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2015 Volvo S60 Test Drive Review
The 2015 Volvo S60 idles between a rock and a hard place. It has to fend off upstarts and contend with the class leaders. It does that by being different.
The Volvo S60 premium sedan has been around for a while, but rather than letting it get stale, Volvo’s been obsessive about keeping it up to date. The 2015.5 Volvo S60 has a fresh look, and the brand-new Drive-E engines breathe new life into the S60 range.
Look and Feel
As Volvo’s highest-volume sedan, the Volvo S60 benefits from its recent facelift. Some extra creases and character lines have returned to this second-generation S60, a car that started off more innocuous than its predecessor. Volvo’s tweaks have also aligned the looks of the S60 more closely with the rest of its models.
The S60 stands out among premium European competition from Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi. Style is obviously a high priority for Volvo, and every inch of the S60, both interior and exterior, gives off a premium impression that won’t be mistaken for some other brand. The competition isn’t just from Germany, either. The S60 also has to contend with cars like the Buick Regal and the Acura TLX. It’s a tough spot to be in, and the S60’s style works hard to stand out among such a fiercely capable field.
For 2015.5, the S60 gets a host of changes. Trim levels have been revised, and the new Drive-E engines with 8-speed Geartronic automatic transmissions appear in front-wheel-drive (FWD) versions. Proven 5- and 6-cylinder powertrains continue to power all-wheel-drive (AWD) S60s. Some other new features include a start/stop system, electric power steering and available Park Assist Pilot.
The S60 T5 Drive-E FWD is the starting point, with a base MSRP of $34,675, which includes a $925 destination fee. The S60 T5 AWD rings in around $36,000 with a 2.5-liter turbocharged 5-cylinder to drive all four wheels. The S60 T6 Drive-E FWD carries a turbo- and supercharged version of the new Drive-E engine, which delivers 302 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels. This model comes in just under $40,000, and the top of the S60 range is the T6 R-Design AWD, which will run you about $44,000 and get you moving with 325 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque provided by a turbocharged 6 cylinder. The R-Design trim means exterior enhancements, a Sport chassis and interior upgrades, as well.
In addition to the powertrain options, there are Premier and Platinum trims that add more equipment to the configuration. Choices include upholstery, ranging from T-Tec to leather, an available Harman Kardon audio system, and Volvo’s Sensus infotainment system. The S60 range is a good value on its own, and it’s easy to configure. It looks like an especially strong bargain compared to the shockingly high tallies for similarly equipped European competitors.
The new Drive-E engine may be the best thing about any S60 it powers. It certainly was the biggest standout feature of the S60 T5 FWD I drove. The 2.0-liter 4-cylinder is surprisingly smooth, refined and quiet. The new 8-speed automatic is a well-matched partner and offers shift paddles for manual control if you want to play. It’s not responsive enough to be a convincing performance gearbox, but it’s smooth and unobtrusive when left to its own devices.
The power level is just right for the T5 FWD. There’s plenty of oomph for passing and merging, though if you’re looking for more sport in your sedan, go with the T6 FWD or T6 R-Design AWD. The fuel economy delivered by the new 2.0-liter turbocharged engine is impressive, with EPA estimates standing at 25 mpg city/37 highway.
The S60 T5 I drove was both solid and too stiff. The very rigid chassis doesn’t flinch at bumps, but the suspension tuning could be more compliant. I was bounced around harder than I’d like during my time with the S60, and while it’s a competent-handling car, the performance payoff wasn’t worth the discomfort. Some of the blame goes to the run-flat tires my car had. Run-flats are notoriously harsh, and they’re optional on the S60 as part of its highly loaded Platinum trim. The car I drove also carried the Climate Package and Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) with Park Pilot, both adding to the Sport Package and Sport Seats that the Platinum trim carries.
Form and Function
One way the S60 has always managed to stand apart is its handsome cabin. Every Volvo features a thin center console with ventilation controls that are easy to figure out and knobs for temperature, audio and infotainment control. The fact that the main controls are large and easy to find without looking means you’ll be less distracted when driving. Unfortunately, a lot of secondary functions are called up and controlled by the array of small buttons, also on the console. It can take longer than it should to find what you want, because they’re all the same size and clustered closely together.
To be fair, the amount of technology available in the S60 is a challenge for designers and engineers to package. Volvo does a pretty good job mirroring center-console functions on the steering-wheel-mounted thumbwheels, which helps a lot. Beware, though: This isn’t a car you’ll be able to jump into and master over the course of a 10-minute drive. A week of daily driving will have you operating at expert level.
A unique approach to ergonomics helps the S60 support drivers, while Volvo seats have long garnered raves for the way they coddle occupants. The driver and front-seat passenger are well cared for in the comfort department. It’s a different story in the back seat of the S60, which can be tight for anyone over about 6 feet tall, or when you’ve installed one of today’s typically bulky child seats. The 12-cubic-foot trunk is also on the small side. Both the back seat and the small cargo capacity are demerits for a car that’s on the list of so many family shoppers, given Volvo’s long safety history.
