Despite its age, the Volvo S60 can still show its compact executive rivals a thing or two.
Despite its age, the Volvo S60 can still show its compact executive rivals a thing or two.
Conjure up images of compact executive sedans, and it’s likely the first cars you’ll think of will be German. Go a bit left field, you might choose something American, or maybe even British. It’s highly likely, though, that the Scandinavian option on the market won’t catch your immediate attention. Which is a shame, as that sole Swedish selection that consists of the Volvo S60 sedan is quite an appealing ownership prospect on paper. Sure, it’s starting to show its age in a few places, but the core package of the car is still of appeal – especially if you’ve discounted the default-buy German brands and are eyeing up something a bit more left field as your next compact sedan.
The Volvo S60 also has its own bespoke cabin layout that focuses on stereotypical Swedish minimalism.
Most car makers have a distinct design style for their interiors. Jaguar and BMW, for instance, make their cabins incredibly driver-focused to complement their more sporty characteristics, whereas Mercedes-Benz models nowadays are amongst the most elegant you’ll find in this class. It’s no surprise, then, that the Volvo S60 also has its own bespoke cabin layout that focuses on stereotypical Swedish minimalism. Some may argue that it’s a little bit plain (especially in the more monochrome colour options), but it is a refreshing change from some of the piano black gloss materials and polished wood veneer you find on other cars in this class. Plus, the S60’s cabin has some neat little quirks – the center console panel, for instance, ‘floats’ in front of the lower dashboard. It’s also nicely built and feels solidly put together, which should alleviate any concerns that it’ll start squeaking and rattling once the car’s racked up several tens of thousands of miles on the clock. The only bit that really puts the Volvo S60 on the back foot in comparison with its more modern rivals is the ergonomics of the main controls, which isn’t quite to the standards you’d expect in this class. Yes, the ventilation controls are simple enough to operate, but the cluster of small buttons on the center console aren’t that easy to use intuitively on the move (though, in its defence, a lot of those features can also be toggled through the multi-function steering wheel). Likewise, the multimedia interface is also an okay system, but it’s incredibly clunky in comparison with, say, BMW’s iDrive or even Cadillac’s CUE touchscreen system.
Space for passengers and their trinkets isn’t too bad in the Volvo S60.
The Volvo S60 is starting to lag behind the competition in terms of outright practicality, too. The 12 cubic feet trunk, for instance, was already small by class standards when the car went on sale in 2010, and it’s only become less impressive over that time now newer rivals are on the market. Plus, it’s quite an awkward shape, thus making the limited space it has that bit harder to make use of. That being said, all models do get 60:40 split-folding rear seats that fold away completely flat and you can even fold the front passenger seat away if you need to transport ridiculously long items in your car. Space for passengers and their trinkets isn’t too bad in the Volvo S60. Head and leg room is pretty good for the front and back seats, if not quite as impressive as the Audi A4, and you’ve got plenty of sizeable door bins and cubby holes to store your day-to-day paraphernalia in. If there’s any real practicality drawback, it’s that the middle rear seat is quite narrow, so the Volvo S60 does lose some brownie points here if you’ll regularly be ferrying four adults plus yourself on a regular basis.
The Volvo S60 won’t be the car for you if you put ‘behind the wheel thrills’ high up on your priority list.
Despite Volvo’s bragging about its sporty Polestar models and various motorsports activities, the cars it makes aren’t exactly renowned for being great drivers’ cars. Though that might be understandable on a big, luxurious SUV like an XC90, it’s not a great philosophy for a compact executive sedan that’s going up really engaging-to-drive rivals like the Jaguar XE and Cadillac ATS. As a result, the Volvo S60 won’t be the car for you if you put ‘behind the wheel thrills’ high up on your priority list. Yes, the S60’s steering is direct, and a wry smile may just about form on your face when you string the car through a section of sweeping bends, but that’s about as exciting as the Volvo gets. Long story short, if you’re looking for the most dynamic compact sedan on sale today, you won’t find that car in the Volvo S60.
The Volvo S60 to be very well adapted to life as a mile muncher.
What you’ll come across instead, however, is an executive car that finds a middle ground between the ‘cushy cruiser’ and ‘sharp-edged sports sedan’ extreme ends of the market. The trade-off for that slightly jittery ride over rougher surfaces, for instance, is well-contained body lean through the bends – and, once you’re up to speed on more open stretches of road like highways, you’ll find the Volvo S60 to be very well adapted to life as a mile muncher. It’s a nice quality to have, in a compact executive sedan. The gearbox choices also find that middle ground between the slushy automatics and the slick-shifting dual-clutch transmissions of the world. Both the eight-speed automatic and six-speed automatic (the latter being exclusively available on the most powerful engine option) can swap cogs cleanly and smoothly, if perhaps without the outright speed of comparable transmissions in rival cars. But it gets the job done and, if you go for a Volvo S60 with paddle shifter controls behind the steering wheel, you’ll find it’s as adept when you’re changing gear yourself as it is when you leave the auto to its own devices.
