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2012 Volvo S60 Expert Reviews

Expert Reviews

2012 Volvo S60

Sam Moses
© 2012

We said in our review of the redesigned 2011 Volvo S60 that it was a sports sedan that does it all. Well, not quite. The 2012 S60 R-Design, added to the lineup, does quite a bit more, in the areas of speed, handling and style, both exterior and interior.

The inline 6-cylinder S60 T6 AWD has been selling very well since its introduction last year, including 40 percent to women over the years, according to Volvo. Because it was all new for 2011, the S60 returns unchanged for 2012, but redesigned T5 and R-Design models have joined the lineup.

The S60 R-Design raises T6 horsepower from 300 to 325 hp, and torque from 325 foot-pounds to 354. This drops the 0-60 acceleration time from 5.8 seconds to 5.5. The sporty R-Design has a sleeker nose, firmer suspension, 18-inch wheels, more seat bolstering, unique steering wheel, and racier instrumentation.

The five-cylinder T5 front-wheel-drive model returns after two years away, with an all-new engine making 250 hp, a 6-speed automatic (replacing a 5-speed), better fuel mileage and a lower price.

Volvo suggests the S60 competes with the BMW 335i and Audi A4. It costs thousands less.

The Volvo S60 has beautiful lines that are carefully drawn. It's stylish, clean and sophisticated. Same with the interior, which features standard leather in the T6 and aluminum trim that looks like sculpture in some spots. The dashboard and center stack, with the optional 7-inch display screen, make the driver feel successful and in command.

The chassis delivers excellent handling. The all-wheel-drive T6 offers secure cornering and even the front-wheel-drive T5 features a system called Corner Traction Control by Torque Vectoring, which moves torque to the outside wheel/wheels to help steer the car around a turn and reduce understeer.

The S60 suspension was developed on old roads in the UK. The 2011 S60 redesign got shorter, stiffer springs, firmer bushings, more travel in the shock absorbers, and a new steering column with faster steering ratio, using front MacPherson struts and rear multi links. The T6 uses Volvo's Dynamic Chassis, while the T5 uses the Touring Chassis, the difference being in the stiffness of bushings, springs and dampers; but each chassis is available on the other car, should you want a soft T6 or firm T5.

In the S60 T6 there's also the optional Four-C active chassis offering Comfort, Sport and Advanced settings. The S60 R-Design has no settings, you get what it comes with, which is firmer than the Advanced setting on the S60 with Four-C. The S60-R pushes the limit of stiffness, but for Volvo enthusiasts won't cross it.

The T6 engine is a 3.0-liter turbocharged intercooled inline six-cylinder, making 300 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque at a low 2100 rpm. It's wonderfully smooth and quick when passing on two-lanes. It gets an EPA-estimated 18 City and 26 Highway miles per gallon. The pumped up S60-R gets the same fuel economy rating.

The new T5 engine is a 2.5-liter inline five-cylinder, iron block with aluminum cylinder liners, intercooled turbocharger, making an impressive 250 horsepower with 266 foot-pounds of torque, plus a feature that gives 295 foot-pounds of torque for 10 seconds. Zero to 60 mph can be accomplished in 6.8 seconds. Volvo estimates the T5 will get 20 city, 30 highway miles per gallon, and costs the 2012 S60 T5 costs thousands less than the prior model similarly equipped. The T5 uses a new 6-speed automatic. We think the T5 offers good value, considering its power, safety engineering, comfort and style.

The S60 R-Design makes 25 more horsepower and 29 more foot-pounds of torque than the T6, thanks to ECM programming for more boost, fuel, and sharper throttle response. It's quite noticeable. We drove the S60 T6 on the track at Oregon Raceway Park and the S60-R at Thunderhill in California, and the S60-R clearly runs harder. For the track, it's a good thing the suspension is stiffer. Despite Torque Vectoring, it still understeers when cornered at the limit (meaning the front tires lose grip before the rear tires).

