By on October 17, 2012

When our own Michael Karesh reviewed Volvo’s entry-level entry-luxury aeroback, he advised TTAC readers that the optional Dynamic Package was “…a must for anyone who cares about driving.” Hey! I care about driving! Trouble is, the rental companies don’t.

As some of you know, I spend a dozen or so weekends every year doing driver coaching with various organizations. My favorite among the miscellany of groups optimistic or stupid enough to let me endanger their students is TrackDAZE. I had agreed to coach at their Summit Point Shenandoah event, but the froglike little Korean coupe I’d hoped to drive at the event fell through. My Boxster was making some groaning noises, so I decided to source an Altima or similar from a rental company for the trip.

Imagine my surprise when I had the chance to bump up to a Volvo for five dollars a day extra! This, incidentally, would be a compelling argument if Volvo made it directly to the American people: “A nice Camry is $28,000. A nice Volvo is $35,000. That’s $140 a month extra in payments, or basically five dollars a day. For five dollars a day extra, wouldn’t you rather have a Volvo?” Sure you would, at least in the short term — and sure I did.

Shenandoah is an 850-mile round trip for me. During that time, the S60 was all of these things:

  • Noisy. As a Town Car driver, I’m a bit spoiled quiet-wise, but a brief spin in an Accord afterward confirmed it: this little fellow is noisy, and it’s mostly wind noise. How ironic, because the car’s regrettably Civic-esque suppository-shape is theoretically a product of aerodynamics. It sure isn’t a product of wanting to look expensive.
  • Economical. I saw 31mpg in mixed freeway/two-lane driving, rarely below 80mph, not consciously conserving fuel in any way. Impressive.
  • Easy to operate Everything from the iPod integration to the seat controls is intelligently done and quite convenient to operate. The climate control area looks a bit dopey but it works.
  • Not super well-equipped. No nav, no heated seats, no boomin’ system, no gimmicks at all, really. Other than leather seats, I didn’t see any equipment that you wouldn’t get in an Accord LX.
  • Nice and quick on the road. It’s about as fast as you could want for merging into traffic, making it to a “hole” in the next lane, and whatnot. I figure it’s about as quick in a straight line as an ’88 Corvette or a new Camry V-6.

I’m not actually sure what the selling point of this car is, now that I’ve mentioned the Camry V-6. It’s not as big or roomy as the transplant mid-sizers. It’s no faster than the up-cannoned versions of said mid-sizers. It looks like a Civic, which is to say cheap and dorky. The only unique technology is something that keeps you from hitting pedestrians at city speeds. I turned that shit off on principle the minute I got in the car. If I wanted to interfere with evolution, I’d go to that super-awesome museum in Kentucky where they have a diorama of a caveman riding a Triceratops.

This video shows Shenandoah pretty well; it’s a 1:51 lap done by a fellow driving an R-package Miata on Hankook R-compounds. Feel free to watch it so you get a sense of what’s where.

As noted in an earlier review, I’m going to try to use the Trackmaster system wherever I can to give you an honest, third-party, warts-and-all perspective on my performance in a particular car. I drove three sessions in the S60. In the first one, the brake pads caught on fire and I had to come in. In the second session, I had two additional passengers in the car. This session was set with a single passenger. Although there was some traffic in every lap, it wasn’t anything too troublesome. Cut and paste the below link to see my whole session. Ignore the fact that the car is listed as “Mazda2”. That’s me being lazy.

The fastest lap was the first one — 1:53.996. That’s about two and a half seconds shy of our friend in the Miata. I left the transmission in “S” for the whole lap. You can negotiate the data and see my exact line around each corner for every lap. Note that the G-meter sometimes shows braking when all that it really happening is steady-state cornering.

So. The first thing to note is positive: this is a car that gets 30mpg during a very comfy 400-mile trip and once you get there it performs pretty closely to a lightly-prepared Miata. Did I mention that I was listening to “The Lumineers” during the lap? Now you know. I think the song was “Flowers In Your Hair.” It’s the kind of hat-wearing pseudo-retro hipster crap I associate with young women in Nashville. Anyway.

On the back straight, the Volvo bops the 100-mph mark briefly before requiring some very conservative braking to get turned for the big hairpin, which is Turn 17 on most maps. The tires were no-season nondescript junk and they really howled; one of the TrackDAZE guys said he could hear the Volvo almost all the way around the track. And yes, there is UNDERSTEER AT THE LIMIT. Quite a bit of it. But it isn’t hopeless. Just grind the outside tire a bit, look for your exit, and then appreciate the remarkably decorous and torque-steer-free way the Volvo rockets to the outside curb. The transmission is pretty smart and it rarely dallies too much in the high gears.

