Words and photos by Jennifer Jensen
What visions do you conjure up in your head when I say the name “Volvo”?
Do you think “safe,” or “boxy”?
My guess is the first thought that crosses your mind probably isn’t “gorgeous” or “sporting,” but you would be wrong.
I know, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all, but come on. The S60 is a very attractive sedan. Like the third generation Acura TL, the S60 has simple, clean and elegant lines.
Volvo has done a bang up job defining the visual characteristics of its lineup over the past few years and the S60 is easily recognizable as a Volvo from just about any distance.
Up front, Thor’s Hammer is enveloped in the headlight array. The front grille is simple and clean with Volvo’s logo emblazoned across the centerline.
The side profile has a muscular character to it with a strong defining line running stem to stern at the beltline.
The back end proudly displays a pair of bright exhaust tips on either side of the base with a taillight treatment that wouldn’t look out of place hanging on a living room wall.
The S60’s beauty is not just skin deep. Open a door and look around the sumptuous cabin and it quickly becomes clear that Volvo is really paying attention to design.
Black leather wraps almost everything the eye can see. There is contrasting stitching on the doors, dash, seats and center console.
Something Volvo calls “Metal Mesh Aluminium Deco Inlays” adorn the center console and dashboard as highlight pieces. It looks just like they describe it, like metal mesh.
Volvo’s 12.3-inch Sensus Connect touchscreen dominates the center console and comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
There are three engine options in the S60 lineup.
First up is the T5, like our test car, that features a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that is good for 250 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. The T5 is only available with front-wheel drive.
If you desire more power, you can step up to the T6, which has Volvo’s unique twin-charged engine (turbocharged AND supercharged) rated at 316 horses and 295 lb-ft of torque.
If that isn’t enough to satisfy your right foot, Volvo also offers the T8 plug-in hybrid. The combination of the twin-charged four-cylinder and an 11.6-kWh battery pack bring output up to 400 horsepower and a tire-bending 495 lb-ft of torque.
All engine options are mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission and auto stop/start.
Not only does the S60 come with a variety of engine options, but trim options abound as well.
“Momentum” is their base model in the S60 though it is anything but with most of Volvo’s safety features standard. A solid level of luxury materials is also included.
The “R-Design” model is meant to be of a more sporting nature. Much of this package is focused on appearance items such as high-gloss black trim on the outside and the previously mentioned metal trim inside.
But the seats are padded differently and feel better to my hind parts. They also hold you quite well during sporting driving. The steering wheel in the R-Design is thicker than in other S60 models.
“Inscription” elevates the level of luxury in the S60.
To start the S60 you twist a start/stop knob on the center console to the right. Is it weird that to turn off the car you still twist the knob to the right? I feel it is.
The turbocharged four-cylinder hums to life in our R Design spec and the engine noise disappears to the background.
My right hand reaches up and starts fiddling with settings in the Sensus infotainment system.
The touchscreen is sensible and easy to navigate especially if you have driven any recent Volvo before because it is exactly the same across their entire lineup.
Because of that, I know where to find the auto stop/start deactivation button and turn the system off.
Our test car has an upgraded Bowers and Wilkins sound system so that is the next stop for my fingers and the touchscreen.
Even though the setting has been around for a few years now, I still find it fun that you can set the audio to sound like your music is being played in Gothenburg’s Concert Hall.
Playing with the audio settings makes some drastic changes to what you hear and will easily become one of your favorite pastimes if you are any sort of audiophile.
The S60 has four different driving modes: Comfort, Eco, Dynamic and Individual. These modes are selectable through a rolling switch on the center console next to the shifter. You can also select different driving modes through the Sensus touchscreen.
The car was already set to Comfort so I left it there to start.
Pulling away I immediately noticed some turbo lag that is not present in Volvos with the twin-charged engine. Boost comes on a bit late for my liking, but once on boil there is no hesitation from this peppy little engine.
