– Outstanding styling
– Tech and safety features
– Power, ride and handling
– Average rear legroom
– Simplistic interior styling
– Lacks gear paddle-shifters
Volvo is a bit of a forgotten brand in the Middle East. The Swedish firm is still in the process of making a name for themselves again since their heyday two decades ago. Ford recently sold Volvo to China’s Geely, but not before debuting what has to be the best car ever to come out of Sweden — the 2011 S60.
Falling in size somewhere between a compact and a midsize, the swoopy new S60 is a very pretty car, much more so than any of the cars it is likely to go up against, German or otherwise. Our maroon T6 tester even came with 18-inch smoked alloys and an optional metal-look body kit that gave the car a distinctive demeanour.
It was obvious that the aggressive roofline is going to affect cabin space, but it isn’t too bad. The front seats are power-adjustable, moderately-bolstered and offer good all-round space. The rear has adequate legroom and headroom, about as much as other compact cars, so the S60’s extra length isn’t much of an advantage here. There are no built-in hidden baby seats any more, as was the old Volvo tradition that is still carried on by their other models. Storage options include four covered cup-holders, a couple of cubbies, pockets in all doors and a space behind the “floating” centre-console controls. The luggage boot is of a good size, with split-folding rear seats too. The boot lid uses basic hinges, instead of hydraulic struts that would’ve saved space. But an excellent feature back there is a pop-up board to keep grocery bags in place, with a rubber band on it to hold down smaller items from rolling away.
The cabin isn’t the most eye-popping in design, but it is clean and ergonomic. The dashboard and entire door panels are all soft-touch materials, with some hard plastics relegated to lower parts of the dash. The leather upholstery in the T6 is beautifully textured, as are the snakeskin-effect soft door inserts. The “floating” console can be had in various trims, ours being aluminium, with pretty silver-plastic finishing on other surrounding bits.
There are enough features in the S60 to put it head-to-head with any luxury car out there. There’s the dial-controlled screen for the navigation, stereo, Bluetooth phone and other settings, with a pretty interface that is easy to use once you get he hang of it and even has decent voice controls. There is a very strong dual-zone automatic a/c, with rear vents mounted on the central B-pillars. There is a booming CD/MP3 stereo with USB support and 12 speakers. And there are the usual luxury features as well as some high-end ones, such as sunroof, turning HID headlights, cool gauges with LCD screens within them, front and side airbags, knee airbags, keyless start, front camera to check for cross-traffic, rear camera with obstacle detection, and a row of buttons to turn off a host of computerized driving safety aids. In fact, there is a whole telephone keypad on the dash, but it isn’t confusing once you figure out the layout of the buttons around it.
The T6 is powered by a 3.0-litre inline-6, good for an even 300 hp at only 5600 rpm, and a juicy 440 Nm of torque between 2100 and 4200 rpm. If this motor sounds like something out of a BMW, you’ll do well to know that it even performs like a BMW. We fired off a 0-100 kph run of 6 seconds flat in December weather. Aided by a 6-speed automatic feeding lag-free power to an all-wheel-drive system, all one has to do is mash the throttle and take off without drama. There is a ‘sport’ mode to hold the gears longer and make the air suspension firmer, but shifting gears manually isn’t satisfying and requires using the shifter, as there are no paddle-shifters. Of course, we remembered to use the ‘comfort’ mode too, and our overall fuel consumption came to a remarkable 11.5 litres/100 km, as indicated by the car’s trip computer. In fact, we never had to refuel during our entire 5-day test.
But to mistake the S60 T6 to be an economical family car would be a mistake. For it is a proper sports sedan, in terms of handling at least. Based on a front-wheel-drive platform with all-wheel-drive tacked on, the S60 behaves itself excellently on high-speed curves around town. The tyres are “only” 235/40 ones on 18-inch alloys, so we assume a lot of the ability in keeping the car planted stems from the electronically-adjustable suspension and the well-tuned all-wheel-drive system. The tyres just let out a little squeal as it reaches its limits on tighter turns, before gradually understeering. Oversteer seems impossible to induce, even under hard braking. And of course, the brakes themselves are very good.
But while Volvo rightly calls the S60 a sports sedan, they didn’t go all the way in making it the ultimate driver’s car. Aside from an automatic with no paddle-shifters, the steering provides only mild feedback at best. It did have an interesting feature where you could choose between three levels of power-steering firmness, but we just left it in the lightest setting, as the other ones are too firm. And there is no handbrake, replaced by an electronic button. On these fronts, a BMW 335i still does it better.
However, the effort Volvo put into the comfort side of the equation is superb. Even with 18-inchers, the S60 rides comfortably on most road surfaces, with only a hint of firmness, while also isolating the cabin from road and wind noise very nicely. And this is before we even mention the tech. The blind-spot monitor, lane-departure warning and adaptive cruise control all add to a leisurely driving experience on the highway where the Volvo blinks if there are cars in your blind spot, beeps if you leave your lane, and follows the speed of the car in front, even braking to a full stop and crawling in traffic if need be. And of course, it remains the only car in its price range to offer a pedestrian detection and automatic braking system, which they call City Safety, and it worked well during a track demo.
The all-new Volvo S60 T6 really is a damn good car. It certainly is better than many of the newer sports-sedan attempts we’ve seen, as long as you don’t intend to do drift battles and handbrake escapes. What Volvo excels in is also making the S60 a gadget-laden luxury car even better than many overpriced luxury-badged Germans. Why buy an anonymous Audi when you can buy a better-in-every-way Swede for the same price? This car is going on our recommended list.