The Volvo S60 combines excellent performance with outstanding safety features. Its interior is handsome, and the available leather has a high-quality look and feel. Last year, Volvo firmed up the suspension for more sure-footed handling. The S60 feels like a tight European sedan and still does a good job of smoothing out rough roads.
The 2008 Volvo S60 comes in 2.5T and all-wheel-drive 2.5T AWD versions plus a sporty, more powerful T5 model. (The limited-production S60 R has been discontinued.)
For 2008, all trim levels offer new option packages with premium sound systems and other popular equipment, and an auxiliary audio input, MP3 capability, and WMA CD readability come standard on all models. For 2008, Volvo S60 T5 comes standard with leather sport seats, a power glass sunroof, five-speed Geartronic transmission, satellite radio preparation, a compass, and 17-inch Cassiopeia wheels.
Volvo is renowned for its leadership in safety technology and the S60 comes with a comprehensive array of safety features.
Volvo S60 2.5T ($30,855); 2.5T AWD ($32,735); T5 ($33,985)
S60 has a hunched-shoulder look to the rear flanks, suggesting a hockey player ready to lead a charge up the ice.
The front grille and fascia were face-lifted slightly for 2007, improving aerodynamics and adding a touch of visual crispness, particularly below the bumper. It's a subtle change, but we like it. At the same time the outside mirrors were redesigned to incorporated integrated turn signals that automatically flash three times with light pressure on the turn signal stalk. There are no further changes in appearance for 2008.
Active Bi-Xenon headlamps are available on the T5 as part of the Advanced Package. A mini-processor gathers data to optimize their beam pattern, and the beams can be turned up to 15 degrees in either direction.
The dashboard flows in a pleasant shape. On Premium Package cars attractive wood trim appears sparingly on the glovebox lid and on all four doors; while sportier versions of the S60 eschew wood for metallic trim. Aluminum inserts brighten the steering column stalks and the steering wheel hub. The quality of the material used to cover other surfaces is good.
The standard gauges are attractive, with their flat gray background, and easy to read; while the switches are intuitive and easy to use. The T5 features the same watch-dial instruments used in the flagship S80. The four blue-faced instruments are surrounded by gray 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. 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.
Getting into the back seat requires a duck of the head. Once back there, the S60 offers good rear headroom, but larger adults will find it short of legroom.
The trunk is roomy and deep and will hold a lot of small bags. Putting big boxes into it might present a challenge, however. To carve the S60's swoopy shape, Volvo had to make design concessions that constrict the trunk opening. The rear seats are split 60/40 and fold down for greater cargo capacity. The front passenger seat also flips down; fold down the right rear seat and front passenger seat, and it will accommodate something quite long, such as a ladder.
High-speed stability is extremely good. Front-wheel-drive models exhibit some torque steer under hard acceleration. Stand on the gas and you'll feel a tug on the steering wheel. It's especially noticeable on the T5 with its more powerful engine. 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.
The T5 produces prodigious thrust from its high-pressure turbocharger. Yet it rates an EPA-estimated 18/26 mpg City/Highway.
We found the S60 brakes on the soft side, but braking was stable. When activated, the ABS was very smooth.
The steering is slightly heavier in the 2.5T AWD because of the weight of the all-wheel-drive system. It also has a more on-center feel (less play, in other words). The ride is firmer on the all-wheel-drive model, 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 2.5T AWD, and found directional stability on loose surfaces excellent. Power in the 2.5T AWD is distributed between the front and rear wheels using a wet multi-plate clutch controlled by electronics that monitor driving conditions. With a steady throttle on dry pavement, about 95 percent of the power is transmitted to the front wheels; but up to 50 percent can go to the rear wheels when required. The balance changes seamlessly and instantaneously. When one wheel slips, the balance of power shifts away from that wheel, thus replacing the slip with grip. In other words, it's more secure and better stuck to the road when the weather gets nasty.
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 offers 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; with nctd.com staff reports.