2011 Volvo S60 AWD SedanPosted on January 9th, 2011
Forward-thinking sport sedan
By Nina Russin
One could argue that the 2011 S60 is Volvo’s most significant car to date. The mid-sized sport sedan is the first Volvo to feature pedestrian detection: the newest enhancement to the city safety system that debuted on the XC60. The radar and camera-based technology detects pedestrians in the vehicle’s path and automatically deploys the brakes, stopping the car completely at speeds below 20 miles-per-hour.
Volvo’s newest flagship competes against some formidable German and Asian marques in the largest luxury passenger car segment. Going head-to-head against the BMW 3-Series, Audi A4, Acura TL and Infiniti G37, there is no margin for error.
In addition, the S60 roll-out in the fall of 2010 coincided with Zhejiang Geely’s corporate takeover. Volvo’s transition from being part of Ford to one of China’s largest automotive manufacturers raised more than a few eyebrows.
Personally, I think it’s a match made in heaven. If one looks beyond centuries of politics, traditional Chinese culture espoused a remarkably similar outlook on man and his role in the universe to modern Sweden.
The Chinese philosopher Confucius believed that men who followed the example of nature in their personal relationships would lead full and rewarding lives.
Swedish architecture is based on the idea that nature is the foundation of all good design. What applies to architecture also holds true for automobiles and furniture. Cars become the interface between man and his environment. Their role is somewhat Confucian. What could be more Chinese than that?
Peppy turbocharged engine with standard all-wheel drive
The heart of Volvo’s newest sedan is a 300 horsepower six-cylinder engine and a six-speed automatic transmission. Turbocharging enhances engine efficiency, making peak torque available at 2100 rpm. The sedan accelerates from zero-to-sixty miles-per-hour in under six seconds.
Base price for the S60 is $37,700, not including an $850 destination charge. A convenience package on the test car adds xenon headlamps and a power moonroof ($1500). Pedestrian detection is part of a safety package which also includes adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning ($2100).
The four-C chassis, a real-time suspension damping system, costs $750, while metallic exterior paint adds $550, bringing the price as tested to $43,450.
This week was my second opportunity to get behind the wheel of the 2011 Volvo S60 sedan, having driven it last fall at a media preview in Oregon. While the Oregon event offered ample seat time, I was anxious to spend a week living in the car, to see how well its interior and cargo system would function for my active lifestyle.
I should admit up front that when it comes to evaluating Swedish cars, mine might not be the most objective opinion. My husband and I have owned three Volvos including the C30 which currently sits in our driveway.
Back in my formative years, my mentor was a man named David Niland: an architect at the University of Cincinnati who was a close friend of my parents. David lived by three credos:
Credo number one: White is the only color that matters. Any design that doesn’t look good in white is crappy design.
Credo number two: Everything Swedish is good simply because it’s Swedish.
Credo number three: All food tastes better with a dollop of whipped cream on top.
David and his wife, Mary, lived in an all-white house which he had designed and built, surrounded by two all-white dogs and half a dozen almost all-white lilac point Siamese cats.
They owned a succession of Volvos, all with white exteriors. Since the Niland house was in a rural area on the outskirts of the city, the Volvos had to take David through rain, ice, sleet and snow on his daily 50-mile commute to and from the University. To my knowledge, David never missed a day of work because his car wasn’t up for the journey. That’s a pretty good endorsement for Volvo cars if you ask me.
Fun in a practical package
The new S60 is a sportier car than the model it replaces. Exterior styling is edgier, and the passenger cabin is more driver-focused.
The steering gear is faster than the former model and the steering weight slightly heavier. Springs and bushings are stiffer. Volvo, which continues to fight a rather stodgy image from earlier models, calls the new car “naughty.”
I like to think of it as fun in a practical package. As much as I love sports cars, they aren’t practical for active lifestyles. While sedans don’t have the cargo versatility of crossovers or SUVs, they hold more people and their trunks, if equipped with pass-throughs, can handle skis, snowboards, and other long items.
