When you think of Sweden, what comes to mind? Tall blondes, midnight sun, aquavit, moose, fish--lots of fish. How about world power? No? It's not true now, but it was once. From the middle 1600s to the early 1700s, Sweden was a serious player in Europe, its territory extending all the way through Finland into Estonia and Livonia and down into the Teutonic states and Denmark. Sweden ruled.

Now think of Volvo. World power? Maybe not now, but the way in which the Swedish firm is expanding its reach into territories once dominated by the German automakers indicates a rapid rise to prominence in the sports luxury segments. The S80, new V70 and particularly the S60 are cases in point.

The S60 is the sport sedan Volvo fans in particular and performance enthusiasts in general have been waiting for--even though they might not have realized it. Based on Volvos' new P2 platform (also used for the S80 and V70 series), Volvo's goal was to create a performance-based sedan that was quick, nimble and markedly Swedish. The S60 is all that and more.

How quick depends on which engine configuration you choose. All three models--2.4, 2.4T and T5--are built around an aluminum alloy inline five-cylinder 2.4-liter transversely mounted engine. The naturally aspirated base model outputs 160 bhp and 170 lb-ft of torque and is mated to a five-speed manual transmission (automatic is optional). The mid-range light-pressure turbo 2.4 is rated at 197 bhp and 210 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed automatic is standard; the Geartronic automatic is optional. At the top is the high-pressure T5 turbo variant producing 247 bhp and 243 lb-ft of torque. The five-speed manual is standard on the T5; the Geartronic is optional.

The nimbleness of the S60 comes from a variety of factors. The body is 20 in. shorter than the S80, but the wheelbase is only 2 1/2 in. less, which not only gives the car very short front and rear overhangs, it also provides for a balanced weight distribution of 57/43, front to rear, and a minimal moment of inertia which results in improved directional stability. The track is the same as the V70 at the front (61.1 in.) and the S80 at the rear (60.9 in.), giving the S60 the widest track in its class. In addition, the S60's torsional rigidity is closer to a coupe's than a sedan's with body stiffness exceeding 20k Nm/degree.

The suspension setup is shared across the P2 platform and is comprised of MacPherson struts with lower wishbones in the front and Volvo's independent multi-link system at the rear. Already proven on the V70, the S60's suspension easily controls the sedan's lower weight, making it a very tossable and responsive car without sacrificing ride quality or comfort. Stability Traction Control is optional on the base model. The 2.4T offers either STC or Dynamic Stability Traction Control as an option, while on the T5, STC is standard, with DSTC optional. (Note: STC monitors drive wheelspin and reduces the risk of losing traction. DSTC monitors traction at all four wheels and improves cornering stability.) The T5 is also available with a Sport Chassis suspension setup, giving the top-of-the-range model even crisper handling.

How does it stop? Very well, since the S60 is equipped with a set of decent-szied rotors: 12-in. ventilated discs in front and 11.34-in. solid discs at the rear. ABS and EBD (electronic brake-force distribution) are standard on all S60s.

But is the S60 distinctively Swedish? Hey, it's still a Volvo and, accordingly, has noticeable touches from both the past and the present. The strong shoulder and "V" hood lines are reminiscent of the mid-1960s 122 series; the sloping roofline and "C" pillar reflect the C70; the forward passenger compartment creates an aggressive stance like that on the new V70; and the rear end mimics the S80. The S60, however, pulls it off better, keeping it more in tune with the vehicle's scaled-down size. It's a car that looks equally good standing still or moving quickly down the road. The low Cd value of 0.28 keeps the wind noise to a low level, creating a very quiet interior.

The inside is just as distinctive with either a Comfort (three rear seats) or Sport (two rear seats) interior. The T5 has the eight-way adjustable power seats for both driver and passenger; the 2.4T has the power seat for the driver; and the 2.4 has mechanical seats for the front. Both seat versions are excellent examples of form following function, with both featuring side bolsters that provide more than adequate lateral support without impinging on your shifting arm. The power seats, however, offer the most comfort due to their ability to make a multitude of micro adjustments. The Sport interior has nifty styling touches such as brushed aluminum door handle inserts and glovebox accents and two-toned seats. The Comfort package has the usual wood accents.

The dash on all three models features large, easy to read gauges. The base model 2.4 has a manually controlled climate system, while the 2.4T and T5 host Volvo's Electronic Climate Control System which features somewhat overly large dials/buttons. All S60s have a pre-wired in-dash phone pad. The stereo system varies between models--2.4/2.4T: in-dash cassette/six speakers; T5: in-dash CD/eight speakers. All utilize Volvo's base AM/FM stereo which has the 20-memory station function on a dial--a function I have yet come to like as I can never remember which way to turn the knob. An in-dash four-CD changer with 13 speakers is available for all S60 models. The 2.4T and T5 also come with the audio controls integrated into the steering wheel--nice touch.

One option I'd happily pass on is the dash-mounted cupholder which is placed directly over the CD/Cassette slot--we had one on our long-term S40 and it was more annoyance than help. The S60 now thankfully comes with two cupholders in the center console. Another neat spiff is the grocery-bag holder in the trunk. Flip up the smaller false bottom of the trunk floor--which makes the trunk space smaller--and you'll find straps to fasten your cargo with, thus preventing grocery (or other) sacks from rolling around and spilling their contents.

The coolest interior item is the Spaceball shifter, which is found only in the T5 with manual transmission. Capped by an ergonomically correct leather-covered shift knob, the Spaceball is otherwise all aluminum alloy. The shift gates are covered by a smooth plate, with gear markings engraved on the surrounding aluminum bracket. It looks a little disconcerting at first, but the Spaceball's shifts are smooth and effortless and the gates are easily hit every time. For those who prefer clutchless shifting, Volvo's Geartronic automatic transmission works just as well--although it doesn't look as cool as the Spaceball. With a quick flick of the wrist, the Geartronic shifts down or up with a minimum of electronic delay.