The thick-rimmed steering wheel feels superb in my hands and while the rack is not sports car quick, it responds faster than I would have thought. Especially surprising when the car is in Comfort mode.
A quirk that becomes apparent in my first several miles of driving is a brief pause, almost like a breath, from the engine every time I come to a full stop. The only thing I can think of is that the engine is programmed for auto stop/start and even though I have turned the system off it still considers stopping before realizing that it shouldn’t.
But the car is quiet and incredibly comfortable. The seats are arguably the best in the business. There is a textile type material in between the main seat body and the side bolsters and it helps hold me firmly in place while navigating some twists and turns.
The ride is firm but never punishing. The suspension does an incredible job of absorbing road harshness without sacrificing steering feel and response.
There is a digital instrument cluster in front of me and our car was outfitted with an optional head-up display. I still don’t understand why every single car produced today doesn’t have a head-up display.
As I reached the interstate I switched the car from Comfort to Dynamic and immediately felt the steering button down. The rack is quicker in Dynamic mode, gear changes are noticeably faster and the suspension is a tad more firm though still not harsh.
Our car was optioned with Pilot Assist, which is Volvo’s version of adaptive cruise paired with lane keep assist functionality.
I turned the system on and relaxed my grip on the wheel. The S60 did an admirable job of keeping me where I should be…at least on the interstate.
As I merged onto a two-lane highway towards some fun back roads I left the Pilot Assist system on. It does not drive for you and is a hands-on-the-wheel type setup but it also did not work too well on roads without clear markings.
Our test vehicle also had Park Assist Pilot which helps in both parallel and perpendicular parking. You turn the system on using the center touchscreen and it will look for a parking spot that fits the car.
Once a spot is found the car will do the wheelwork for you, though you are responsible for braking.
This system also has a “park out” feature to help you get out of the spot you are parked in though this feature only works for parallel parking.
The parking system, like most, worked okay but I would much rather take on the parking duties myself.
Back on the road I started to push the S60 a little harder.
The car feels nimble and light on its feet. And did I mention those seats? Good grief are they comfortable!
Throttle response is definitely sharpened when in Dynamic mode and playing with the turbo boost quickly becomes a game.
Keeping the S60 on boil you can catapult from corner to corner working the oh-so-nice-to-touch steering wheel like a fine hand saw.
The Volvo is surprisingly agile and it brings a smile to my face looking for the edges of its performance envelope.
Even though the T5 is front-wheel-drive there is little torque steer while working the helm. I feel the all-wheel-drive system would help launch the car even better than this two-wheel system can, but I am never left disappointed.
There are a few things I noticed over our time with the S60 T5 R Design that were either really cool or just plain weird.
First is that the windshield washer fluid comes out along the entire wiper blade instead of being sprayed on the front windscreen by nozzles. This provides a very nice and even clean of the window and I liked it quite a bit.
There are paddle shifters behind the steering wheel and the back of the paddles are covered in a rubbery material that is nice to touch and provides very good grip. The feel encouraged me to use the paddles more often!
The window switches have a two-stage feature where if you push the switch down or pull it up all the way the window will go down or up quickly. If you push or pull it part way the window retracts or comes back slowly. Very nice.
Out of place are the grab handles in the roof above each outboard seat. They are made entirely of plastic and are squared off instead of rounded. They feel cheap and uncomfortable to the touch.
I also wish that the Apple CarPlay screen could take up more real estate on the Sensus touchscreen. Volvo says that CarPlay requires a horizontal orientation and Sensus is vertically oriented so the disparity means you can’t get full screen capability with CarPlay. I will just say they need to find a work around for this.
Did I mention the seats are awesome? Because they are.
The Volvo S60 T5 R Design combines luxury, performance and technology in an attractive and appealing package that is a serious contender to the offerings from Germany.
If you are in the market for a midsize car (sedan or wagon!) that offers safety, comfort and performance, you would be remiss if you didn’t make a trip to your local Volvo dealer.