Volvo S60 an unexpected pleasure
With Volvo’s sterling reputation for safety innovation, it’s no surprise that its latest car, the 2013 S60, is just one of two that passed a stringent new crash test that replicates a head-on collision with a stationary object.
While other luxury automakers make sure that their cars have rain-sensing wipers, Volvo has you covered for a crash that others haven’t considered. But at least you won’t have to turn on the wipers when the heavens burst.
For those too lazy to turn on the wipers, you’ll be thrilled to know that rain-sensing windshield wipers and headlight washers are now standard on all S60s.
Of course, Volvo’s reputation for advanced safety design rests on such details as crash safety. Heck, they were the first to install a seat belt in a car. But such a reputation doesn’t endear you to those who crave excitement. In fact, it appeals to those who crave little excitement.
In recent years, Volvo has done much to change that, thanks to expressive styling and more powerful cars. But it’s still genuinely surprising to experience a base S60 and come away impressed, not to mention smitten.
The S60 was redesigned for 2011, and continues for 2013 in T5, T6 AWD and R-Design models.
The biggest difference comes down to engines and drive wheels. The base T5 model is front-wheel drive, although all-wheel drive is a new $2,000 option for 2013. A 250-horsepower five-cylinder engine is standard. T6 AWD models get standard all-wheel drive and a 300-hp six-cylinder engine. R-Design models up the horsepower to 325. A six-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually is the sole gearbox.
In addition, each model can be fitted in different trim levels. T5 models get exclusive Premier trim, which includes a power glass moonroof, leather seating surfaces, keyless drive, power passenger seat, auto-dimming rear view mirror and an Accessory cable. All models can be fitted in Premier Plus or Platinum, which adds even more goodies.
My advice – particularly for those who are concerned with safety – is to opt for the Technology Package, available on all S60 models. It includes headlights that automatically switch to low beam from high when opposing traffic is detected. The new “Road Sign Information” system displays speed limit signs on the instrument cluster. The package also includes adaptive cruise control, which automatically adjusts following distance when the cruise control is activated. If you’re about to hit something or someone, the car’s collision warning and pedestrian detection systems will brake to prevent it. Other features warn you if you wander out of your driving lane, follow too closely or are driving erratically.
All of this safety is impressive. But when Volvo supplied an S60 T5 AWD Premier for a week of driving, I looked upon it not with pleasure, but with resignation.
It lacked a couple items I expected for the price: satellite navigation and a rear-view camera. However, it did have something I never expected: a driving experience that’s close to perfect.
The car balances the dual demands of sport and comfort with an ease unknown in a Volvo. It’s neither underpowered nor overpowered, but can be quite aggressive if need be. Its fuel economy is commendable for a car equipped with all-wheel drive. The transmission is responsive, as is the steering, which has a pleasing linear feel.
Piloting the S60 is a delight. The ride is steady and stable, with a taut feel that never turns punishing. The cabin remains remarkably hushed, save for some slight wind noise along the side mirrors.
Handling aside, what makes this car so nice to drive is its remarkably restrained interior. It’s at once plush and spare, in the best Scandinavian design tradition.
The cabin itself is roomy up front. Rear seat passengers were happy, but wished for a little more legroom. Overall, seat comfort was very good.
Trunk space was adequate.
There are cars that are faster, or larger, or more fuel-efficient. But the S60 seems like more than a collection of parts. It has a clear point of view, a wholeness of spirit that’s rare in any new car.
And its price is very attractive for a luxury brand.
The S60 retains its quintessential Swedish style, with an understated personality that belies its true abilities.
It caught me totally by surprise and, if you’re among the uninitiated, it will do the same to you too.