Volvo cars have long been considered safe, both in passenger protection and aesthetic design, and the Swedish automaker is hoping to catch the eye of more adventurous car buyers with its redesigned 2011 Volvo S60 sedan. In the latest model S60, the company's newfound exuberance is more than skin deep.
The downside of Volvo's well-earned reputation for safety and reliability is the perception that the company's cars are rather, well, boring. To change that, and to justify the higher price tags, Volvo's infused the new S60 with strong sporting credentials, better materials and more engaging design. The result is a car desirable for emotional reasons, not just logical ones.
The logical reasons, of course, are all still present. The 2011 Volvo S60 comes standard with front, side and curtain airbags, traction and stability control and Volvo's new City Safety technology that can detect objects that enter the car's path and help stop the vehicle safely. Fuel economy for the standard 2.5-liter engine has improved to 20 mpg city and 30 mpg highway while optional, more-powerful 3.0-liter engine remains constant at 18 mpg city and 26 mpg highway.
The emotional appeal of the S60, though, has become much stronger. The new bodywork, while still distinctly Volvo, is more evocative and borrows the popular coupe roofline in the rear. The genius lies in Volvo's ability to meld the more elegant roof with increased rear passenger headroom. Likewise, the company has crafted a more refined chassis that rides more comfortably during the commute but handles impressively during sporty driving. The duality continues with the turbocharged engine, which delivers smooth, linear power for everyday driving but also blood-pumping excitement if the right foot calls for it.
For the 2012 model year, the S60 is offered in two variants, the front-wheel-drive, $31,850 (including destination charges) T5 and the all-wheel-drive T6, which starts at $38,575. We sampled the more expensive T6, which distinguishes itself with standard leather seats, torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive and a 300 horsepower engine. The standard T5 offers 250 horsepower.
When selecting the T6 over the T5, what your extra $7000 is really buying is the more sporting drivetrain. Aside from that, nearly every feature on the T6 is available on the T5 as an option -- even the sport-tuned chassis. If your commute doesn't involve racing down canyon roads and fuel economy is a higher priority than sports car reflexes, you won't be disappointed with a well-optioned T5. If you want to fully invest in the S60's new image, though, the T6 is the way to go.
The most impressive aspect of the new S60 T6 is its ability to wear either the daily driver or weekend toy hat with ease. The turbocharged engine produces as much torque as a BMW 3 Series, but it comes on gradually so the car doesn't toss you around. All-wheel-drive models have an optional Four-C Active Chassis system that allows the driver to select from three different chassis configurations for comfort or sport. As a daily driver, the T6 impressed us with its soft ride, quiet, comfortable interior and smooth engine.
The other half of the T6's personality is that of a thoroughbred. With the chassis set to Sport, the ride firms up and the S60 becomes an impressive performer. The all-wheel-drive system's torque vectoring technology allows it to redistribute engine power to different wheels as needed for maximum grip and stability. The engine, when stoked into higher RPM ranges, comes alive with fantastic power that's easy to modulate. Pushed into a corner, the S60 responds with tenacious grip and an impressive pull that had editors from Motor Trend quietly making comparisons to BMWs.
From inside, the S60 is a nice place to spend your time. The leather seats look rich and just slightly aged and are supremely comfortable, though you do tend to slide around on them when cornering sharply. The overall design of the dashboard is simple and slightly quirky in a way you'd expect from a Swedish company. The ergonomics of the controls leave something to be desired and the in-dash screen, which controls many of the cars deeper, less often-used features, has a few too many layers to dig through, but they're manageable. We were less enthused about the keyless entry system, which in order to start the car forces you to insert the key fob in a receiver high up on the dash, leaving your keychain to rattle against the dash.
Elsewhere in the cabin, we found the passenger space more comfortable than previous models. While the middle seat is best left to children, outboard rear seat passengers sit lower in comfortable, well-contoured bucket seats and benefit from increased headroom despite the racy roof. Behind them, the trunk is competitive for its class, thanks to a high rear deck, though we found the lid needed to be slammed hard to latch completely. That high deck does have the unfortunate consequence of pinching the rear window and reducing some rearward visibility, but an optional rear camera helps with parking.
Other handy options included on our test vehicle included rain sensing wipers, parking sensors, heated seats, a blind-spot warning system, navigation, a 650-watt premium stereo and an eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat. We also liked the standard dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth connectivity and Sirius Satellite Radio.
With an as-tested price over $40,000, the Volvo S60 T6 is aimed at the territory of premium sedans from the likes of BMW and Mercedes. In the past, we might caution Volvo against punching above its weight class, but with the new S60, the brand has conjured a car worthy of the fight.
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