First Drive: 2011 Volvo S60
Volvo has been gearing up the promotion machine for its new S60, and it's taking an unusual tack, referring to its latest sedan as the sportiest and "Naughtiest Volvo Ever." This, of course, may seem a bit like proclaiming that Greg was the rebel in the Brady Bunch. It might have been true, but the Swedish automaker's lineup hasn't exactly been fraught with the sort of characters that your parents warned you about, has it?
If this S60 is 'naughty,' it's probably in the same way that going to prom with your mother is 'naughty.' It's wrong, certainly... particularly for the couple sharing your limo. It might even be a bit dangerous – for your social life – but at the end of the day, the core wholesomeness of both mothers and Volvos can't be denied, right?
Well, perhaps not. After all, although it was developed under the Ford umbrella, this new S60 comes to market with new ownership (China's Zhejiang Geely Holding Group) and new leadership (former Volkswagen of America head Stefan Jacoby). And that is some rather sexy sheetmetal – particularly when it's slathered in such an assertive paint color. But what's going on beneath the skin? You'll have to follow the jump to find out.
Photos copyright ©2010 Chris Paukert / AOL
Apparently taking a year off has worked wonders on the S60's complexion and attitude (there was no 2010 model year). The nose of our Vibrant Copper S60 appears suitably insistent, with large, intricately detailed headlamps drawn well back into the front fenders, LED markers and a sizable trapezoidal grille proudly displaying Volvo's 'slash' bar and emblem.
In profile, the sculpted, flowing roofline combined with the S60's abbreviated overhangs yields an almost hatchback-like rear deck, and the forward-canted cut lines on the rocker panels do a fine job of emphasizing the design's visual thrust, as does the subtle 'double wave' line over the wheel wells. Despite the more rakish greenhouse, Volvo promises an additional 2.1 inches of rear legroom brought about by a 2.4-inch increase in wheelbase over the first-generation S60. In its bid for entry into the 'four-door coupe' club, however, front and rear headroom takes a modest haircut to 37.6 inches and 37.4 inches, respectively (down a few tenths of an inch on the exit model). Even with the nominally lower roof height, there's still a class-competitive amount of rear seat space.
The S60's rear aspect certainly echoes that of the outgoing car, though new, two-piece LED taillamps now arch into the decklid, and the rear bumper swoops down more artfully into a blacked-out recess for the dual exhausts.
Overall, the new S60's visuals are fresh and attractive, yet they clearly echo the strong-shouldered heritage of the previous generation – one of the first few models that sparked Volvo's Peter Horbury-led design renaissance.
Volvo has chosen to launch the S60 in full-house T6 all-wheel-drive trim, but despite this, the price of entry is $38,550 ($37,700 MSRP plus $850 destination). While that's well above the outgoing car, there's gobs of additional power and kit, and crucially, it still seems like a very good value. For comparison's sake, to purchase an equivalent 300-horsepower 2011 BMW 335i XDrive would cost $43,475 – and that's with a much shorter standard equipment list.
Oh, yes, did we mention this S60 T6 comes with 300 horsepower? The 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder has been turbocharged and intercooled to yield 300 ponies at 5,600 rpm and a stout 325 pound-feet of torque from 2,100-4,200 rpm on regular unleaded gas. That power is routed through an Aisin six-speed automatic gearbox with a sport mode and +/- manual gate.
We were given the chance to stretch the S60's considerable legs on the flowing, tree-lined roads around Portland and at Oregon Raceway Park, a little-known and well out-of-the-way road course in Grass Valley hidden among the windmill farms. The 2.3-mile, 14-corner circuit is a particularly demanding track, with loads of blind and off-camber corners and near-constant elevation changes. It is, in other words, not the type of facility at which we would expect Volvo to stage a vehicle launch.
But then again, maybe we should. Veteran racers Randy Pobst and Andy Pilgrim have just cinched the SCCA World Challenge series' GT Class in their K-Pax Racing S60, besting everything from Ford Mustang GTs to Porsche 911 GT3s, Aston Martin DB9s and Dodge Vipers. And Volvo has a proud tradition in both touring car and rally racing, yet consumers continue to think of them as little more than safe, premium family transportation devices.
All too aware of this perception, Volvo trotted out Pobst at ORP to scare the chinos off a few journalists in an S60 equipped with Volvo's Four-C adaptive damping package, a $750 option that gives the driver the choice of Chassis, Sport and Advanced settings. In order to drive home a more athletic message, Volvo also fitted non-Four-C equipped cars with a rather sporty suspension that's roughly 35 percent stiffer than that of its big brother, the S80.
While the S60's swoopy new sheetmetal secrets a reworked version of the same chassis and MacPherson strut/multilink rear suspension, Volvo has made a string of meaningful upgrades to bring the S60's handling up to speed. Changes include steering that's not only 10 percent quicker, but more direct thanks to reinforced steering tubes that double the system's stiffness to reduce slop. Stiffer springs and bushings have been fitted for better body control and transient responses, and the new suspension is sufficiently firm enough that engineers saw fit to add a more relaxed 'Touring' suspension as a no-cost option for traditional Volvo buyers looking for a bit more compliance.