The 2.5-liter engine $1,500 more expensive than the 2.0-liter, but it’s also much more expensive to run.
The combination of engine downsizing and traditional nomenclature retention means that compact executive sedans have some of the most confusing engine ranges in the entire new car market. Whereas a BMW 328i once used to have a 2.8-liter six-cylinder engine, it now has a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that’s not too dissimilar to the identically sized unit in the 318i. Given Volvo’s minimalist tendencies we mentioned earlier, you’d think the company would make a streamlined and simplified engine range for the S60 sedan. But you’d be wrong – it instead takes a close inspection of the spec list to figure it all out. For starters, Volvo brands a 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbocharged gasoline and 2.5-liter five-cylinder turbocharged gasoline engine under the same ‘T5’ designation, with only the Drive-E tag on the smaller of the two options distinguishing one from the other. Why Volvo couldn’t have made it a ‘T4’ (or, better still, bring the ‘T4’ it sells in most other markets to the US) is anyone’s guess, but at least we have something to identify the two choices. And getting the wrong T5 engine can be quite a costly mistake to make. Not only is the 2.5-liter engine $1,500 more expensive than the 2.0-liter, but it’s also much more expensive to run – the claimed 20mpg city/29mpg highway economy figures pale in comparison to the 2.0-liter’s 26mpg city/38mpg highway numbers (figures which, we may add, make the Volvo S60 with that engine the most efficient compact executive sedan on the market today).
No matter which engine you go for, your Volvo S60 will be very pleasant to drive at any speeds up to a ‘brisk pace’.
You don’t even get much more performance out of the 2.5-liter when compared with the smaller, 240hp T5, as it’s only 10hp more powerful. Granted, the muted five-cylinder warble has its appeal, but we really can’t recommend the larger of the two T5s when the alternative is considerably easier on the wallet for hardly any noticeable real-world drawbacks. If you really want the speed, though, then you’ll want 302hp T6. It’s another 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine, but the supercharger this one comes with means it also really impressive mid-range pulling power. Better still, you don’t pay too much of a penalty at the fuel pumps, thanks to its claimed 23mpg city/33mpg highway economy figures – an impressive set of figures in their own right, even before you realise that 2.5-liter T5 from earlier is thirstier than this T6. Yet another nail in the coffin for the five-cylinder option, then... No matter which engine you go for, your Volvo S60 will be very pleasant to drive at any speeds up to a ‘brisk pace’. All are smooth and refined, with very linear power delivery and good amounts of mid-range pulling power, with the T6 obviously being able to pile on the speed in the most effortless manner. They all suit their automatic gearboxes extremely well, too, and you won’t need to drop down many gears in order to make the most of their broad torque bands during highway overtaking manoeuvres.
The Volvo S60 is crammed with an impressive amount of safety kit.
Most of Volvo’s more recent history has been dedicated to making its cars the safest ever vehicles to grace our roads. Over the years, the Swedish firm has crammed so much safety equipment in its cars at such a rate, that it’s no surprise to hear that Volvo’s expecting all of its cars to be “deathproof” by the year 2020. This safety crusade means the Volvo S60 is crammed with an impressive amount of safety kit. All models come fitted with a full complement of front, side and curtain airbags, along with seatbelt pretensioners for the front and rear seats, an emergency brake assist system and a radar-based system that prevents low-speed head-on collisions from taking place. It’s all very impressive stuff, and you can see why it managed to score the full five stars in the NHTSA crash tests (a whole five years after the car originally went on sale, no less). Outside of the safety equipment, the Volvo S60 also gets a decent amount of other features as standard. Dual-zone climate control, cruise control are available across the board, with leather upholstery and a TFT dashboard display only skipping out the 2.0-liter T5 model, and the electrically-adjustable front seats available across the S60 range makes some of the comfiest chairs you’ll find in this class even more cosseting and supportive.
It comes to optional extras we’d recommend considering – all of the others either go at odds with the car’s “does it want to be a sporty car or not?”
You don’t need to go to town in order to get a nicely specified Volvo S60, either. The only extras we feel you should go for are the $925 BLIS Package, which comes with blind-spot warning and all-round parking sensors (the latter a nigh-on necessity in a contemporary compact executive sedan, given how large they are nowadays), and the ‘Premium’ trim package that adds leather upholstery, built-in nav and that TFT display we mentioned in the previous paragraph. It’s also possible to argue that the Technology Package is also worth paying, as it comes with loads of advanced safety gear – from lane keeping assist and adaptive cruise control, to a feature that brings the whole car to a stop if it detects an imminent collision with a pedestrian or a cyclist. At $1,500, though, the Technology Package isn’t cheap, so we’ll let you decide if it’s worth spending that amount of money to make the already very safe Volvo S60 even more protective in the worst case scenarios. And that’s it when it comes to optional extras we’d recommend considering – all of the others either go at odds with the car’s “does it want to be a sporty car or not?” characteristics, or are either too expensive for us to declare a must-buy feature (for instance, $500 is a lot of money to spend on supportive sports seats, when the standard chairs are already some of the most comfortable you’ll find in any compact executive sedan on sale today).