New Car Reviews

First Drive: 2011 Volvo S60

Ask most Americans what single word comes to mind when they think of Volvo, and they are likely to say, “safety.” No other automaker has so burned the safety message into our brains than Volvo has over decades of advertising and brand management. Naturally, Volvo continues to capitalize on that reputation with the all-new 2011 S60, which integrates more active and passive safety systems than ever before, including a groundbreaking new pedestrian-protection system.

But Volvo wanted more for the new S60, which hits U.S. dealerships in mid-September 2010. Knowing how competitive the entry-luxury sedan market is, Volvo wanted the S60 to be as sexy as it is smart and as scintillating to drive as it is to look at. Peter Horbury, Volvo’s former design director who returned to Volvo last year after a stint at parent Ford, led Volvo design in a new direction back in the 1990s with the S80 sedan. So, for more than a decade, Volvos have been fine-looking cars, whether we’re talking sedans, wagons, SUVs, coupes, or convertibles. But they haven’t come close to equaling other European makes in terms of their driving experience. Will the 2011 S60 change that? Keep reading.

Safety comes naturally, even for pedestrians.
Volvo’s all-new pedestrian-detection system is part of the $2100 Technology Package, which also includes adaptive cruise control, collision warning with full automatic braking, and warnings for maintaining distance and staying in your lane. But pedestrian detection is the unique offering here. Volvo’s radar- and camera-based system can detect pedestrians in front of the car, warn the driver if anyone walks out into its path – and then automatically activate the S60’s full braking power if the driver fails to respond in time.

How does it work? The system uses a newly developed radar unit integrated into the S60’s grille, a camera fitted in front of the inside rearview mirror, and a central control unit. The radar’s task is to detect any object in front of the car and to determine the distance to it while the camera determines what type of object it is. Pedestrian Detection with Full Auto Brake can avoid a collision with a pedestrian at speeds up to 22 mph if the driver does not react in time. At higher speeds, the focus is on reducing the car’s speed as much as possible prior to the impact, to lessen its severity.

In a test that Volvo set up for us during our first drive of the S60 in Portugal, we drove at about 15-20 mph toward a stationary dummy, to mimic low-speed driving in a crowded urban area. “Just keep driving steadily toward the dummy,” advised Tomas Andersson, senior manager for active safety electronics at Volvo. We did as we were instructed, and as we got closer to the dummy, the S60 sounded an urgent tone and flashed lights at us. Just as it seemed that the dummy’s days were over, the car took the reins from us and slammed on the brakes. The S60 stopped in its tracks, the dummy’s life was saved, and we were impressed. The radar’s field of view is about 60 degrees, but the camera’s field of view is only about 45 degrees, “so the limiting factor is the camera,” explains Andersson. “We need redundancy to perform this kind of harsh maneuver.” Meaning, both the camera and the radar must recognize the presence of a pedestrian at the same time, communicate this information with each other, and then take action by applying the brakes. The pedestrian-detection works up to 80 kph (50 mph) but does not work at night or in other low-light conditions.

The pedestrian-detection system is a follow-up to Volvo’s existing collision-avoidance systems, including City Safe, standard on the new S60, which automatically brakes the car if the driver fails to do so when approaching another vehicle from behind.

Volvo also offers its blind-spot detection system as a $700 stand-alone option. Curtain air bags, seatbelt pretensioners, whiplash protection, and all the other safety systems we’ve come to expect from Volvo are also in play here.

At launch, standard six-cylinder and all-wheel drive.
The 2011 Volvo S60 arrives in the United States with only one powertrain initially, but it’s a good one: a turbocharged, 3.0-liter in-line six-cylinder producing 300 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque and mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is standard.

