What's Next for the Swedes

Volvo S60

If you've taken ten years to introduce the second generation of your volume entry-luxury sedan, and if you're a brand that's synonymous with safety, as Volvo obviously is, you had better show up at the auto-show debut with a pretty cool piece of safety equipment. Volvo obliged last March at the Geneva salon when it unveiled its all-new S60. An optional new system can detect pedestrians in front of or near the car, warn the driver if one of them walks out into the car's path, and then automatically activate the S60's full braking power if the driver fails to respond in time.

So, the new S60 can stop, but can it go? Well, besides the predictable panoply of safety systems, the S60 comes with something that was noticeably in short supply in its predecessor: sporty driving dynamics. It doesn't hurt that the launch engine in the U.S. market is an even more powerful version of the turbocharged, 3.0-liter in-line six-cylinder that's in the XC60 crossover; in the S60, it produces 300 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque and comes standard with all-wheel drive. Smooth, progressive, seamless power and torque are on tap, and the six-speed automatic works well, although it's sometimes just a tad slow to respond to manual-mode upshifts. There are no shift paddles. Mileage figures haven't been finalized, but Volvo expects to achieve a 17/26 mpg city/highway fuel economy rating.

As before, Volvo hedges its bets when it comes to the S60's suspension, offering no fewer than three setups. A cushy Touring suspension is a no-cost option, but Volvo Cars of North America wisely specified as standard the Dynamic calibration, which has stiffer springs and bushings and allows more wheel travel. The third available setup is the electronically controlled FOUR-C Active system, a $750 option that allows the driver to choose between Comfort, Sport, and Advanced settings. As before, it seems like a dubious choice. Our test S60 was equipped with the Dynamic suspension and 235/40WR-18 Continental ContiSportContact 3 summer tires, and the car had a supple ride yet excellent grip.

Volvo uses a torque-vectoring system at the S60's rear axle to send more torque to the outside wheel in corners. Is this the same technology that BMW and Acura use? Not quite, explains Roger Wallgren, team leader for large-car vehicle dynamics. "BMW and Acura are [sending more torque to] the outer wheel through a mechanical device," explains the former Saab engineer, "whereas ours is a brake system [via the stability control electronics]." He claims that it is a different way of achieving the same thing. That may be wishful thinking, but the S60 confidently carved through corners on a freshly paved former rally road in the mountains above Lisbon. In fact, the S60 moves with a grace and sense of purpose that has eluded Volvos for years even though, at 3901 pounds, it's not exactly a lightweight.

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