When you're studying the Volvo S60 press materials and find that you're eight pages in without reading the word "safety," you realize that Volvo executives are serious when they say the 2011 S60 is a completely different animal. No, Volvo certainly isn't turning its back on its unparalleled safety image - in fact you could claim that the 2011 Volvo S60 is the safest car in the world - but "dynamic" and "emotional" are the key words Volvo engineers and designers use to describe their newest creation. And rightly so. Though we also like the looks of the XC60 crossover utility, we think the S60 is hands-down the most attractive Volvo since the P1800.
Volvo exterior designer Örjan Sterner said his clear task was to design the sportiest and most dynamic Volvo ever. To do that he and his team essentially drew "a coupe with four doors." The overall look is low and snarky with the wheels moved to the corners and a double beltline that, at once, gives the impression that the car is even squatter than it is and identifies it as a Volvo. At the rear Sterner has walked away from the giant vertical taillights that typified recent Volvos toward a more refined if more anonymous design. But the overall look is anything but anonymous, because, as we said, it is one good-looking Volvo.
Power to Fuel Emotion
Of course, as my mother used to say, good-looking is as good-looking does, and on the road the Volvo S60 does quite nicely, thank you. The in-line six-cylinder engine offers less than 3,000 cc of displacement, but with the help of turbocharging it whirs out 300 horsepower at a relatively steep 5,600 rpm. Lest you think this is yet another temperamental turbo that has to be kept screaming to contribute any fun, though, the 325 pound-feet of peak torque are available from 2,100 rpm all the way to 4,200 rpm. That's more peak torque than the BMW 335i sedan, complete with its twin-turbo, and it means the S60 has sufficient low-end torque to accelerate briskly. A bonus is the engine requires only "regular" grade gasoline, and the fuel economy (18 mpg city/26 mpg highway) is just a hair below the rear-drive 335i.
In the quest for dynamism, Volvo engineers created a chassis, suspension and steering system designed to give cars like the 3 Series and Audi A4 a run for their money. The front suspension is McPherson strut and the rear a multi-link - no surprise there - but it is the tuning that sets the S60 apart from other Volvo sedans in the handling department. The front struts have thicker piston rods than the larger S80 sedan, the bushings are stiffer and the springs are both shorter and stiffer, resulting in more ability to handle lateral loads. These efforts are most notable in the standard version of the three chassis setups available, which Volvo calls "Dynamic." Those seeking a gentler, boulevard ride might well opt for the no-extra-cost "Touring" suspension, while those seeking leading-edge tech (and three-ways) might prefer the three-setting-adjustable FOUR-C. (And please don't ask us why a three-way suspension is called FOUR-C.) All S60 models available in the United States for 2011are Haldex all-wheel-drive.
The Most Fun-to-Drive Volvo Sedan of All Time
The bottomline result of the engineering efforts is a level of fun-to-drive that exceeds any Volvo sedan we've driven. With a zero-to-60-mph acceleration time of 5.8 seconds, the S60 is decently fast, though the added 300 pounds it weighs versus the rear-drive BMW 335i undoubtedly don't aid its overall performance. We had the opportunity to drive it on dry pavement, wet pavement, rain-slick gravel roads and even a racetrack, and in all situations the S60 was predictable, stable and unflappable. Braking is sure; traction is never an issue; and the steering is precise. We also found the driving position to be easily adjustable to suit our own whims, and the instrumentation is as straightforward as a Marine on sentry duty.
The passengers in the S60 will benefit from the 2.4-inch increase in wheelbase the new model has versus the previous-generation. Leg- and knee-room in the rear seat area are both much-improved. We were also impressed with the interior's clean, contemporary design. Volvo stresses what it calls the Scandinavian ideal of simplicity, and that is expressed well throughout the cabin. All five passengers will find comfortable seating, and the rear seat offers substantial bolsters for side support.
When it comes to tech, the S60 offers niceties like adaptive cruise control, parking sensors and a rear park-assist camera. Even more innovative is the front-grille-mounted camera that offers a 180-degree field of view. It is especially effective in helping prevent accidents when emerging from limited-vision areas like a parking garage. In the all-new infotainment unit, navigation and other functions are presented on a seven-inch color monitor in the upper part of the center dashboard. Volvo has eschewed touchscreen operation, choosing instead to provide a fully functional set of steering wheel-mounted controls plus redundant controls under the display. The best available sound system is impressive. The top-of-the-line 12-speaker system features a digital 5x130-watt amplifier with circuits from Sweden's Anaview, Dolby Digital in combination with Dolby Pro Logic II Surround and MultEQ from Audyssey Laboratories. Integrated features such as Bluetooth, USB port and auxiliary input are also included.
Unique Safety in Pedestrian Detection
But you know we can't talk about Volvo without talking about innovative safety features, and the S60 features a headline-grabber. "Pedestrian Detection with Full Auto Brake" might not be a name that rolls off the tongue, but it is a system that might save many lives. The camera- and radar-enabled system goes beyond Volvo's City Safety system that was introduced on the XC60 crossover to identify pedestrians in front of the car and, if necessary, apply the car's full braking power to avoid a potentially fatal collision. Radar's job is to detect any object in front of the car; the camera's job is to determine if that object is a human, not a mailbox or a tree. Once the object is determined to be human, the S60 gives an audible warning accompanied by a flashing light in the head-up display. If the driver does not respond by taking action, the system will them apply full force of the brakes. This means that at 22 mph or less the collision with the pedestrian will be avoided. At speeds higher that 22 mph, the force of the impact will be at least partially mitigated.
"Detecting pedestrians with sufficiently high reliability has been a complex challenge," Volvo Senior Safety Advisor Thomas Broberg told us. "The technology is able to trace a pedestrian's pattern of movement to determine whether he or she is likely to step into the road in front of the car."
Pedestrian Detection isn't the only high-tech safety feature the new S60 offers either. All 2011 model S60s will also feature City Safety, which helps prevent low-speed rear-end collisions, Driver Alert Control that helps determine if the driver is too tired or too distracted to control the car properly, and Blind Spot Information System that helps you avoid colliding with vehicles that are beside you but in your blind spots.
In all, while the S60 offers styling and performance with great emotional appeal, it is still the cold, hard rational aspects of superior safety that make the 2011 Volvo S60 stand out among the crowd of mid-size luxury-brand sedans. With a base price of $37,700 plus an $850 destination charge, the S60 will begin arriving in Volvo showrooms soon and is expected to become the brand's biggest-selling model.