2011 Volvo S60 T6 AWD — Review
This 2011 review is representative of model years 2001 to 2009.
By Marc Lachapelle of MSN Autos
When the original, coupelike Volvo S60 entered the market a decade ago, its sleek, sharp look was a clear departure from the automaker's signature boxy design aesthetic. It was, dare we say, radical for the safety-obsessed Swedes.
These days, Volvo's lineup stands out not just for safety features but also for distinctive good looks and appealing performance. The all-new 2011 S60 is a perfect example of that.
Billed as the most driver-oriented — that is, sportiest — Volvo ever, the S60 4-door coupe offers plenty of get up and go and exceptional handling. It also bravely pushes the styling envelope, sharing many of the same design elements found in the company's current XC60 crossover. So while the second-generation S60's profile is familiar, it looks more like a fast-forward morph of the first-generation sedan than a simple refresh.
Bottom line: The new S60, reviewed here in its T6 all-wheel-drive trim, steps up to the plate in the ferociously competitive entry luxury sport sedan class with poise and confidence. But will it compete?
The T6 AWD version should account for about 15 to 20 percent of the S60 sales mix. Volvo has also concocted a more exclusive S60 R-Design niche model, for which it claims sharper steering and agility, thanks to shorter and stiffer springs front and rear, monotube rear shock absorbers and firmer bushings. The R-Design also offers color-matched body parts, matte details, twin tailpipes and 5-spoke 18-inch alloy wheels.
The S60 T6 AWD comes with a generous list of standard comfort, safety and infotainment accessories and systems, but there are a number of packages and stand-alone options to let you push things further. To the plethora of standard safety items expected in a Volvo, the S60 T6 also includes unique or exclusive systems such as a new stability and traction-control system equipped with a sport mode, a first for a sedan, according to Volvo.
The pedestrian-detection and collision-warning systems, both graced with full automatic braking capability, come with the $2,100 Technology Package, as do the distance-alert, driver-alert and lane-departure warning systems. The blind-spot information system, combined with power outside mirrors, costs an extra $700, and park-assist technology adds $500.
You need to check an option box for the $2,700 Multimedia Package in order to get the park-assist rear camera, and it comes bundled with Volvo's DVD map-based navigation system with traffic info as well as a premium Audyssey 650-watt audio system with 12 speakers. Full xenon headlights that bend as you turn into corners come with the $1,500 Premium Package, along with a glass sunroof and a power-adjusted front passenger seat.
The S60 comes standard with what Volvo calls its Dynamic Suspension, which has the same settings and damping characteristics as its European models. At no charge, you can also get a Touring system that promises a softer ride, or you can shell out $750 for the latest version of Volvo's Four-C electronically adjustable suspension that lets you pick among Comfort, Sport or Advanced modes.
Under the Hood
The T6 engine is flexible and packs a good midrange punch. There always is solid thrust and a nice, throaty sound under full acceleration, the engine well-served by its sharp-shifting 6-speed gearbox, even in full auto mode. With new valves and less internal friction, this second-generation Geartronic unit effectively produces crisp and precise shifts throughout the range. Volvo claims a zero-to-60-mph sprint of 5.8 seconds, and the S60 T6's top speed is said to be 130 mph.
Rear passengers will appreciate the extra space the most, with a 2.1-inch increase in legroom and more than an inch in additional knee clearance. The rear seats are comfortable for two adults, with cushions that provide good thigh support. There is sufficient room for the knees but only just enough space under the front seats for the feet. The S60 is no limousine.
In true Scandinavian style, the instrument panel is clean and uncluttered. The two lone traditional gauges do look a bit austere and lost in that big instrument cluster facing the driver, though. Controls are mostly logical and easy to fiddle with, but we found the S60 T6's separate interfaces confusing. There is a menu button only on the center console, for instance, and not on the steering wheel, where you do find redundant controls for the audio and cruise-control systems. The leather-draped sport wheel is a treat.
Finally, cargo volume has shrunk in the new S60, from 13.9 to 12 cubic feet. It is more accessible, though, with a trunk opening that is now 4.2 inches wider than in the original version.
On the Road
On the challenging 14-corner Oregon Raceway Park track in Grass Valley, Ore., the new Swedish sport sedan proved utterly stable and predictable. The Haldex torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system provides excellent traction. The system brakes the inner wheel and sends torque to the outer wheel while cornering. However, it does not fully eradicate the expected measure of understeer in tighter corners, nor should it.
More importantly still, the S60 T6 proved agile, confidence-inspiring and entirely pleasant to drive on normal roads, where it truly counts. It is quick, smooth and precise in transitions, with much better and finer body control and suspension damping than the previous model. The ride is quite acceptable with the standard Dynamic Suspension, and the brake modulation is also very good.
The rack-and-pinion steering box is 10 percent more direct than on the previous S60, with a thicker column and stiffer bushings that double its strength in torsion. On the move, steering is quick and linear, with decent tactile feedback. Numerous additional changes and careful tuning to the suspension elements undoubtedly contribute greatly to this newfound handling refinement and finesse.
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