“We will introduce a less expensive volume engine as well,” says Volvo Cars of North America brand manager Frank Vacca, “and it will be mated to standard front-wheel drive.” Vacca won’t confirm, but it’s very likely that this second engine, which comes on-stream in the first quarter of 2011, will be the 203-hp turbocharged direct-injection 2.0-liter four-cylinder that Volvo is offering in the S60 in Europe from launch. It likely will be mated to a dual-clutch automatic transmission. For now, Vacca likes to point out that, with 325 lb-ft, the S60 has as much torque as the 4.4-liter V-8 in the XC90 SUV.

Chassis: three cars in one?

Volvo continues to employ several different suspension setups for the S60, its bestselling model worldwide. Volvo Cars of North America wisely chose the Dynamic suspension setup as standard equipment for the U.S. market; a softer Touring suspension is a no-cost option. The third available setup is the driver-controlled FOUR-C Active system, which is a stand-alone $750 option. Compared with Touring, the Dynamic setup has stiffer springs and bushings and allows more range of motion in the dampers.

The electronically controlled FOUR-C, for its part, allows the driver to choose between so-called Comfort, Sport, and Advanced settings. We thought it was a relatively useless gimmick when an earlier version of it debuted on the 2004 S60R, and we still have our suspicions, but we didn’t have an opportunity to drive a car equipped with it in Portugal so we will withhold judgment for now. Roger Wallgren, team leader for large-car vehicle dynamics at Volvo, claims that the latest version of FOUR-C (continuously controlled chassis concept) is greatly improved. “You cannot compare this 4C with the old 4C suspension,” says the former Saab engineer, who moved to Volvo three years ago. “The basic idea with the 4C chassis is that you get three cars in one,” he explains. “If you are on a long journey, you choose comfort mode. If you want to enjoy the car on a challenging road, you select advanced mode. Most of the time, you will be happy with the middle mode, sport.” How does 4C work? “It’s not all in the electronics,” Wallgren says. “It’s also in the hardware, specifically the damper valving.” In fact, the S60 Dynamic and the S60 4C share the same mechanical chassis components—springs, anti-roll bars, and bushings—except the dampers.

A nice “welcome back” gift for Peter Horbury.

Volvo exterior designer Örjan Sterner was responsible for the stunning shape of the 2011 S60, and we’d have to say that he created quite a nice “welcome back to Volvo” gift for returning design director Peter Horbury. The new S60’s lines clearly pay homage to the 21st-century design theme that Horbury laid down in the 1990s, before he moved to Detroit to run Ford’s North American design operation, yet the car’s styling moves briskly in a new direction. Horbury must have been absolutely thrilled to see Sterner’s work when he returned to Sweden in mid-2009.

Indeed, Horbury says “I was an immensely proud ‘father’ of the first-generation S60 almost ten years ago. It took our design language a major step forward. Now we are taking an even bigger visual stride with more emotional and sporty dynamism. But the basic idea is and will remain the same: a coupe with four doors.”

The S60 interior is equally compelling, and Volvo designers say they took their inspiration for it from an unlikely place: the racetrack. “A quick glance inside the car is enough for you to feel that this is a Volvo with a totally different dynamic presence than previous models,” says Jonathan Disley, head of interior design. “The racetrack’s dramatic yet harmoniously flowing lines can be traced in almost every interior detail. It’s an interior for all your senses.” This is all a bit of a stretch, we’d say, but the S60 interior is indeed very, very nicely executed.

Interior trim themes concentrate on modern beige and black hues, but Volvo resurrected Beechwood brown, a shade of leather upholstery that traces its roots to classic Volvo models such as the P1800 ES and 164. We spent time in an S60 in the official copper exterior launch color and a two-tone interior of black and Beechwood brown, a very nice combination, as well as an S60 with a black exterior and a black-and-beige interior, which was also very smart. The seats both front and rear are very comfortable, there’s 2.1 inches of additional rear legroom, and the instrument panel finally has a properly integrated, modern infotainment screen; it’s standard even if you don’t get the optional navigation system. HD radio and six months of Sirius satellite radio are standard, as are a DVD player and USB, iPod, and AUX inputs.

