What the hell has gotten into Volvo?
I ask this question while drifting the new S60 through a corner. In truth, I've over cooked the turn, made a dog's breakfast of it. The S60's 325 lb-ft of torque comes in handy here and all four corners start digging for traction. The S60 straightens out and squirts to the next corner where I repeat the experiment (err ... mistake). This car is seriously entertaining, even if I'm doing it wrong. I learn the course after six laps, which means I waited in line three times. Unless it was a purpose-built racer, tracking a Volvo wasn't something I'd want to repeat, and certainly not cue up to do so. Volvos are nice cars and all but there are better tools in the garage. The new S60 aims to change all that.
I could go on to explain how the K-Pax GT1 Volvo S60 won the SPEED World Challenge GT Championship the last two years. How the efforts of Andy Pilgrim and Randy Pobst helped propel the Volvo to victory. But that's a racecar built by the talented crew at K-Pax. Often, the street version is a far cry from its high-powered sibling.
There's a saying in the aircraft industry, something akin to "Looks good, flies good." Even a cursory glance at the S60 reveals a sexy shape. The car is well muscled, its curves and bulges lending to its sense of purpose. While you expect this from European-bred sport sedans, Volvo has always gone its own way regarding design. Its cars are instantly recognizable for their substantial shoulders and cubist leanings. The S60 ain't like that. It's sleek and well weighted and requires a few double takes to realize it is indeed a Volvo. The C-pillar of the all-new S60 stretches all the way to the taillamps-and the roofline is augmented by a new contour on the shoulders of the lower body sides, creating a double wave from the headlamps at the front to the taillamps at the rear. The S60 wears LED lights like war paint, outlining the front headlamps and side marker lights and rear lamps.
I mention how it reminds me of a coupe and Volvo's design team starts glowing like Swedish cherubs. Apparently that was one of the design goals, a sedan with coupe-like attributes, something designer Peter Horbury espoused since the new car's inception.
"There's little point playing the polite Englishman or reserved Swede if you want to make a lasting impression," says Horbury. "Translated into a car market packed with extrovert models from all the leading makers, this means that you have to sharpen your design pencil like never before if you want to be seen. That's why it's so important for the all-new S60 to be more daring than our previous models."
The "daring" part continues with powerplant. The 260-hp 2.5-liter, turbo five-cylinder of the previous S60 has been replaced by a more robust lump of metal. Underneath the hood's revised sheetmetal resides a turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine producing a healthy 300 hp and 325 lb-ft of twist at 2100 rpm, the same engine that is used in the significantly larger XC90. It's enough to propel the 3,900-pound car with Volvo's second-generation six-speed automatic Geartronic transmission to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds and on to a 130-mph electronically limited top speed. And while the new car has gained about 450 pounds, the new mill feels more refined and less agitated than its predecessor and certainly capable of greater output. The car's wheelbase has grown nearly two inches and benefits from slightly wider front/rear tracks. The new S60 will be offered in three chassis flavors: Touring, Dynamic and FOUR-C Active Chassis. In the U.S. the S60 comes standard with sportier Dynamic chassis with a slightly softer Touring suspension offered as a no-cost option. The optional FOUR-C Active Chassis system is just that, an active chassis. Various sensors monitor the car's behavior and revise damping rates accordingly. FOUR-C can be calibrated for comfort, sport or advanced performance depending on the driver's mood.
Volvo let its chassis engineers go wild. They uprated the S60 with a sharper steering ratio; beefier shocks, struts and springs; and polyurethane bushings to replace the previous rubber units. The result is hands down the best handling Volvo ever. I learn this while flanking the Colombia River in Oregon, on a road designed by an engineer who was clearly a driving enthusiast. Behind the wheel of a FOUR-C-equipped S60, I engaged in all manner of automotive shenanigans, from mile-long straights to off-camber 90-degree switchbacks to dusty farm trails to don't-hit-the-deer panic stops. While the previous S60 was capable, it didn't really feel like it was enjoying itself. The new S60 is clearly a new animal. It loves being driven hard. Though calibrated with moderate understeer I found I could move the car with throttle modulation, much like an Audi Quattro product. The S60 is augmented with Volvo's Dynamic Stability Traction Control (DSTC) system and incorporates a new driver-selectable sport setting that disables the anti-spin system for more active driving with an increase in oversteer.
The steering is much improved as well, although it still feels a bit "filtered" before reaching the steering wheel. Again, the sensation is very Audi-like.
While the all-new S60's interior has a more extroverted attitude than before, it continues to pay homage to its Scandinavian roots. Yes, it's a bit minimalistic but that's part of the charm.
"We've taken a significant step forward when it comes to the quality and craftsmanship of the interior," says Anders Sachs, who is in charge of colors and materials in the all-new S60. "We aimed to make every visible surface, whether leather, metal, wood or plastic, exclusive both to the hand and the eye."
Both high-tech and classic materials can be found inside from Graphite Aluminum to Urbane Wood. Both the front and rear seats are especially well contoured and can be trimmed in beige leather with black inserts, a seriously cool look we typically see only in custom interiors. The rear seats can also be folded down in a 40/60 split for especially large loads.
The all-new S60 also receives an all-new infotainment system. Information from the audio unit, navigation system and other functions is presented on a 7-inch color monitor positioned in the upper part of the center console. All the functions can be operated from the steering wheel or via controls located below the screen. The optional Multimedia Package ($2,700) adds a Volvo Premium Sound System, featuring Dolby Pro-Logic II Surround Sound, 650-watt amplifier, 12 premium speakers and MultiEQ XT by Audyssey. Apparently, this system kicks ass but I didn't use it. Driving the S60 was involving enough.
The optional Technology Package ($2,100) adds adaptive cruise control, collision warning with full autobrake, lane departure warning and Volvo's exclusive Pedestrian Protection system. The S60 has been trained to "see" the road in front of it, specifically human forms. It will plot their trajectory in relation to the car and intercede if the driver does not. Pedestrian Detection works best at speeds less than 25 mph and can automatically bring the car to a dead stop in fractions of a second. Volvo must have envisioned harried mothers with a car full of kids in the Disneyland parking lot. As she turns around to right little Timmy's juice cup an excited 9-year-old darts out from between cars into the S60 path. Although Mom never saw the kid, the S60 did and engaged the brakes.
Most of us will never activate Pedestrian Detection, preferring to pull the car over and stop before administering kiddie care/discipline. But should Pedestrian Detection help avoid one tragedy, it's worth the millions Volvo put into it. Moreover, it's likely we will be seeing more of this type of technology in future cars, cars that actually see and think.
Clad in 17-inch "Njord" alloys and Vibrant Copper paint, I can't help but think Volvo's new S60 has turned the proverbial corner. The car not only looks fabulous, it also behaves like a real sport sedan. Add Volvo's vaunted build quality and a 5-year/60,000 mile warranty with complimentary maintenance and the S60 becomes a genuine threat to the likes of Audi and BMW.
2011 Volvo S60 T6
Transverse front engine,all-wheel drive
3.0-liter I6, dohc, 24-valve, turbocharged
Six-speed Geartronic with adaptive program
MacPherson struts, antiroll bars (f), multilink independent, antiroll bar (r)
Four-piston calipers, 12.4-inch (f) / 11.9-inch (r) steel rotors
Length/Width/Height (in.): 182.2/73.4/58.4
Wheelbase: 109.3 in.
Weight: 3,901 lb
Peak Power: 300 hp @ 6500 rpm
Peak Torque: 325 lb-ft @ 2100 rpm
0-60 mph: 5.8 sec.
Top Speed: 130 mph (limited)