All-wheel drive isn't just a foul-weather security blanket or a high-performance traction aid; it's a luxury feature. Although most drivers would be better served by a set of decent winter tires, buyers in northern states expect all-wheel-drive on their premium cars just like they expect seat belts and a radio. To that end, Volvo is expanding all-wheel-drive availability on its bestselling S60 sedan to include base-engine models for 2013.
Powered by a vigorous turbocharged five-cylinder, the S60 T5 easily demonstrates the benefits of distributing power to four wheels rather than two. Whether it's booting the throttle from stops or powering out of fast corners, the Haldex-supplied differential quietly dismisses any opportunity for wheel spin. Up to 50 percent of the engine's torque can be diverted to the rear wheels, but in the interest fuel economy, the system will send just five percent to the back during straight-line cruising.
For 2013, the 2.5-liter engine has been revised with a new crankshaft and pistons, a higher compression ratio, and revised engine management software. Peak power and torque are unchanged at 250 hp and 266 lb-ft, but there's a 1 mpg bump in city and combined fuel economy for the front-wheel-drive model, which is now rated at 21/30 mpg city/highway. The all-wheel-drive T5 checks in a tick lower at 20/29 mpg, a rating that can't quite match that of some four-cylinder competitors. While the S60 holds a power advantage over the BMW 328i xDrive and the Audi A4, those cars use eight-speed automatics that give them an edge both in fuel economy and acceleration.
Volvo has made some effort to counter those advances with revised software for its six-speed unit that quickens upshifts by 0.2 second. At the same time, the Swedish automaker has inexplicably replaced a perfectly good shift knob with transparent-topped version that looks like an out-of-place hybrid gimmick. Our more serious complaint about the gearbox, however, is that gear changes in the S60 aren't the brisk, seamless, rev-matched shifts that have been mastered by BMW and Audi. Under throttle, braking, or coasting -- in normal, sport, or manual mode -- downshifts cause passengers to bob forward in their seats.
Then again, our admiration for the S60 has never been about ultimate performance. We love this Volvo for its striking design, impressive value, and understated luxury with a subtle sportiness that keeps things fun. None of that changes with the S60 T5 AWD. Adding all-wheel drive to an S60 T5 will set you back $2000, bringing the starting price to $34,645 -- almost $5000 less than a BMW 328i xDrive. And it remains a fine-driving luxury car with assertive power, a plush cabin, responsive steering, tidy body control, and a pleasant ride. This S60 is every bit as good as we've come to expect, and with the addition of all-wheel-drive, it has everything that buyers in the northern states expect, too.
On sale: Currently
Price (base/as tested): $34,645/$38,170
Engine: 2.5L turbo I-5, 250 hp, 266 lb-ft
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
EPA Mileage: 20/29 mpg (city/highway)