The Volvo S60 combines excellent performance and a great shape with outstanding safety features. It feels like a tight European sedan and does a good job of smoothing out rough roads.
The S60 fills the middle range in Volvo's lineup: It's larger than the S40, but not quite as large as the premium-luxury S80.
The seats have been redesigned for 2005 for improved comfort on long trips. Its interior is handsome and the available leather has a high-quality look and feel.
Five models are available for 2005: S60 2.4 ($27,235), S60 2.5T ($29,735), S60 2.5T AWD ($31,385), S60 T-5 ($33,285) and S60R ($37,250).
The S60 2.4 comes with a 2.4-liter five-cylinder engine that produces 168 horsepower and 166 pound-feet of torque. (A 165-horsepower, super-low-emissions, or SULEV, version is sold in California.) A five-speed manual transmission is standard. A five-speed automatic is optional ($1,000). The Premium Package ($2,995) adds leather upholstery, wood trim, dual zone electronic climate control, a trip computer, a moonroof, and a power driver's seat with adjustable lumbar support and memory. A Sport Package ($795) adds fog lights and 16-inch alloy wheels.
The 2.5T uses a turbocharged 2.5-liter engine that produces 208 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque. The 2.5T also adds dual-zone electronic climate control, power driver's seat with memory, fog lights front and rear, 16-inch wheels and tires. The 2.5T Premium Package ($2,595) adds leather upholstery, trip computer, moonroof, and a speaker upgrade. The 2.5T Sport Package ($795) adds sport seats, Geartronic auto-stick control for the transmission, speed-sensitive steering, and 17-inch Thor wheels with 235/45R17 tires.
The 2.5T AWD comes with Volvo's sophisticated electronic all-wheel-drive system and the five-speed Geartronic automatic, which offers a mode for manual operation.
The T5 uses a 2.3-liter inline five-cylinder engine with a high-pressure turbo with improved performance for 2005, producing 257 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque for much quicker acceleration. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, with the Geartronic automatic optional ($1,200). The T5 gets a sports suspension, 17-inch wheels and tires, Dynamic Stability Traction Control (DSTC), Brake Assist, speed-sensitive steering, HomeLink, auto-dimming rearview mirrors.
The ultra high-performance S60R comes with a 2.5-liter high-pressure turbocharged and intercooled engine that boasts 300 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque beginning at just 1950 rpm. It comes with a choice of a new Volvo close-ratio six-speed manual gearbox or five-speed automatic with a manual mode, and high-performance Brembo brakes with four-piston aluminum calipers. It also comes with Volvo's Four-C Adaptive Chassis along with bi-xenon headlamps, 235/45ZR17 Pirelli P-Zero tires on 17-inch Pegasus wheels, and rear spoiler. Leather upholstery, real wood trim, sport seats, and other interior upgrades are included. Alloy 8x18 inch wheels with Y-speed rated tires are optional ($995).
Standard equipment on all S60 models: air conditioning with a pollen filter; power windows, trunk release and door locks; illuminated visor mirrors; a trunk light; a tilt/telescopic steering wheel wrapped in leather; headlight wipers; power folding headrests; 60/40 split-folding rear seat; cupholders front and rear, steering-wheel controls for the audio system; and remote keyless entry. The Climate Package ($550) includes Rainsensor wipers, which automatically adjust wiper speed based on the amount of water on the windshield. The Touring Package ($595) includes remote garage door opener, automatic dimming mirror, grocery bag holder, laminated side windows, and interior air quality system (IAQS). A Dolby Pro Logic Surround Sound stereo ($1,200) is available on 2.4T, 2.5T AWD, and T5. Volvo's new On Call Plus telematics/mobile phone ($835), and Volvo DVD-based navigation system ($1,995) are available for all models.
Safety and security features: frontal, side-impact and curtain airbags up front; head restraints for all five passengers; seats that move on impact to reduce whiplash injuries; an immobilizer and alarm; a Safe Approach and Home Safe Lighting System; anti-lock disc brakes (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD).
The Volvo S60 looks like a smaller version of the big S80 luxury sedan. It's handsome in a Lars-in-a-cable-knit sweater kind of way. Not a remnant remains of the "boxy but safe" styling that Volvo championed so doggedly for decades.
Volvo says the S60 represents the essence of contemporary Scandinavian design. The S60 seems compact at first glance, and there's a hunched-shoulder look to the rear flanks, suggesting a hockey player ready to lead a charge up the ice.
The S60R is distinguished from the other models by a smoother, longer nose; a smaller, lower grille; and a larger air dam with bigger intake openings for the big turbo and twin intercoolers.
Overall, the Volvo S60 interior is handsome and comfortable. The seats are cushy with the optional pigskin-type leather; they have been redesigned for 2005 around orthopedic principles to provide better support and comfort on long trips. The leather has a high-quality look and feel. There's good interior space up front, more than in the BMW 3 Series or Mercedes C-Class.