On the boost, the S60 will surprise cars like a Honda S2000 or un-tuned WRX briefly because the punch happens from low revs and it’s linear in the way it goes about delivering power. We’re to another hairpin before you know it and this time I’m going to use my left foot to tap the brakes and deliberately slew the Volvo sideways a bit. It’s happy to so and there’s never a suggestion that you might lose control. Props.

In the “Cave” S-curves that follow, the S60 feels a bit out of place. It doesn’t change direction very well and the tires are to blame. Body roll is signifcant but controllable. Our Miata friend doesn’t really brake for the left-hander to the next long straight, but we have to. Then it’s time for the power again, and as I demonstrated again and again to my students, the S60 will eat sixteen-second quarter cars like Miatas very easily here.

Check out my line into Turn Three! I don’t screw around with setup at all here. I brake late and ride the track all the way in as if the turn didn’t exist. That’s a losing strategy in a NASA race but here it’s just fine since we want to maximize the time the Volvo’s engine works. Now to grind the tires through “The Hook”. Guess what? You can hit the curbs so hard the S60 goes briefly sideways with the violence of it — and it’s still totally safe and controllable.

The stability control on the S60 never turns all the way off… until you overheat the brakes. Then it does and there’s a nice little notice to let you know about it. What we gain from that we lose by having the brakes that hot, so although my in-corner speeds were higher once that happened the lap times weren’t as good overall. Through Turn Eight and up the back straight the Volvo can really annoy Subarus with its power and the relaxed way it gets the front wheels off the ground on the Bridge Straight. Time to smoke the sobbing brakes and jump nose-first into the Carousel.

Here the stability control gets very upset if it hasn’t already given up, grabbing the brakes as your nose bobs and the G-forces become positively ridiculous. I gave the S60 full throttle three concrete pads before the end so it would be on boost to jump up the hill. Hit every curb gangster hard to rotate the Volvo. It can take it. But in the Corkscrew, my photographer captured something scary:

Can you see the problem?

Can you see it now? That’s no good. I’d want better tires before I went back with one of these cars. Poke and strech may be popular among the “dubbers” but it has no place on a racetrack. No wonder the car felt so wonky.

A note about the Volvo’s steering: it’s fine, very trustworthy. The power steering never lost assistance and I never got any unusual transition damping or responses from the helm. It has my approval, particularly for a Dynamatted fat-ass of a front-wheel-drive sedan. Even when the inside front tire was spinning — which was, oh, I don’t know, EVERY SINGLE TURN — it was reliable and informative.

Corkscrew was no fun! Time to get back on the power, use the left foot to rotate in Big Bend, and throttle across the line. Everybody liked riding in the Volvo. It was completely confidence-inspiring. I’m not sure you could crash it unless you were a complete fool who has no business whatsoever on a road course. Sometimes I just took my hands off the wheel and let it go its own way like Lindsay Buckingham. It didn’t crash. It’s stable and nice like that. Even over curbs.

After a full day of track abuse, the Volvo drove home just as nicely as it had driven to the track. Still noisy, you know? But pleasant and given that I had to stay awake for 40 hours in a row to make the trip possible without spending any money or time on a hotel I have to say the car felt like my ally, not my enemy, in that effort.

The big question has to be: Would you buy this car over a 328i? Why would you? It looks flimsy and low-status. It isn’t loaded to the gills like an ES350. It might not last very long or be very affordable to repair. Who knows what the Chinese will do with their stewardship of Volvo. An Infiniti G37 would smoke it around the track for the same kind of money, although to be fair, the Volvo was just eight seconds a lap behind a time set by a new Porsche 991S at the same track by another track-rat journo recently. How badly do you want that time?

My money would go somewhere else. This wasn’t a compelling car for me, and in the end it’s a combination of the noise and the bargain-basement styling that does it. Still, it has plenty of virtues, it’s perfectly respectable as a road-trip proposition, and on the track it was solid and trustworthy. Come to think of it, isn’t that what you want from a Volvo?

Disclaimer: Nobody gave me nothing.

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44 Comments on “Track Tested: 2012 Volvo S60 T5...”

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    Thanks, Jack. The chinks have taken a perfectly good car company which knew and cherished its niche and given us……gussied up, overpriced Civics, which handle well but don’t inspire.

