Stockholm - In Sweden, they eat a lot of fish--even for breakfast. Sure, it's good for you, but not everyone wants to face a plate of cold herring first thing in the morning. Similarly, many people recognize that Volvos are good for you--safe, rational, responsible cars--but they don't want to buy one.
So Volvo has been trying to prove that its cars are not just good for you. They can also be stylish (C70), rugged (Cross Country), or luxurious (S80). The new S60 sedan sets out to show that Volvos can be sporty. (That's a far cry from the outgoing S70, which proved that Volvos could be boxy and boring.)
The S60 uses Volvo's front-wheel-drive P2 platform, also the foundation under the S80 and the V70 wagon. The three exhibit a distinct family resemblance, particularly in the protruding schnoz and the beltline's rounded "shoulder," both designed to evoke the Volvo 122 of the 1960s. Still, only the S60's front fenders, front doors, and hood are shared with the V70; the rest of the exterior sheetmetal is unique. The sporty look comes chiefly from the flowing roofline, which mimics the C70 coupe. Other sporty cues include the wide stance, the subtle flares at the wheel openings, and the tucked-in bumpers (which still manage to meet federal no-damage standards in collisions up to 5 mph). There are also some very cool eighteen-inch wheels available as a dealer option.
Much of the interior--dashboard, door panels, center console--is lifted from the V70. To make the S60 feel a little sportier, it gets a three-spoke steering wheel, front seats with more pronounced side bolsters (a rear seat that's shaped for two also can be had), and available two-color upholstery. There's more room inside than you'd think. Even rear-seat headroom under that sloping roof is adequate for adults (it's just a fraction of an inch less than in the old S70). Most other interior dimensions are greater.
The sportiest S60 is the T5, which has Volvo's 2.3-liter turbo five, in full 247-horsepower, 243-pound-foot strength. It whips off 0-to-60-mph runs in 6.4 seconds and charges on to 155 mph. Unlike some high-pressure turbos, the boost is smoothly integrated, and torque steer is well suppressed, at least in the dry. (Look for an all-wheel-drive S60 down the road.) Volvo will pair its high-zoot engine with a manual transmission if you so desire. It's a good one, with well-spaced ratios, an easy shift action, and very natural clutch take-up. The shiftless can opt for Volvo's Geartronic.
The T5 has two line mates, which use 2.4-liter versions of the in-line five. The base car's 168-bhp naturally aspirated engine can be paired with a manual or a five-speed automatic. The mid-level 2.4T offers a choice of automatics, regular or Geartronic, with its 197-bhp turbo. Even the lowliest combination, a base car with a five-speed automatic, is entirely agreeable; it neither felt nor acted like a price leader.
Besides its powertrains, the S60 borrows other major components from its platform siblings. The brakes--four-wheel discs with ABS--are from the S80. It's not surprising that in this smaller, lighter car, they are more than up to the task. The S80 also donates its multi-link rear suspension, and the damper-strut front setup is from the V70 T5. We drove a T5 with the optional sport chassis, and it felt decidedly firm. We can't fully report on ride quality, as potholes are evidently not a part of Sweden's orderly society, but in the high-speed slalom, our T5 was stable and flat. It was the best-balanced Volvo chassis we've driven yet. However, the steering offers about as much feel as you'd get driving with woolly mittens, and there's no buildup of effort as you turn the wheel. It's the only real betrayal of the S60's sport sedan aspirations.
Lest you fear that in its desire for sportiness Volvo forgot the good-for-you part, we'll highlight the S60's safety features. Standard are side air bags, side curtain air bags, pretensioners for all five seatbelts, and front seats with whiplash protection. Options include traction control (standard on the T5), stability control, and laminated side glass. Base prices for the three models are $26,500, $29,800, and $31,800--not bad for a car that proves you can have your fish and like it, too.