The BMW 3 Series is the big dog among mid-size luxury-brand sedans, but Volvo continues to add capabilities to its attractive S60 sedan to make it even more competitive with the vehicle that is the consensus choice as class of the segment. The latest addition is the availability of Volvo's All-Wheel Drive with Instant Traction on the value-leading S60 T5, the top-selling trim level for the model. Because the 5-cylinder version of the S60 is so popular, Volvo's S60 brand manager Frank Baca told us the introduction of the AWD variant would boost S60 sales by 20 percent next year. We can't disagree since the $2,000 standalone all-wheel-drive system jibes perfectly with Volvo's all-weather safety image.

The good news is that Volvo's most involving model also is the recipient of a host of other new and improved features for the 2013 model year. The S60 T5's standard 2.5-liter turbocharged five-cylinder engine will gain an increased compression ratio (up from 9.0:1 to 9.5:1), and it will be accompanied by a 15 percent increase in turbo boost pressure to 15 psi. The system will now tolerate an “over-boost” situation for up to 10 seconds, just the thing to help rescue a slightly ill-advised pass on a two-lane road.

While the specs remain the same at 250 horsepower and 266 lb.-ft. of torque, the changes result in quicker acceleration. The AWD-equipped model zips from zero to 60 mph in a reported 6.6 seconds, while the front-wheel-drive version is quicker still, doing the same sprint in 6.4 seconds. The lone transmission available is Volvo's second-generation six-speed automatic Geartronic, which operates as a full automatic in two modes and also as a clutch-less manual. The drive modes are now illuminated making it clearer what mode the S60 is operating in.

Although our extensive drive route failed to offer us rain, snow or hail (darn that sunny weather!), we did find that the latest-generation Haldex all-wheel-drive system offered commendable traction and a confidence-inspiring “hooked-up” feeling. This is no doubt aided by Volvo's Corner Traction Control by Torque Vectoring, another of Volvo's lengthy-named driver safety aids. Available not only on the S60 T5 all-wheel-drive, but also on the front-drive S60 T5, S60 T6 AWD and S60 R-Design, the system helps improve handling by sending torque to the outer wheel (or wheels) to help “steer” the car around turns. The obvious benefit is a significant lessening of understeer (basically a car's tendency to push forward rather than turning, a bane of many front-drive cars.)

Of course, the 2013 S60 wouldn't be a Volvo without an extensive suite of safety equipment. The headline-grabber among them is Pedestrian Detection with Full Auto Brake, available in the optional Technology Package. The radar- and camera-based system can detect pedestrians in front of the car even when you don't, warning you if anyone is poised to walk into its path. If you don't respond to the warning in a timely fashion (measured in milliseconds) the car takes over, automatically activating the S60's full braking power. If the S60 is traveling at 22 mph or less the system can avoid a collision altogether. At higher speeds, it can still slow the car markedly prior to impact, helping minimize injuries.

The S60 also offers City Safety, a similar driver support system aimed at preventing and mitigating collisions with a vehicle ahead occurring at speeds of 31 mph or less. Again, you as the driver first get a warning, and if you don't respond immediately the car stops itself as fast as possible.

Beyond those world's first safety systems, all S60s are equipped with Dynamic Stability and Traction Control (DSTC) in Volvo's continued quest to help drivers avoid accidents. Advanced Stability Control uses a roll angle sensor to detect and react to oversteer and understeer often caused by abrupt changes in accelerator position. Happily, DSTC also includes a sport mode to allow a degree of oversteer for those who consider themselves performance drivers.

The 2012 Volvo S60 was already a well-equipped car in standard form, but for 2013 the list of standard features adds rain sensor windshield wipers and headlight washers and Tunnel Detection that automatically turns on the headlights when the car enters a tunnel and then returns the lights to the previous setting when exiting the tunnel. Dual polished exhaust pipes are a new standard feature for the S60 T5, and they look suitably sporty.

With a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $31,750 for the front-wheel-drive S60 T5 and $33,750 for the all-wheel-drive version (plus $895 destination charge), we can understand why Volvo execs are bullish about the S60, especially since we believe that car-buyers in the northern half of the country will relish the S60 in all-wheel-drive form. Add Volvo's Safe and Secure warranty and maintenance coverage, and the Volvo S60 is not only a very safe car, but also a very safe buy.


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