The S60 fills the middle range in Volvo's lineup: It's larger than the compact S40, but not quite as large as the premium-luxury S80.
The high-performance S60 R features 300 horsepower and all manner of go-fast goodies.
For 2007, all S60 models benefit from a firmer, more performance-oriented suspension. Also for 2007, the sporty Volvo S60 T5 features the watch-dial instruments that were previously available only on the luxury-flagship S80 and high-performance S60 R.
Volvo has been a world leader in safety engineering since the mid-1950s and the S60 is stuffed with safety features and engineering.
Volvo S60 2.5T ($30,885); 2.5T AWD ($32,735); T5 ($32,735); R ($38,985)
The S60 R is distinguished from the other models by a longer, smoother nose housing a smaller, lower grille; and a larger air dam with a bigger central scoop, flanked by serious-looking side grilles to feed the big turbo and twin intercoolers.
Active Bi-Xenon headlights are now available on all S60 models. A mini-processor gathers data to optimize their beam pattern, and the beams can be turned up to 15 degrees in either direction.
For 2007, new colors and new wheels are mostly what separate 2007 models from last year's models. Volvo claims that the front grille and bumper have been aerodynamically refined for '07, but you'd need the observational skills of Sherlock Holmes to see the difference. Nor will you likely spot the redesigned outside mirrors, although you might appreciate their new integrated-turn-signal feature. The mirror-mounted signals automatically flash three times with light pressure on the turn signal stalk. Unfortunately, the new mirrors eliminate the puddle lights that were previously standard on all S60s.
The dashboard flows in a pleasant shape. Where available, attractive wood trim appears sparingly on the glovebox lid and on all four doors; while the sportier versions eschew wood for metallic trim.
New for 2007, aluminum inserts brighten the steering column stalks and steering-wheel-mounted switches. The quality of the material used to cover other surfaces is good. For 2007, a compass is built into the rearview mirror and the DSTC (stability and traction-control) shut-off has moved to the steering wheel stalk.
The standard gauges are attractive, with their flat-gray background, and easy to read. Switches are intuitive and easy to use.
For 2007, the T5 gets the watch dial instrument cluster introduced on the S80 and S60 R. The four blue-faced instruments are surrounded by grey rings with subtle blue hash marks. They feature clear, attractive gray numerals and thin red pointers on blue hubs.
Heating, ventilation and air conditioning controls are well designed and easy to operate, with big metaphoric controls to direct the airflow. Power-window buttons with auto-down are conveniently mounted on the door. Inside door handles are easy to grab.
The innovative radio controls take some familiarization to master. Changing preset channels involves turning a knob, rather than pressing a button, for example. Once understood, the system works well. The leather-wrapped steering wheel has controls for the audio system that makes operating it easier while driving.
The center console features a covered storage bin and cup holders that fit all standard sizes of beverage container. There's another mini cup holder on the center of the dash. The manual shift lever has a silver-colored plastic cover at its base that looks like silver-colored plastic.
The back seats require a duck of the head to get in. Once back there, the S60 offers good rear headroom, though taller adults find it short on legroom.
The trunk is roomy and deep and will hold a lot of small bags. However, Volvo had to make design concessions that constrict the trunk opening to carve the S60's swoopy shape, so loading big hard-sided cases might present a challenge. The rear seats are split 60/40 and fold down to carry long items. Fold down the right rear seat and front passenger seat, and you can carry something quite long.
Front-wheel-drive models exhibit some torque steer, especially with the more powerful engines. Stand on the gas and you'll feel a tug on the steering wheel. It's really no big deal, though, and you get used to it. Still, the S60 definitely engages the driver, because you have to pay attention to the steering when you're driving hard. It's extremely stable at high speeds, however.
The T5 produces prodigious thrust from its high-pressure turbocharger. And Volvo's turbocharged engines get good gas mileage. The T5 rates 21/27 mpg with the six-speed manual transmission.
We found the brakes on the soft side. We didn't feel thrown forward in the seat under hard braking as we have with other sports sedans. But braking was stable and the ABS was very smooth.
The S60 AWD steering is slightly heavier than it is in the front-drive models because of the weight of the all-wheel-drive system. The AWD steering also has a more on-center feel (less play, in other words). The ride is firmer on the all-wheel-drive version, which has stiffer shocks to handle the increased weight. Overall, we think the AWD model's improved traction and handling in the rain and snow are worthwhile for anyone who annually faces those conditions.
We drove over gravel roads in the S60 AWD, and found directional stability on loose surfaces excellent. Power in the S60 AWD is distributed between the front and rear wheels using a wet multi-plate clutch controlled by electronics according to driving conditions. With a steady throttle on dry pavement, about 95 percent of the power is transmitted to the front wheels; but up to 70 percent can go to the rear wheels when required. The balance changes seamlessly and instantaneously. Of course other automakers say that, too, but the difference in Volvo's Active-On-Demand system is the degree of instantaneous-ness, particularly with the new Instant Traction system, which pre-charges the AWD system to provide instantly available torque. When one wheel slips, the balance of power shifts away from that wheel, thus replacing the slip with grip. As a result, it's more secure and better stuck to the road when the weather gets nasty. Acceleration is also improved in slippery conditions. The narrower tires on the AWD model improve stability and handling in the slippery stuff, as well. This makes the S60 AWD an excellent choice for driving on snow and ice.
The S60 R is another animal altogether. It was designed and developed by Hans Nilsson, who's been a Volvo engineer for 26 years and races his own Volvo in 24-hour endurance races. Volvo let him alone to do what he knows how to do, and he did such a bang-up job they now call him the Czar of R. We tested the S60 R on the road course at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and it was a perfect day in a perfect car. The balance is brilliant, the engine train-like, the gearbox bulletproof and the brakes bomb-proof.
The R suspension is what's really special. Volvo says it's the most advanced active chassis on the market. A button on the dash allows three settings, Comfort, Sport, and Advanced, which mostly address the shock stiffness and engine management. There are distinct differences among them, and each performs exactly as defined by the buttons. No more compromises with the ride of your high-performance car: You have a suspension that's soft when you want it to be, and stiff when you need it to be. Up to 500 times a second, sensors measure things like longitudinal, lateral and vertical acceler
The Volvo S60 rides well and handles well. It feels stable at high speeds. The all-wheel-drive model provides excellent driver control on slippery surfaces. The sportier T5 and S60 R offer strong acceleration performance. Volvo is renowned for safety engineering and the S60 is fully equipped with active and passive safety features including a rigid safety cage.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Sam Moses filed this report from the Columbia River Gorge.