They weren’t kidding about the sportiness.

Let’s face it: the outgoing S60 was never a class leader and was well past its sell-by date. The S60 development team was charged with creating “the sportiest Volvo ever,” and we think they have definitely achieved that. Not only is the 2011 S60 a vast improvement over its predecessor, it’s also now a true rival for cars like the Audi A4, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, and Acura TL, even if it lacks the keen edge of the BMW 3-Series (what car doesn’t?). The S60 moves with a grace and sense of purpose that has eluded Volvos for years.

We found the Dynamic suspension setting to be ideal. Our test S60 was equipped with 235/40R-18 Continental ContiSportContact 3 summer tires, and the car had a supple ride yet excellent grip, thanks in part to the all-wheel-drive system. Volvo also uses a rudimentary torque-vectoring system at the rear axle to send more torque to the outside wheel in corners. “BMW and Acura are [sending more torque to] the outer wheel through a mechanical device,” explains chassis engineer Wallgren, “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 did carve through corners very nicely on a freshly paved former rally road in the mountains above Lisbon.

The T6 powertrain is also a winner. Smooth, progressive, seamless power and torque are on tap, and the six-speed automatic works pretty well, although it’s sometimes just a tad slow to respond to manual-mode upshifts. There are no shift paddles. Fuel economy figures haven’t been finalized, but Volvo expects to achieve a 17/26 city/highway fuel economy rating.

The S60 exhibits a crispness and a confidence that will surprise current drivers of Volvo sedans. With it, Volvo has improved not only on its traditional strength, safety, but also has made an even bigger styling statement. Most important, the S60 finally is competitive in terms of its driving dynamics.

A relative bargain

The 2011 Volvo S60 is also a relative bargain. With a base price of $38,550, the S60 includes 18-inch wheels, leather sport seats, lots of standard safety equipment, and a five-year, 60,000-mile warranty that includes all scheduled maintenance. Here is a list of option packages and prices:

Premium Package – $1,500
Power glass moonroof
Power passenger seat
Dual Xenon gas discharge headlights with Active Bending Light (ABL)

Climate Package – $800
Heated front seat
Heated windshield washer nozzles
Headlight washers
Rainsensor wipers
Interior Air Quality System (IAQS)

Multimedia Package – $2,700
Volvo Premium Multimedia Sound System with MultEQ XT by Audyssey, Dolby ProLogic II, 650 watts, 12 premium loudspeakers
Rear park assist camera
Navigation system with real time traffic updates
Map Care with two complimentary navigation updates

Technology Package – $2,100
Pedestrian Detection with Full Auto Brake
Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) with Queue Assist
Collision Warning with Full Auto Brake
Distance Alert
Lane Departure Warning

Single Options
Metallic paint – $550
Premium Electric Silver paint – $675
Urbane Wood inlays – $300
Front and rear Park Assist – $500
Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) – $700
Personal Car Communicator (PCC) – $550
Touring chassis – N/C option
FOUR-C (Continuously Controlled Chassis Concept)

Active Chassis – $750
17-inch “Njord” alloy wheels – N/C option
17-inch “Njord” alloy wheels with self supporting tires – $500


Base Price: $38,550
On Sale: September 2010


Engine: Turbocharged 3.0-liter DOHC 24-valve I-6
Horsepower: 300 hp @ 5600 rpm
Torque: 325 lb-ft @ 2100 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: All-wheel


L x W x H: 182.2 x 73.4 x 58.4 in
Legroom F/R: 41.9/33.5 in
Headroom F/R: 38.3/37.4 in
Cargo capacity 12.0 cu ft
Curb Weight: 3901 lb
Estimated EPA Rating (city/highway): 17/26 mpg

Buying Guide
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2011 Volvo S60

2011 Volvo S60

MSRP $37,700 T6 AWD Sedan

0-60 MPH:

5.5 SECS


18 City / 26 Hwy

Horse Power:

300 @ 5600