    I predict Volvo will be a non-player in the North American market by 2019.

    Thank your father for his service to our country on our behalf. Hope the Laotian shish-kabobs don’t keep him awake nights.

    • 0 avatar

      Hey Mark MacInnis, in what part of the world in the 21st century is it OK to use “chinks” the way you did in your post? There is absolutely no excuse for racist language on TTAC.

      Bertel, perhaps the site needs to account for these cases in its posting policy?

    • 0 avatar


      TTAC commenting policy (and good taste) do not allow racist language. Edit your comment or ask for it to be edited. Observe the commenting guidelines (see FAQ).

      Another infraction will trigger a ban. Same if this warning is not observed.


      • 0 avatar

        The Chinese have nothing to do with this car. The chassis predates Chinese ownership if you hadn’t already guessed.

        Volvo has the same issue many car companies have… dated platforms and the lack of will to renew them.

    • 0 avatar

      Whiskey Tango


      Wow, did I just stumble on GMinsidenews or Fordinsidenews? Dayum that’s harsh.

    • 0 avatar

      what an ass

    • 0 avatar

      Mark MacInnis had his chance to retract the racist comments (including the “Laotian shish-kabobs.”) He did not edit the comment, and we did not receive a request to edit it. Mark MacInnis is banned. The comment stays as a reminder of what not to write on TTAC.

      Please observe the commenting guidelines at

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Claw

      With a reply like that, the dunce cap icon is rightly appropriate.

      (Unless that’s something that TTAC does to people who misbehave, which I applaud.)

    • 0 avatar

      Actually the S60 is gaining market share against the BMW 3-series, the Audi A4, and the Mercedes C-class. And here’s a quote from TFLcars;

      “The 2013 Volvo S60 is not only worthy of competing with the world’s best, including the Audi A4, BMW 3-Series, Mercedes C-Class and the Acura TL, it outright crushes them in nearly every subjective category.”

  • avatar

    Of course you adjusted tire pressures upward before going on the track and downward after, right?

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      I don’t like to ever go above a cold 35psi and I didn’t do it here either. I have seen people go to a cold 40 on street tires for durability but that can lead to a hot 50 and brother, that ain’t safe in my book :)

      • 0 avatar

        On a related note, one reason I have yet to partake of a Trackdaze event, is that I am confused about the inspection requirements. Did you have to take the rental to a shop before hand?

    • 0 avatar

      I was wondering about the tire pressures, too …

      • 0 avatar

        I thought most people lower pressures for the track… ? (would like insight on this too, thanks)

      • 0 avatar

        Tire pressures can easily rise 8-10 psi during a half hour session. What was fun about this particular track day is that the first session was too cold and wet to get enough heat in my tires. So I added air for session 2…when it dried up causing my tires to get about 6-7 psi above my target. No big deal, just a bit less grip and more opportunity to fiddle.

        Regarding inspections, don’t let that stop you. A track inspection only takes ~30 min and costs around $50. Some race shops will even do it for free.

        And to bring this thread back to the story, Did you pass that corvette on the inside of the carousel or is he going to take you on the outside going up the hill?

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    “If I wanted to interfere with evolution, I’d go to that super-awesome museum in Kentucky where they have a diorama of a caveman riding a Triceratops.”

    That made my day.

    Great unconventional review, Jack, I’d love to see more of these. The next time you find yourself in a V6 Camry, please take it to the track. Or better yet, your Town Car!

  • avatar

    Too bad Touchdown Jesus got struck by lightning. You could get a picture of the Volvo driving by on your way to the Creation Museum.

  • avatar

    That tire looks like it’s about to pop off the wheel like the Jeep Grand Cherokee during the moose avoidance maneuver.

    What are the economics of renting a car to drive on a long trip versus driving your own late model vehicle? I know that it costs $0.50-0.60 per mile to run a car, but that’s an average. If you drive 15,000 miles per year, the next 1,000 incremental miles will be less expensive because you’ve already paid your fixed costs like insurance and registration and the depreciation associated with the passage of time, and the only costs you should incur are the maintenance and repair costs plus gas and the incremental depreciation for mileage.

    • 0 avatar
      el scotto

      Uh, to write a witty and well received review for a car blog? I assume Jack is compensated for his reviews in some way. Some of us have enough airline/hotel/credit card points to get a free rental. You get a new car to rent for burning your points, it’s not your baby to maintain, and you walk when you’re done with it. Thinking about buying one or wanna go crazy in a red convertible for a week? Rent one.