The dashboard flows in a pleasant shape. Attractive wood trim appears sparingly on the glovebox lid and on all four doors. The quality of the material used to cover other surfaces is good. The gauges are attractive, with their flat gray background, and easy to read, while the switches are intuitive and easy to use.
Heating, ventilation and air conditioning controls are well designed and easy to operate, with big metaphoric controls to direct the airflow. Power window buttons with auto-down are conveniently mounted on the door. Inside door handles are easy to grab.
The innovative radio controls take some familiarization to master. Changing preset channels involves turning a knob, rather than pressing a button, for example. Once understood, it works well. The leather-wrapped steering wheel has controls for the audio system that makes operating it easier while driving.
The center console has been redesigned for 2005 with a covered storage bin and cup holders that fit all standard sizes of beverage container. There's another mini cup holder on the center of the dash. The manual shift lever has a silver-colored plastic cover at its base that looks like silver-colored plastic.
Getting into the back seat requires a duck of the head. Once back there, the S60 offers more rear headroom than a BMW 3 Series sedan. An average-sized male will be short of legroom, however; the S60 offers less legroom than the BMW.
To get the S60's swoopy shape, Volvo had to make design concessions that constrict the trunk opening. The trunk itself is roomy and deep; it'll hold a lot of small bags, but big hard-sided bags might be a challenge. The rear seats are split 60/40 and fold down to carry long items. Fold down the right rear seat and front passenger seat, and you can carry something quite long.
The Volvo S60 offers an excellent ride, even over nasty bumps, and even with the optional 17-inch wheels. It doesn't offer the razor-edge handling of the BMW 330i, however. Pushed through bumpy, high-speed corners, the S60's steering can't keep up. The suspension is tuned for comfort, not hard cornering, so the body leans. This works well on rough roads, though.
The S60 is front-wheel drive, and torque steer rears its head, especially with the more powerful T5. Stand on the gas and you'll feel a tug on the steering wheel. It's really no big deal, though, and you get used to it. Still, the S60 definitely engages the driver, because you have to pay attention to the steering when you're driving hard. But it's extremely steady at speed.
The T5 produces prodigious thrust from its high-pressure turbocharger. In the past, we've found we needed to keep the revs up for good response, but it gets an increase in horsepower and torque for 2005. Volvo's turbocharged engines get great gas mileage. The T5 rates 21/27 mpg with the five-speed manual transmission.
We found the brakes were on the soft side, but the ABS was very smooth. We didn't feel thrown forward in the seat under hard braking, as we have with other sports sedans, including the BMW 330i.
The steering is slightly heavier in the S60 AWD, because of the weight of the all-wheel-drive system. It also has a more on-center feel. The ride is firmer on the all-wheel-drive version, which has stiffer shocks to handle the increased weight. We think it's a worthwhile tradeoff to get the AWD's improved traction and handling in the rain and snow.
We drove over gravel roads in the S60 AWD, and found directional stability on loose surfaces excellent. Power in the S60 AWD is distributed between the front and rear wheels using a wet multi-plate clutch controlled by electronics according to driving conditions. With a steady throttle on dry pavement, about 95 percent of the power is transmitted to the front wheels; but up to 70 percent can go to the rear wheels when required. The balance changes instantaneously. Of course other automakers say that, too, but the difference in Volvo's Active-On-Demand system is the degree of instantaneous-ness. When one wheel slips 15 degrees, far less than any human can detect, the balance of power shifts away from that wheel, thus replacing the slip with grip. In other words, it's just more secure and better stuck to the road when the weather gets nasty.
The S60R is another animal altogether. It was designed and developed by Hans Nilsson, who's been a Volvo engineer for 26 years and races his own Volvo in 24-hour endurance races. Volvo let him alone to do what he knows how to do, and he did such a bang-up job they now call him the Czar of R. We tested the S60R on the road course at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and it was a perfect day in a perfect car. The balance is brilliant, the engine train-like, the gearbox bulletproof and the brakes bomb-proof.
The suspension is what's really special. Volvo says it's the most advanced active chassis on the market. A button on the dash allows three settings, Comfort, Sport and Advanced, which mostly address the shock stiffness and engine management. There is a distinct difference between the three settings, and each performs exactly as defined by the buttons. No more compromises with the ride of your high-performance car. You have a suspension that's soft when you want it to be, and stiff when you need it to be. Up to 500 times a second, sensors measure things like longitudinal, lateral and vertical acceleration of the car relative to road conditions and driving actions, and use this information to constantly adjust the ride. But the real leap with this technology is that sensors from the suspension, wheels, throttle, steering and brakes all communicate with each other before the various instantaneous settings are determined, including s
The Volvo S60 rides well and handles well. It feels stable at high speeds. The all-wheel-drive model provides excellent driver control on slippery surfaces. The turbocharged models, designated by a T in the model name, offer strong acceleration performance.
Volvo is renowned for safety engineering and the S60 is fully equipped with active and passive safety features including a rigid safety cage.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Sam Moses reports from the Columbia River Gorge.