This wouldn't be a Volvo review if I didn't mention safety. As expected, the S60 is loaded with passive and active safety systems, including safety-cage passenger compartment construction; three-point seatbelts with pyrotechnic pretensioners in all five seating positions; whiplash protection system (WHIPS); side impact airbags (SIPS Airbag); an inflatable head curtain (IC); driver and passenger front airbags; top tether child seat anchorages; and the ISO-FIX child/baby seat fixation system.

Volvo is also about environment, and the S60's interior reflects this. Anti-allergy certified fabrics are used to reduce health concerns, as is a chrome-free process used to treat all leather. A pollen filter system is also standard, and a new optional Interior Air Quality System (IQAS) helps prevent unpleasant odors from reaching the cabin interior via a sensor which registers outside air impurities and activates recirculation of the cabin air which is cleaned by an active carbon filter--something I need when driving on the I5 past the cattle yards of Coalinga. Volvo has also incorporated a radiator with a plus, Premair, which actually helps reduce ground-level ozone by passing the ground-level ozone over the radiator core and through a catalytic conversion.

I drove all the model variants, starting with the T5 first and ending with the non-turbo'd version. The T5 is everything you'd expect it to be. With 247 bhp maxing out at 5200 rpm, it has plenty of power. It also has more than enough grunt with its 243 lb-ft of torque available at a low 2400 rpm, allowing for quick off-the-line starts and sudden bursts of acceleration in nearly every gear.

The T5 comes standard with 7x16 in. wheels; however, the version I drove had the optional 17-in. wheels wrapped in 225/45-17 ContiSport Contacts along with the Sport suspension package. I didn't get to drive on seriously twisty roads (Sweden has to have some, somewhere), but I did manage to take a few autoroute on- and offramps at rather amazing speeds--amazing for a 3,146-lb sedan, that is--and not once did I scare my co-driver, nor the president of Volvo Cars of North America in the back seat. The sport-equipped S60 T5 handled that well.

I got into the light-pressure Geartronic-equipped S60 as we began the acceleration, rapid lane-changing and braking tests held on a defunct airstrip (Sweden has lots of these). The program was simple: floor it, weave through the increasingly spaced cones, then brake to a sudden stop. Acceleration was nearly as quick off the line as the T5--while it produces 50 bhp less than the T5, the 2.4T does have 210 lb-ft of torque available at 1800 rpm. And even without the sport setup, the 2.4T glided effortlessly through the cones, allowing for increased speeds as the cones became further apart. Braking was almost frightening as the big rotors hauled the car to a very abrupt, albeit always controlled, stop. I managed to squeeze in two runs before heading back to Stockholm.

It was after lunch when my co-driver and I realized we'd probably done the testing in the wrong order, saving the "boring" version for last. Boy, were we wrong: The base model S60 was anything but boring. While acceleration from a full stop was decidedly slower than the 2.4T (never mind the T5), the naturally aspirated S60's powerband delivered more than I expected. Both of us remarked on the smoothness and responsiveness of the 2.4 powerplant. It's a car that is definitely worth its $26,500 sticker price.

Volvo's new S60 is set to invade, if not gradually conquer, the German-dominated sports sedan market. All three versions give the competition--Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class--something to worry about. Volvo is expecting the 2.4T to be its best-selling S60 model in the U.S with a list price of $29,800. For my money, though, I'd splurge a bit and ante up for the more powerful $31,800 T5. Whichever model you choose, you're guaranteed to get a well-built, fun-to-drive sport sedan that can kick butt--German or otherwise.

Volvo Performance Concept Car
A study in high-performance, the Volvo PCC was developed parallel to the new S60 to showcase innovative technical solutions and a new design structure. From the front, the PCC displays a new front spoiler dominated by two additional air intakes with satin-silver finished grilles which direct air flow to the radiator and front brakes. On each side, the front spoiler features a stability enhancing aerofoil on the lower lip which runs to the front wheel housing and then follows the bottom rail line to the rear wheel housing, where it is integrated into the rear spoiler. The rear bumper has a satin-silver center panel which separates the duel inset rectangular exhaust pipes.

The exclusive Laser Blue paint features a "flop effect" which causes the color to shimmer and change with lighting conditions.

The interior also reflects the car's sporty aura with deeply contoured seats upholstered in soft leather with nubuck suede inlays. The pedals are made of ribbed aluminum, and the gauges are an exclusive shade of blue and are set in a panel surrounded by more nubuck suede.

Under the hood is a 300-bhp 2.4-liter five cylinder producing 295 lb-ft of torque and mated to a six-speed manual gearbox.

What makes the PCC even more unique is its Four-C chassis, a continuously controlled chassis system which collects and processes data on the car's movements every alternate millisecond (about 500 times per second) and adjusts the damping characteristics accordingly. The info comes from the height sensors and body-mounted accelerometers that measure the position and movements of each wheel and the car's body. Volvo's multiplex processor system also supplies information to the dampers, helping the system foresee events, such as hard braking, before they actually occur.

The Four-C features three chassis modes which can be selected by the driver via a button on the instrument panel. Sport, the normal mode, is optimized for normal driving with a well-balanced mix of comfort and performance. The Comfort mode increases the body's isolation from the road. The Advanced Sport mode completely alters the car's character, giving top priority to spirited driving and road holding.

The PCC is also equipped with Volvo's DSTC system (it's disengaged in Advanced Sport mode) and an electronically managed all-wheel-drive system.

No word if Volvo will actually produce the PCC, but all of its systems will eventually find their way on to production models in the future.

--SC

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