      • 0 avatar

        I get about a zillion Hertz points a year for my business rentals, and I hardly ever use them. Why? Because why in Dog’s name would I want to drive one of thier crap cars when I can drive my BMW? I didn’t buy it to let it sit in the garage and polish it with a soft diaper occasionally.

        I have been getting these S60s as upgrades reasonably often lately. My opinion – I would just as soon have a 1.4T Cruse LTZ for a rental. I would certainly take the Volvo over a Camry or an Accord though.

      • 0 avatar
        el scotto

        Prestige collection, just saying

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      segfault, it makes a little economic sense for long road trips when your car is still under warranty. It also makes some sense to rent a car with a more compliant suspension and better fuel economy if you’re going to be driving all day. In addition, there is some peace of mind knowing that if it breaks down, you get another car and the rental car company has to deal with problems with unfamiliar mechanics in the middle of nowhere.

      The biggest problem with renting a car is the chaotic process of getting specific model. Not sure if it’s an upsell tactic or if they’re really that disorganized, but I never get exactly what I reserve. Some of the proposed car substitutions are completely insane.

  • avatar
    Don Mynack

    I drove an older mid-00’s s60 for a while this summer – was comfortable, and fast in a straight line. Great highway driver. It was heavy as hell, though, and felt like it. I assume this one outweighs the competition, too.

  • avatar

    I would pay a premium to rent a Camry over a Volvo.

  • avatar
    Nick 2012

    Jack – do you ever catch flack from car rental companies for putting their vehicles on a track?

    • 0 avatar

      Most rental companies barely bother to keep oil in the pan and air in the tires. I have a hard time believing they’ll take issue with feathered tires and warped/glazed rotors. There’s just no one in the chain of command/custody whose job it is to give a sheet about the cars themselves.

  • avatar

    As the owner of the prior generation S60 (2001 initial model year) this seems spot on to me. It was a fabulous commuter car, and returned much better MPG than the EPA numbers with the 5 cyl. Not fast, but handled better than an Accord or Camry. Great seats. Safe. This one is clearly much faster.

    But, it broke way too often and was very pricey to repair. My current 328xi is much more solid, and more reliable as well. Performance wise it isn’t even close. Hell, the backseat is even bigger in the E90, although the fronts are not as comfy. The new gen S60 didn’t ring any bells and didn’t even warrant a look when I bought the BMW. Infiniti did. Benz did. Lexus did. Acura even did. Honestly, I’d buy a TSX (despite the TTAC complaints about it) over the S60 every time given the real price differential and cost of repairs.

  • avatar
    Speed Spaniel

    These underdog car companies really need to ramp it up. When I saw the first photo in the article I thought, “oh, the new Civic.”

  • avatar

    For me, the T5 is just another FWD bland-mobile for rental fleets and so that Volvo can pitch cheap lease deals. I can’t see to many reasons (other than the “perfect” IIHS safety rating) to buy it over a TSX, CC, or – gasp – a Regal. The T6 AWD, on the other hand, merits serious consideration against the Germans.

    I don’t know if this is true, but it seems like Volvo originally wanted to move the S60 upmarket (for the 2011 model year, ONLY the T6 AWD was offered), but “upmarket” hasn’t exactly been a success for Volvo, hence the resurrection of the T5.

    I still believe Volvo is capable of turning out great products (if not quite with great reliability). But…they seem confused. Volvo of America’s refusal to import the V40 and V60 seems like a shot in the foot.

  • avatar

    Shame you couldn’t do this test in a Volvo C30 (wife has one). Its the same engine but in a car that’s around (I’m guessing here) about 25% smaller – so you do the math. The seats and dash layout of the Volvo are light years ahead off any Camry, I’d gladly take one as rental. However if a G37 was offered that is a much better choice (my brother had one). Judging by the tires and wing on the 350Z ahead he is either really serious or just being silly. I can only imagine the faces people made as the Volvo screamed by, tires howling and brakes burning. Even better would have been the conversation at return counter:
    Agent: And sir how was your car?
    JB: Understeer at the limit, but manageable
    Agent: WTF?!?
    JB: Are you single? Busy tonight?

  • avatar

    Thinking that the rear view mirrors may be the source of the wind noise. They look high enough to be in the turbulance that rolls off of the cowl area, and they are not the smoothest shape in the world either. If so, it is a shame someone didn’t catch it in the wind tunnel (if they bothered to wind tunnel test it.)

    • 0 avatar

      My V50 does suffer from the same wind noise problem.

