety conscious reputation in that it allows quite a bit of leeway to fiddle with the infotainment system while in motion. Naghty? Perhaps.
Speaking of gadgets, rounding out the list on the new S60 is Volvo’s revised radar cruise control. The new system will now bring you to a complete stop and keep the vehicle stopped until traffic moves again. I have tested systems from Lexus, Jaguar, Land Rover, BMW, Ford and Infiniti and oddly enough the system in the new S60 is quite simply the best I have ever tested. Systems in cars costing three times more than the S60 don’t work this smoothly. Who knows what programming wizardry has been done under the electronic hood, but this system reacts quickly and without drama when a car cuts in front of you, it works well on fairly windy roads and doesn’t have the same strange “lag” that some systems do where they drop far behind the traffic when accelerating. Included with the radar cruise is a collision warning system that lets know you if you are tailgating and if a doom is impending. The system works we’ll and unlike similar systems from Ford we never experienced a “false alarm” caused by windy mountain roads. A Volvo that lets you drive feet-free, now that’s naughty.
One cannot review a Volvo without discussing safety. From collapsible steering columns, anti-whiplash seats and “anti-submarineing” guards to Volvo’s latest active safety systems that will intervene when you fail to, we can easily say the safety box is well and duly ticked. The biggest improvement in the new S60 is City Safety with pedestrian detection and full-auto-brake. Personally I think this system should be standard on all Volvo models, even if it means a higher base price. If you recall, the previous generation City Safety system saved my bacon in the XC60 I reviewed last year, so I’m confident it will do the same here. The S60 takes this system to the next level by detecting pedestrians as long as they are over 31-inches tall. While Volvo may have some egg on their corporate face for the failure of the system to act in some recent demonstrations, if the system keeps at least one person from plowing down little Jimmy running after a ball, then it’s worth it in my book. Oddly enough I was unable to find a volunteer to stand in front of the system so we could test it. Is a safer Volvo naughty? No, but I’ll take the safer car any day.
Heading out to the coast for some Highway 1 time I was hoping to find the S60’s inner daemon. Volvos in the past decade have been far from slow but lacked the engagement you find in a BMW or Audi. When the road gets twisty the new S60 delivers more than I expected but less than forum fanboys would hope for. The S60 chassis is very stable, surprisingly well balanced and delivers very confidant handling. The available adjustable electric power steering allows you to tune some heft into your steering, but regardless of mode it remains fairly isolated. While the S60 will never be a 335xi, it actually does manage to put the likes of the Audi A4 on notice. The 3-liter turbo engine our tester was equipped with is an eager and willing companion, as long as you put your foot in it. Tallish throttle mapping and a transmission programed for efficiency take a toll on the fun factor unless you are willing to romp on the go pedal often. Fortunately the car responds well to being flogged and easily delivered a 5.67 second run to 60 every time it was asked. Top speed? 130. Naughty? Not bad at all.
Speaking of those options, let’s talk pricing. The base MSRP of $37,700 for the T6 AWD trim, gets you the base city safety system that detects cars only (it will just plow Jimmy right over), dual-zone climate control, leather upholstery, 18-inch wheels, and more safety acronyms than I have ever seen in my life. Our tester was equipped with: the $2,100 “Technology Package” which included Adaptive Cruise Control, Collision Warning with Auto Brake, Pedestrian, Distance Alert, Driver Alert Control and Lane Departure Warning. We also had the $2,700 multimedia package: up-level audio with 650 watts, 12 speakers, Dolby pro logic, the voice command navigation system and a backup camera; $1,500 premium package including the moonroof, power passenger seat and steering Xenon headlights; $800 Climate package which included heated seats, heated washer nozzles, headlight washers, rain sense wipers and an air quality system. The above packages bumped our tester to $45,675 including a $875 destination fee.
While the BMW 335xi is faster and more fun to drive, similarly configured it tips the scales at $56,375. The slower RWD only C350 from Mercedes doesn’t offer the range of features as the S60 so it’s difficult to compare but the S60 ends up being cheaper when similarly configured. The most natural competition for Volvo appears to be the Audi A4/S4, while the S4 is faster and more powerful than the S60, similarly configured the S60 is almost $6,000 cheaper and the A4 2.0T lacks the zip for a similar price point.
At the end of a week with the S60 I can honestly say this new Volvo isn’t naughty at all, but that’s OK because this car is designed for real people. It’s not brash, nor loud, and it doesn’t scream ego. Instead the S60 T6 AWD is an extremely competent sedan that is well priced and offers compelling safety features. If an AWD Euro sedan is what you seek, the S60 should be at or near the top of your list. The newly announced S60 T5 model may yet be a better deal, as, priced at just over $30,000 starting, it delivers all the style, many of the same features without the AWD and 300HP. Volvo’s new S60 looks ready to do battle with the competition for another 8-9 years, let’s hope it doesn’t have to fight single-handedly for that long.
Volvo provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for the review.
Performance statistics as tested:
0-60MPH: 5.67 seconds
30-60MPH: 3.5 seconds
Average economy: 24.5MPG