Volvo’s new ads have embraced its boxy past. Why? Because its new cars are that much different.
They really are.
If you’d mentioned boxiness in an early-2000s Volvo review, then you’d have gotten a call from an irritated ad rep who wanted you to know that Volvos weren’t boxy anymore and would you please stop mentioning it.
Things are different now. And with its hard-earned inroads on the styling issue, Volvo’s next step is fuel efficiency, which is the focus of its new-for-2015.5 Drive-E engine technology that debuts in the S60.
Efficiency is another arrow in the quiver to help the S60 compete in the brutal “near-luxury” segment, where most upscale brands have some very compelling offerings. Performance, luxury, safety – these $30K sedans have generous amounts of all that.
The S60 does too.
While it’s tempting to discount Volvo’s dedication to safety as other manufacturers have made such progress, it’s no surprise that the S60 nailed the IIHS.org’s punishing Small Overlap front crash test, which simulates, say, a oncoming driver nodding off and then entering your lane enough for your corners to collide.
While this test lands some of its competitors the ratings of Poor (Audi A4) and Marginal (BMW 3 series), the S60 spikes the ball on the IIHS’s top rating of “Good”. Volvo still gets safety done.
Volvo is getting efficiency done too. with the S60’s changes for 2015.5, where Volvo’s proudly in-house built Drive-E technology is finding its first application. Drive-E follows the industry trend of a turbo enhancing a smaller engine, along with a many-speed transmission and an Eco mode that in this case shuts down the air-conditioner compressor and cuts engine braking, along with other measures, to add a claimed five percent to your efficiency.
Drive-E comes in T5 and T6 trims, and the T6 adds a supercharger to the T5’s 2.0-liter turbo four for deeper low-end torque. For the 62 horsepower the supercharger adds, there’s only a one-mpg penalty from the T5’s 29-mpg EPA overall rating. And yep, it’s fun to be able buy a sedan that has both a turbocharger and a supercharger.
The all-wheel drive T5 continues with last year’s 2.5-liter turbocharged five-cylinder (23 mpg overall) but it misses getting Drive-E’s eight-speed autobox in favor of the familiar six-speed. Same applies to the R-Design turbo 3.0-liter V6 (22 mpg overall).
New also for ‘15.5 is Volvo’s Sensus infotainment system, which runs cloud-based apps through the seven-inch screen. Neat touch: the owner’s manual is loaded into the screen as well.
These are all worthwhile updates for a car that already surprises and delights. This ‘14 T5 had the 2.5-liter, 250-horsepower turbo five, and its performance sparkled.
Turbo lag was minimal, and the power came on strong. Steering was communicative and nicely weighted, though there is the old S60 bugaboo of a wide 37’ turning circle, which increases to 39’ in the S60 T6. Handling was even-tempered. Noise levels were low, and the ride was controlled and comfy.
Comfy: don’t get me started on the throne-like front seats Volvo cooks up. IKEA aside, if this is how the Swedish design their furniture, then they must be a relaxed and well-aligned people. These are the sport seats with shoulder bolsters included in the the $1,200 Sport Package, which also lets you order them in this supple peanut butter shade called “Beechwood”.
A downside is limited rear leg room, at 33.5 inches, where you’d have 39.1 inches in the less-expensive but larger VW Passat, for example.
Prices are about what you’d expect. The S60’s base prices for 2015.5 start at about $34K for the S60 T5 Drive-E and peak at $47K for the S60 T6 AWD R-Design Platinum. That $34K would also put you in a BMW 320i, but the Volvo’s Drive-E ladles on 60 more horsepower than the BMW’s 180. The test car’s options came to about $6K and included the $3,150 “Premier Plus” package (power moonroof, leather, keyless drive, adaptive digital display, etc.) and the $500 heated seats. One small item I would be sure to get is the $100 fold-flat front passenger seat, a useful standalone option.
The S60 ends up as a must-drive in this hotly contested segment.
It has the looks, performance, quality, safety and now the economy to go toe-to-toe with the best. Also check out the new Volvo V60, which pulls a windswept wagon body over the S60’s sedan platform.
2014 Volvo S60 T5
Base Price: $33,315 (including delivery)
Price as Tested: $38,715
Premier Plus Package: $3,150
Includes Power Moonroof, Leather, Power Passenger Seat, Adaptive Digital Display, Rear Park Assist Camera, etc.)
Sport Package: $1,200
Includes Sport Seats, Paddle Shifters, 18-inch wheels, Dynamic Chassis)
Metallic Paint: $350
Heated Front Seats: $500
Top safety ratings
Excellent balance of comfort and performance
Distinctive styling inside and out
Wide turning circle
Tight rear leg room