Volvo has broken new ground in safety yet again. There's an optional system called Pedestrian Detection, which brings the car to a halt at any speed below 22 mph, without the driver's involvement, when a pedestrian is in the vehicle's path.

The S60 carries Volvo's Safe and Secure warranty plan, with free scheduled maintenance for the first 5 years or 50,000 miles, including wear and tear coverage and roadside assistance.

Model Lineup

Volvo S60 T5 ($31,150); T6 AWD ($38,450); T6 AWD R-Design ($42,950)

Walk Around

The chief designer of the S60 says that his mission was to “pump up the volume,” to make it look more like a coupe. Mission accomplished, we'd say. Gone are the days when Volvo styling reflected Scandinavian conservative practicality.

The Volvo S60 is as sleek and stylish as sedans come, with practicality redefined in today's world. Great care went into the details, for example the symmetrical angles of the trapezoidal air intakes in the front fascia, two in the corners under the headlights, and the long horizontal intake at the bottom of the seamless nose. The headlights mirror those shapes, and the tidy grille is perfectly appropriate to the small size of the car's forward-leaning face. Small vertical trapezoidal LED parking lights snuggle up against the grille.

There are no bulging fender flares, no strutting to flaunt horsepower. Smooth lines from the front fenders to rear, where the hips meet the graceful coupe roofline. The only chrome on the side of the car is a thin strip surrounding the windows and stating the grace of their outline. The standard T6 wheels are split seven-spokes, nice but we've seen better from Volvo.


The snug and comfortable leather seats in the Volvo S60 T6 are gorgeous in Beechwood Brown. Some of the shapes inside, for example the trim on the doors could be metal sculpture. Shimmer Graphite aluminum inlays, they call it, which sounds better than slightly shiny trim. Lovely little touches, such as strips of Beechwood Brown leather over the seatback pockets.

The non-leather T-Tec upholstery in the T5 is really nice, and offers a healthy savings over leather.

The S60 interior is well thought out, from cupholders to storage compartments. Volvo did this thinking-out over many years of refining interior practicality. The instrumentation is clean and stylish like it's always been, the tach and speedo having a black background, white lettering, red needles and brushed metal rings. The headliner is a rich fabric.

At the rear, the trunk is a spacious 12 cubic feet, with enclosed hinges and a pass-through to the 60/40 rear seats. There are 2.1 inches more rear legroom than the previous S60, with a longer wheelbase but the same overall length. But that's still only 33.5 inches of rear legroom. The S60 is a sports sedan, not a roomy one.

One of our two test models had the Premium, Technology, Multimedia and Climate Packages, totaling $7100. So we had a nice big power moonroof to add airiness to the interior, 650-watt Dolby Surround Sound with 12 speakers, rearview camera and navigation system, among quite a few other things. The rearview camera screen is the 7-inch navigation screen, and it's split, angled in the center to give a view off to the sides of the car.

The navigation system worked well for us, with its 7-inch screen in the top center of the dash. It has far more options and capabilities than we were able to try out, driving from the Oregon wine country east to the high desert, for a few laps at Oregon Raceway Park to further test the cornering and brakes. The nav system wasn't confusing, at least.

The screen also displays information from the new DCI, or Driver Control Interface, including audio settings. Functions can be operated by a thumbwheel on the right steering spoke, or with buttons on the center stack.

Volvo invented that center stack that's like a thin wall with storage space behind it. The face of the wall is like a neat keyboard, with dials and buttons mostly for radio tuning that are easy to understand and use.

The Technology Package includes pedestrian detection with full auto brake, adaptive cruise control, collision warning with full auto brake, distance alert, alert driver control, and lane departure warning. Sometimes it feels like Volvo overkills with safety systems. Engineers burn the midnight oil to find new ways to mitigate the driver's errors in (take over) the control of his or her car, while barraging him or her with information.