      Occasionally in cross-winds it starts making this subdued, high-frequency boom-boom-boom sound, almost as if a wheel was out of balance (but without the steering wheel feedback). Then it goes away with the travel direction change.

      It is also plain impossible to drive the car at anything over 40 with the rear windows rolled down. The entire cabin becomes a boom-box.

      Why give the car aerodynamic styling without giving it good aerodynamics? Should have stuck with the box and maybe have done better as a brand in the long run.

      Instead, most everyone seems to go for the most popular [styling] option, as if car making was politics…

      • 0 avatar

        @ThirdOwner, the boom-boom-boom you hear is something shedding vorticies, they alternately shed from one side, then another. Best guess is the roof rack; the roof rack on my Taurus will occassional sing a little (kind of like a high frequency rattle) in crosswinds.

        All aerodynamic sedans are bad about booming like that with the rear windows down. My 1990 Dodge Spirit wasn’t quite a bar of soap; but it did the same thing. I am not sure if the turbulance is forming on the door frame, or the C pillar behind it. My Taurus wagon does not do it, but your V50 wagon does; so maybe it has do with the window opening itself.

        Styling may have come full circle. The aero looking cars of the 50s and 60s were not aero at all, but rather aero-styled. The aero cars of the 1990s were truely wind tunnel tested and tuned; have we gone back to “aero styling” again?

    • 0 avatar

      Weirdly, Volvo has a great wind tunnel facility (I’ve been in it) and they used to be obsessive about aero testing.

      • 0 avatar

        I wonder if spending time/money on getting aerodynamics right is yet another one of those easy corners to cut. The consequences are not immediately apparent to the buyer, and even less so to those living in normal to low wind areas.

  • avatar

    Ignoring the racism and back to the Volvo, I have not driven the T5 myself but I have driven the T6 and it is a completely different animal altogether. The 300hp (325 with Polestar) is in the same league as a 335i or an S4 based on my experiences.

    But back to the T5, sounds like it would satisfy a majority of the population who will never see the same track beating that yours saw. If I were to ever meet someone who is intersted in either a Camry/Altima/Accord V6, I would seriously recommend a look at the Volvo, even it for the exclusivity of it. Gets kind of tiring to see a hundred Camrys just like mine on a daily basis.

    Great writeup btw, I actually got a sense of being in the passenger seat the whole time I was reading.

  • avatar

    At least you get the proper T5, the “T5” over here is a 2.0 EcoBoost engine with 240hp. Older Volvos still have the real T5.

  • avatar

    Which engine is this? We get a T5 with a four cylinder (yes, I still can’t wrap my head around that) 2.0 that puts out a piddling 200+ hp. And it’s got traction control and torque limiting to keep that tiny engine from ripping the transmission to shreds, so it’s always a gear too high on corner exits at the racetrack.

  • avatar

    That track looks laaaaame. Reminds me of the “Octopus” section of one of the NJMP courses, which make me seasick whenever I race there.

  • avatar

    First things first. Great review

    second thing. you said “If I wanted to interfere with evolution, I’d go to that super-awesome museum in Kentucky where they have a diorama of a caveman riding a Triceratops.”

    I had to look for that, and it’s the creation museum.. um yeah. I think I’ll stick to science and view that as a place to go if I want to spend all my time laughing.

    Otherwise sounds like a spot on review of the car. As for the Chinese control of the company, I wouldn’t worry about that for now, I think they are too busy stealing all it’s tech for them to gut the company for a few years. Maybe in 5-10 years you will see a difference but for now, I wouldn’t worry.

    I also think you hit the nail on the head, why buy this car? What does it do for you that a G37 doesn’t do or something similiar.

    I wonder how an ES350 would do on a track day like this? Just curious.

  • avatar

    If this is worse than an F10 328i, it must be pretty bad (although I don’t mind the styling). Even BMW loyalists Car and Driver, while still declaring it a comparo winner, said that an e90 was better and would have won the test had it participated (and this e46 330i owner says that’s better than all) Your two best choices for a fully warrantied car in this price range are a G37 or a CPO e90 BMW. An impressive feat for Infiniti considering the age of that platform.

  • avatar
    Dr. Claw

    The most surprising thing about this to me is that you can get a Volvo from a rental spot.

    If I could do that, I would fly everywhere.

    That aside, Volvo sedans aren’t what the brand is about (even though they sold quite a bit in their glory days), but unfortunately, what the brand IS about isn’t popular in the US.

    I agree with Marko above.

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