Thoughtful design is a high priority for Volvo, as the S60 clearly demonstrates. The shapes and themes are timeless and handsome. The way the dashboard sweeps in a gentle curve from the instrument panel all the way to the passenger-side air vent is clean-looking. The metal accents aren’t overpowering, and in darker interior colors, they add a bit of brightness inside. The materials Volvo has chosen for the interior are very high quality, too. Depending on how you option the S60, you’ll be sitting on T-Tec synthetic upholstery, leather with French stitching or a combination of the two.
Sophisticated technology is an important part of the S60’s feature set, because it’s surrounded by equally advanced competitors. The S60 stands out by offering the standard Volvo Sensus Connect system. Sensus Connect uses a 7-inch screen located at the top of the center console to deliver entertainment, communication and control over vehicle-setup options and preferences. The Sensus screen is also your window into the available navigation system.
Apps are part of the Sensus system. Applications like Pandora, TuneIn Radio, Stitcher and Rdio are supported, delivering entertainment from a wider array of sources than ever before. Volvo On Call is also standard and includes a WiFi hotspot, and the smartphone app gives you access to your car in the palm of your hand.
The audio system is a Harman Kardon unit that provides high-quality reproduction and integrates well with Apple or Android devices for Bluetooth. The system can also tether to your smartphone. The S60 is a high-tech car in a high-tech world, so on that note, it’s perfect for the times.
Volvo has exclusive safety and driver-support technology, and all of it is available in the S60. The standard City Safety system looks out for you in situations like urban stop-and-go traffic. At speeds below 30 mph, the system can automatically apply the brakes to avoid a collision. Also standard is Dynamic Stability and Traction Control (DSTC), which is more than a mere stability control system. You get the sloppy-weather security you’d expect from stability control, and Volvo has also given the S60’s stability control system sport-sedan capabilities in the form of Advanced Stability Control (ASC) that senses acceleration and roll rate to detect skids earlier and react more precisely, Corner Traction Control (CTC), a torque-vectoring system that balances the power between the front wheels to keep wheel spin in check and make cornering more stable, and a Sport Mode to allow some frisky driving.
Other available safety technology includes the Blind-Spot Information System (BLIS) with Cross-Traffic Alert (CTA), Collision Warning with Full Auto Brake and Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection, a Volvo innovation that uses a digital camera and highly sophisticated software to detect and track pedestrians or cyclists. The system can apply the brakes if someone darts in front of the car, and if the vehicle you’re following stops suddenly, or you fail to slow for stopped cars, the S60 will sound a warning and pre-charge the braking system to deliver full stopping power when you touch the brake pedal.
Because it’s solidly built and has decent road manners, the S60 feels reassuring from behind the wheel. Volvo’s long history of developing both passive and active safety systems should also set your mind at ease.
The S60 offers a lot of value compared to its competitors. It comes well equipped where other premium European sedans make you pay dearly for what seems like anything other than vinyl seats and a base-level radio. The new Drive-E engines deliver good fuel economy, too; the EPA says they range from a high of 25 mpg city/37 highway for the T5 to a still-great 19/28 for the muscular T6 R-Design AWD.
Compared to the competition, the Volvo S60 delivers fuel economy that’s at or near the top of the class. I saw fuel economy of 28-29 mpg combined, which is good for the mix of stop-and-go to highway driving I did and more in line with what I’d expect out of a smaller car with less performance and equipment.
The reliability watchdogs rate the S60 range above average, and since Volvo has been building this version of the S60 for a while, you can expect that most of the bugs have been worked out. The new powertrains are the only wildcard, because there’s not enough data on them yet. Among a group of vehicles where the badge does matter, the Volvo nameplate doesn’t hang on to resale value as tenaciously as a Mercedes or BMW. The upside to that is that you’ll get more car for your money, instead of being nickel-and-dimed for features and options.
The Volvo S60 is a real contender without being a follower. You get distinctive style and plenty of luxury for a reasonable price. The solid chassis and exceptional safety make the car feel like it will last a long time and protect you well. It’s pleasant to drive without being as capable as an enthusiast driver might wish, but there’s always enough performance to keep up. The S60 makes a strong case for being different in a good way.
Dan Roth is a Boston-based automotive journalist who’s been writing about cars for a decade. A parallel career as a video producer and creative professional helped open the door to car writing in 2006, when he started working with Autoblog on its long-running podcast and producing videos. Dan has been fascinated with cars his whole life, leading to a large collection of tools, a driveway that houses a broken Volvo, and many sketchbooks filled with designs for his own cars that will never get built.
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