Standard all-wheel drive sends engine power to the wheels with the best traction, enhancing performance on rain and snow-covered roads. The S60 tows up to 3300 pounds: just short of our 3500 pound ALV standard.
None of these practical features in any way compromise the driving experience, which is, in a word, delicious. The steering wheel is just the right diameter; the bolstered seats, supportive without feeling confining.
Center stack controls tilt slightly toward the driver for easier access. Redundant audio and Bluetooth controls on the steering wheel are configured to minimize driver distraction.
A “my car” feature enables the driver to adjust lock and unlock patterns, performance characteristics and safety systems to his specifications.
As technical as this may sound, driving the car is completely intuitive. No need to spend hours pouring through a 300 page owner’s manual before getting behind the wheel. Just blip the throttle and go.
Volvo’s light-pressure turbo produces smooth linear acceleration. There is no noticeable turbo lag. What the driver will notice is good highway fuel economy, and surprisingly little parasitic power loss at altitude.
Visibility to the front and sides is quite good. It’s easy to see past the B pillar to monitor traffic on the left. The rear pillars are thick, although side mirrors do a good job of minimizing blind spots in the area.
Still I would recommend Volvo’s optional blind spot monitoring system ($700): it illuminates a LED in the side mirror when vehicles to either side pass through the sedan’s blind spots.
The S60 is available with three wheel and tire combinations: wheel sizes range from 17 to 18 inches. Both provide ample contact patches with the ground for firm braking and sharp cornering.
During the test drive, I kept the suspension is sport mode. While I enjoyed the stiffer settings on the smooth roads around Phoenix, buyers who purchase the four-C chassis can opt for comfort mode when navigating uneven pavement on city streets.
Engineers did a good job minimizing noise intrusion inside the passenger compartment, enabling riders in both rows to converse with ease.
Classic Scandinavian interior
The Swedes have a talent for using the natural beauty of materials to create timeless designs. Interplay between the color and texture of leather, brushed aluminum and composite materials used in the S60 create a warm spacious interior.
The sedan comes with leather upholstery only. While this is the choice of most luxury car buyers, I’d like to see a technical cloth fabric as a no-cost option. Stain-resistant cloth is much easier to clean after a day on the trails, and doesn’t get as hot in temperature extremes.
Volvo’s floating center stack creates a storage shelf to the back, handy for small parcels or a purse. Rotary knobs are large enough to manipulate with gloves.
The optional moonroof floods the interior with light. At night, both rows are illuminated with overhead lighting.
Tech-savvy buyers will appreciate standard 12-volt, USB and auxiliary ports for recharging cell phones and plugging in portable music devices.
Sport-style seats in both rows keep passengers secure and comfortable. The sedan’s tall floor tunnel minimizes legroom in the second-row middle position, so two will be more comfortable in back than three.
Vents on the B pillars circulate air through the back of the cabin, keeping second-row passengers comfortable in temperature extremes.
The S60’s spacious trunk can easily hold luggage, camping equipment and the weekly groceries. A pass-through accommodates longer items such as skis or snowboards.
The Volvo S60 comes with front, side and side curtain airbags, daytime running lamps, city safety, antilock brakes, traction and dynamic stability control. I can say from personal experience that the crash boxes in Volvo bumpers can survive minor impacts without damage.
Volvo’s standard factory warranty includes four years of roadside assistance.
Likes: A stylish, sporty midsized sedan with a groundbreaking pedestrian detection system.
Dislike: Tall floor tunnel limits legroom in the second-row middle position.
Model: S60 T6 AWD sedan
Base price: $37,700
As tested: $43,450
Horsepower: 300 Hp @ 5600 rpm
Torque: 325 lbs.-ft. @ 2100 rpm
Zero-to-sixty: 5.8 seconds
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 18/26 mpg city/highway
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