Quite a few of you balked at the idea of a $47,610 not-quite-midsize Volvo sedan. Well, for 2012 a T5 joins the S60 range. While the T6 might venture a bit deep into Audi and BMW territory, with a $31,850 base price the T5 is within striking distance of the similarly semi-premium front-drive Acura TSX and Buick Regal. But how much of the T6’s self-proclaimed naughtiness must one do without? Is the more affordable T5 a match for the Acura and Buick, much less the Germans?
Silver is not the new S60’s best color, and the standard 17-inch wheels also don’t do the long-nosed, high-belted exterior any favors. With “ember black metallic” paint and more delicate 18-inch alloys, the previously tested T6 was considerably more attractive. As tested, the T5 appears less upscale than some decidedly non-premium compacts. Not that a 240 looked upscale, either. But Volvo loyalists won’t recognize the object of their devotion in the S60’s coupe-like sweeping roofline. Which leaves the new S60…where?
The T5 has the same oh-so-Scandinavian interior as the T6, though without the $1,900 Premium Package (on both photographed T5s) the former’s seats are upholstered in T-Tec (think soft-sided luggage). The optional leather has an attractively heavy grain, and looks especially warm in “Beechwood.” Add the $800 Climate Package and the seats will also feel warm. Heated or not, these seats are among the most comfortable and properly supportive you’ll find. The Acura’s front buckets aren’t far behind, but the Buick’s are. The Regal wins back points for materials and workmanship. An especially sore point within the Volvo: the oversized shifter feels clunky and literally rings hollow. Though none of the cars in this class are especially foursome-friendly, the Volvo’s aft cabin is especially tight.
Unlike GM, Volvo realizes that 220-or-so horsepower is no longer enough for street cred. So ye olde boosted five kicks out 250 horsepower at 5,500 rpm in its latest iteration. While this is only ten more than the naturally-aspirated inline six offered in other Volvos, the T5’s peak torque of 266 pound-feet at 1,800 rpm outgrunts the six by 30. On paper it’s the superior engine. Drop a half-liter of displacement and AWD, and the EPA ratings improve from the T6’s 18/26 to the T5’s more respectable 20/30. This is better than the TSX V6 (18/27), Regal 2.0T (18/28), or the slightly larger Volvo S80 when fitted with the naturally-aspirated six (19/27), but not quite as good as an Audi A4 2.0T (22/30).
Problem is, the boosted five doesn’t deliver its numbers with the smooth feel and lusty sounds expected from a premium sport sedan. Despite the early torque peak, at low rpm the engine feels soft and responds sluggishly. Even the turbocharged four in the Buick sounds and feels better. The responsive, sweet-sounding six in the TSX is beyond comparison.
Handling similarly takes a hit. When I drove the T6 the salesperson said that Volvo was concerned that the car’s ride was too firm. The tires were a touch thumpy, but that car felt alive in a way no Volvo sedan had in recent memory. With the standard suspension, the S60 T5’s body motions are less well controlled. There’s more lean in turns and more bobbling over bumps. The Acura does a little better here, the Buick much better. The T5’s steering, though still satisfyingly quick, feels less direct and less precise than the T6’s. Partly because the Michelin Primacy tires lack grip, the stability control cuts in far too early. There’s no convenient button to dial it back; instead, this must be done through menus (think iDrive, but with the controls high up and to the right on the center stack). The Dynamic Package, with the T6’s 18-inch wheels, selectable effort steering, and firmer suspension, would close the handling gap with the Buick. It’s a must for anyone who cares about driving. But it also swells the price by $900. Even with this package, the T5 lacks the additional handling flexibility provided by the T6’s all-wheel-drive.
Even with the base suspension, the S60 T5 doesn’t ride as smoothly or as quietly as the Acura or the Buick. Compared to those cars it seems slightly raw, and not in a good way. The ears report a lesser car.
“Naughty” posturing notwithstanding, Volvo continues to push safety. “City Safety,” which can totally prevent hitting objects in front of the car up to 9 mph and minimize damage up to 18 mph, is standard on all S60s. I again lacked the nerve to test it. A full array of more commonly found safety features is also standard, of course.
Equip an S60 T5 to match the features of a $32,000 Buick Regal 2.0T or a $36,000 Acura TSX V6, and the MSRP ends up at $37,300. So not far off the latter, and very close to a similarly equipped $37,100 Audi A4 2.0T. Discounts should be larger on the Volvo, though.
Most notably, the Volvo S60 T5 starts a considerable $7,725 lower than the T6, but how much are you really saving? Equip both with heated leather, sunroof, adaptive xenon headlights, and the Dynamic Package, and the difference shrinks to $4,625, $36,250 vs. $40,875. (Add another $2,700 to either for nav plus a 650-watt surround sound audio system.) Volvo charges $2,000 for all-wheel-drive in the XC60 crossover, so figure $2,625 for the T6’s engine. A little steep for just one additional cylinder, but in this case it’s a must. Even if the inline six’s additional performance isn’t needed, the larger engine sounds and feels so much better than the cobby five—it adds ten grand to the perceived value of the car. The Germans have certainly charged much more for less.
Dwyer and Sons Volvo in Commerce Twp, MI, provided the car for this review. They can be reached at (866) 759-0593.
Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.