Remember when the name Volvo was synonymous with boxy cars that seemed to say, "I'm sensible, but sort of boring"? Well, those days are over. The 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD that rolled into the Car Tech garage this week is a stylish sedan that perhaps still says, "I'm sensible," through its good value and high-tech safety net of available driver aid options, but also adds a bit of sex appeal with sport sedan performance that perhaps nips at the heels of Audi and BMW.
Turbocharged inline five-cylinder
I don't spend a lot of time scrutinizing spec sheets before testing a car. I prefer to just hop in, take a spin, and then check the numbers later. So, I was frankly surprised by how alive the Volvo S60's base 2.5-liter, turbocharged five-cylinder engine felt when I matted the pedal. The engine sends 250 horsepower through a single-option, six-speed manual transmission, but the reason for the engine's liveliness -- its eagerness to rocket the midsize sedan past slower-moving traffic -- is its 266 pound-feet of torque, which is available as early in the tachometer's swing as 1,800rpm.
With the six-speed shifter placed in its Sport position, the Volvo holds each gear just a bit longer, allowing the rpms to build and the turbocharger to spool up and deliver the best power. Brake for a turn in Sport mode and the S60's computer will respond with a throttle-blipped downshift, grabbing a lower gear to keep the turbo at a boil in preparation for acceleration out of the bend.
The five-banger's exhaust note isn't the most pleasant at full bore, but this isn't a proper sports car, so I'll forgive that. The S60 also features a manual shift mode that lets you handle the gear selection yourself by pushing or tugging on the illuminated shift knob, but as with any slushbox "manumatic"-type mode, it's probably best to just let the computer handle the shifting for you in most situations.
Two hundred and fifty horsepower from the S60 T5 car makes for a more than adequately powerful ride, but for drivers who want a bit more sport in their sedan, Volvo also offers the S60 T6, which is powered by a 3.0-liter turbocharged, inline six-cylinder engine that outputs 300 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. Still not impressed? Well, there's also the S60 T6 R-Design, which features a tuned version of that 3.0-liter engine that outputs 325 horsepower and 354 pound-feet of torque. That's more power than you get from the BMW 335i and the Audi S4. Of course, there's more to a great ride than just power, but even bronies know that more ponies are almost always a good thing.
Our Volvo S60 T5 tester is also capable of behaving with a bit of dignity as well. Leave the shifter in the normal D-for-Drive position and the gearbox will behave the way you'd expect a premium midsize sedan's slushbox to. The shifts come sooner to keep the rpms down and the fuel economy up and happen more smoothly for a more comfortable ride. Our S60 T5's suspension offered a good balance of suppleness, for soaking up bumps and road imperfections, and rigidity, so it doesn't feel wallowy around bends, floaty, or vague. There are even three user-selectable power steering settings that allow the driver to adjust the steering feel from weighty and direct to light and easy.
The EPA estimates that our T5 model will do 20 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway when equipped with the optional all-wheel-drive system (which I'll discuss in a bit). Forgo the AWD system and both of those estimates increase by a single mpg. Our testing cycle, which was heavily biased toward freeway cruising at a quick -- but not excessive -- clip yielded an average of 20.6 mpg, just shy of the EPA's combined estimate of 23 mpg.
All-wheel drive with DSTC (Dynamic Stability and Traction Control)
The S60 is based on a front-wheel-drive configuration. Choose a T5 model with the 2.5-liter engine and all 250 of its ponies will meet the road on the front axle. However, S60 T5 owners can spec an optional all-wheel-drive system that can send power to the rear axle on demand when traction is necessary. I'm told that this system can shuffle up to 100 percent of available torque to the rear axle if it must and can instantaneously reduce torque at any of the wheels if slip is detected, but over a bone-dry week in San Francisco, I didn't run into many situations where I could put the AWD system to the test.
All of the more powerful, 3.0-liter S60 T6 models come with this all-wheel-drive system as a standard feature.
With or without the AWD system, the Volvo S60 is equipped with DSTC (Dynamic Stability and Traction Control), a multipart traction control system that combines torque vectoring, bias braking, and engine power modulation to keep the sedan between the lines when cornering. An onscreen menu allows the DSTC system to be partially disabled, allowing for a bit more slip and wheel spin when driving in the S60's Sport mode.
The standard S60 T6 is available with an optional $750 adaptive-suspension system that gives the driver control over the ride firmness or comfort. This system is not available on our T5 tester. Further up the totem pole, the S60 R-Design comes standard with a nonadaptive suspension that is 15mm lower than the standard ride height and 15 percent stiffer.
A Volvo just wouldn't be a Volvo without a bit of excellent safety tech, but our tester was mostly lacking the most advanced features. In fact, the only non-drivetrain-related bit of safety gadgetry that I had to play with was the standard City Safety system. This front-looking camera constantly scans the road ahead for pedestrians, vehicles, and other obstructions. If the vehicle detects that you're about to collide with one of these obstructions, it will warn you before automatically applying the brakes. City Safety only works between 2 mph and 30 mph, doesn't activate if you're applying even the slightest bit of manual brake pressure, and will not activate if you attempt to steer around the obstruction. Since I couldn't find a CNET editor brave enough to stand in front of the S60 while I tested the system, we'll just take Volvo's word that it works.
Our S60 T5 didn't even come equipped with a rearview camera, but that doesn't mean that yours won't. The S60 is available with a wide range of optional safety tech.