Given our limited track time and ORP's technical nature, we expended as much effort attempting to learn the line as we did trying to get a feel for the S60, but even so, we came away quite impressed. Despite the fact that Volvo's all-wheel-drive system defaults to sending some 95 percent of its power to the front wheels, we found the S60 to be remarkably well behaved and resistant to front-end plow both on the circuit and on Oregon's sinuous mountain roads.
Credit goes to both the fast-acting Haldex AWD and to the S60's unique torque-vectoring technology. While not as sophisticated (or weighty) as some other systems, Volvo's 'Corner traction control by torque vectoring' hardware utilizes the brakes and the car's traction-control hardware to curb understeer by braking the inside wheel during aggressive cornering. The system only works under acceleration and exclusively across the front axle, but it seemed to do its job quite effectively. Seasoned drivers won't confuse the S60's moves for that of a rear-driver, but with its good body control and surprisingly accurate steering courtesy of the 235/40-series 18-inch Continentals, most won't complain, either.
Power delivery from the 24-valve straight-six is hitch-free, providing plenty of mid-range juice for dispatching lollygagging logging trucks, and the drivetrain programming offers good reaction times and refinement from both the engine and transmission. Volvo estimates a 0-60 mph time of 5.8 seconds and caps the S60's top speed at 130 mph, both of which seem about right for this 3,900-pound vehicle. Thanks to revised engine internals with less friction, Volvo estimates fuel economy at 18 miles per gallon in the city and 26 mpg on the highway, figures that are on the money with other six-cylinder all-wheel drive offerings in the segment.
Despite its new, sportier feel, there are a couple of clear missteps in the S60's bid for high-performance credentials. The six-speed Geartronic 'box resolutely refuses to sit at the 6,500 rpm redline when in manual mode, and even more oddly, there are no paddle shifters available – Volvo executives we spoke with said that there wasn't much call for them in customer clinics, and besides, the company doesn't offer them on other models, so it would have had to develop them. Not very naughty, Volvo. Officials suggest that the company has no plans to offer a twin-clutch transmission, so we're hoping that a manual gearbox arrives when a less-costly five-cylinder, front-wheel-drive S60 bows in the first quarter of 2011.
You'll note that we haven't really discussed the S60's interior yet, and that's because while it's handsome and well-executed, it also offers few surprises compared to other recent Volvos. That's not a bad thing, however, as we've come to love the brand's clean waterfall center console, floating gauge needles and 'seated man' HVAC controls. There's a standard seven-inch screen that sits at top dead center on the dashboard regardless of whether you opt for navigation or not, and thankfully, Volvo has jettisoned the frankly dreadful steering-wheel joystick/remote control GPS interface used on the XC60 in favor of a more conventional knob-based system.
All S60s will come standard with Volvo's sport seats, and our cabin arrived decked out an attractive Beechwood Brown hides and Shimmer Graphite inlays scheme (that's orangey-brown leather and smoked silver trim to you non-designer types). While comfortable and sharp looking, we typically desire a bit more lateral bolstering in sport sedan chairs, but otherwise the comfort, adjustability and ergonomics of the S60 remain first-rate.
Sexy and sporting talk aside, it's impossible to escape a Volvo launch without talking about safety equipment – especially when there is so much to consider. In addition to the City Safety vehicle-avoidance hardware first shown on the XC60 softroader, Volvo has augmented the system's capability by including Pedestrian Detection with Full Auto Brake. That is, the S60's radar and camera system will detect if Little Timmy has run willy-nilly into the path of a Volvo while the driver is, say, fiddling with the audio system looking for NPR. At speeds up to 22 mph, the S60 will automatically deploy full braking power (along with various alarm lights and sounds) to avoid making a rather damaging impression on the youngster. At speeds above that, the system will work to slow the rate of impact and minimize damage.
Naturally, there's also a spate of additional safety equipment available that includes everything from a lane departure warning system to a driver drowsiness detector, 180-degree front-end blind spot cameras (as on a Bentley Mulsanne) and adaptive cruise control.
Even if you're not much for safety gewgaws, one nice security feature that Volvo hasn't done enough to promote is its Safe + Sound warranty package, which covers just about everything for five years or 60,000 miles including scheduled maintenance and wear-and-tear items like brake pads and wiper blades (sadly, tires aren't covered). It's a powerful good-faith gesture for a company that hasn't always been known for the reliability of its products.
So... does the 2011 S60 live up to Volvo's billing as the naughtiest and sportiest Volvo ever? Certainly, a few low-production specials from Gothenburg have seemed to be a bit zanier (1995's 850 T-5R comes immediately to mind), but they've all had some rather substantial holes in their dynamic résumés. Volvo's new S60 may lack an iota of the handling verve that characterizes some of its chief rivals, but it also strikes us as more well-rounded offering than most of them. While not the sexiest of attributes, 'overwhelming competence' is far from a bad thing – it's just tougher to market. As such, we can hardly blame Volvo's 'Naughty' ad team for reaching for the Johnny Bravo jacket, but we hope they move on soon – after all, there's plenty here to crow about.
Photos copyright ©2010 Chris Paukert / AOL
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