Pedestrian Detection brings the car to a halt at any speed below 22 mph, without the driver's involvement, when a pedestrian is in the vehicle's path. Sounds good. Although we ran into the dummy named Junior during an actual test. Because of raindrops on the windshield, we were told. We've also noticed that BLIS (Blind Spot Information System) sometimes thinks raindrops are cars.

Driving Impressions

The Volvo S60 T5 gets an EPA-estimated 20/30 mpg City/Highway and, according to Volvo Cars of North America, can accelerate from 0-60 mph in 6.8 seconds.

The S60 T6's 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder makes 300 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque over a broad range, from a low 2100 rpm up to 4200 rpm. When you floor it to pass on a two-lane, as we did on remote Oregon roads, it's very satisfying: quick and smooth. You can't ask for much neater and safer passing. You can find more awesome acceleration, but at 5.8 seconds from 0 to 60, according to Volvo, the T6 looks real good in the affordable real world. Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 18/26 mpg.

Take the S60 R-Design with 325 horsepower on those same roads, and passing gets even better. There's more torque too, but it comes in a narrower band, 3000-3600 rpm. Zero to 60 mph can be accomplished in 5.5 seconds, according to Volvo. Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 18/26 mpg. Volvo says the new S60 R-Design is not intended to compete with the BMW M3 and Audi S4. Those cars are faster and ought to be, for their price.

The 6-speed automatic transmission uses a console lever, with a manual mode. This is the sportiest Volvo ever, yet there are no paddles to shift by, because, Volvo says, their customers haven't asked for them. Plus it would cost a lot in safety certification, changes to the steering column, etc. In the S60 R-Design, paddles are sorely missed, especially since the shift-lever/center console ergonomics are awkward.

The S60 was tested on old roads in the UK, and the Dynamic suspension developed there. In 2011, shorter stiffer springs and stiffer bushings than before. More travel in the shock absorbers. New suspension components, working with front MacPherson struts and rear multi links, and a quicker steering ratio.

We were fine with the standard Dynamic Chassis, on the road. Our T6 gave nothing but pleasure, and proved that it can handle rough surfaces while cornering tightly. It felt solid without feeling heavy, and was precise.

For those who'd rather have a softer ride than precise cornering, there is the Touring chassis, standard on the T5 and available on the T6.

A more sophisticated choice for the T6 is Volvo's FOUR-C, or Continuously Controlled Chassis Concept, which is active, meaning sensors change the settings depending on the road and driving style. The driver can set Comfort, Sport and Advanced.

The S60-R uses just one setting, which is firmer than Advanced on the Four-C. Even that very firm tuning was okay on the road. But it's for Volvo enthusiasts who know what they're getting, not for the relaxed pace of city driving. Specifically, the S60-R has 15mm shorter and 15-percent stiffer springs; monotube rear shocks replacing twin tubes; stiffer rear bushings, thicker front antiroll bar, and a front strut tower brace.

For all models there's a new system called Corner Traction Control by Torque Vectoring, which moves torque to the outside wheels to help steer the car around a turn, meaning it reduces understeer. We still managed to find big understeer on the Thunderhill track with the S60-R, on at least one corner where even racecars often understeer. Curiously, among the 15 or 20 automotive journalists driving that day, none that we asked felt the stability control come on, to correct understeer. Maybe the threshold is way way up there.

Also, the brakes faded on most of the hard-driving journalists. They smoked on us during our second two-lap sprint, but not after we adjusted our technique and didn't ask so much of the pedal. It will be highly unlikely for the brakes to be used that hard on the road, even with the S60-R.

The Volvo S60 hits the mark where it aims. Its styling is beautiful, its leather and aluminum interior satisfying, and its function nearly flawless. Great power and cornering with all-wheel drive, with unmatched safety. The T5 is a great value with a ton of performance, the T6 good value with more performance, and ditto the R, on a higher rung. The S60 carries Volvo's Safe and Secure warranty plan, with free scheduled maintenance for the first 5 years or 50,000 miles, including wear and tear coverage and roadside assistance. correspondent Sam Moses filed this report after his test drives of Volvo S60 models in Oregon and northern California.

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