2003 Volvo S60 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
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Volvo S60 offers a Swedish-modern alternative to BMW's 3 Series sedans. The S60 combines exciting performance and a stylish shape with Volvo's well-deserved reputation for outstanding safety. S60 feels like a tight European sedan. It rides smoothly, offers good acceleration performance and nice, precise steering.
S60 fills the middle range in Volvo's lineup: It's larger than the S40, but not quite as large as the premium-luxury S80. Not surprisingly, the S60 also fits between those models in price, starting at $26,370 but rising to more than $36,000 for a loaded S60 2.5T AWD or a high-performance S60 T5.
For 2003, Volvo is offering a less-expensive base model with a cloth interior. At the same time, Volvo has made an in-dash CD player and leather-covered steering wheel and shifter standard on all S60 models. The all-wheel-drive version is more powerful than before, and several popular option packages have been expanded to include more goodies.
Four models are available: S60 2.4 ($26,370), S60 2.4T ($30,425), S60 2.5T AWD ($32,175), and S60 T5 ($32,825).
S60 2.4 comes with a 2.4-liter, five-cylinder engine that produces 168 horsepower and 166 pounds-feet of torque. (A 165-horsepower, super-low-emissions, or SULEV, version is sold only in California.) A five-speed manual transmission is standard. A five-speed automatic transmission adds $1000. The 2.4T gets redesigned 15-inch alloy wheels for 2003. A new Sport Package ($750) adds fog lights and upgrades the wheels to 16-inches. The $2,995 Premium Package adds Electronic Climate Control, wood trim and a trip computer, in addition to a moonroof, leather upholstery, and a power driver's seat with adjustable lumbar support and memory.
S60 2.4T offers more power with a low-pressure turbocharger to generate 197 horsepower and 210 pounds-feet of torque. That torque comes on at a much lower engine speed (1800 rpm instead of 4500 rpm), giving this model much better acceleration away from intersections. A five-speed automatic transmission is standard. Wood-grain interior trim and electronic climate control are standard. The 2.4T gets redesigned wheels and bigger tires this year (P215/55R16). The Sport Package ($700) for this model adds 17-inch wheels with 235/45R17 tires and Geartronic auto-stick control for the transmission. A Premium Package ($2,755) for 2.4T and 2.5T AWD adds leather upholstery, trip computer, moonroof, and power driver's seat with adjustable lumbar support and memory.
S60 2.5T AWD brings still more power and all-wheel drive. Last year's all-wheel-drive model was powered by the same engine as the 2.4T. New for 2003, the 2.5T AWD model runs with a slightly larger-displacement five-cylinder, still using light-pressure turbocharging to produce a responsive 208 horsepower and 236 pounds-feet of torque. The torque peaks at a super-low 1500 rpm for low-speed pulling power. The Geartronic automatic is standard. The Sport Package ($750) adds 17-inch wheels, 235/45R17 tires and T5 model's front and rear sport seats.
S60 T5 uses a high-pressure turbo to produce 247 horsepower and 243 pounds-feet of torque for truly pulse-quickening acceleration. A five-speed manual transmission is again standard, with the Geartronic automatic a $1200 option. Aluminum mesh replaces woodgrain in the interior. Power-adjustable sport seats and a trip computer are standard. The T5 Sport Package ($750) adds 17-inch wheels, 235/45R17 tires, and a stiffer suspension. The Premium Package for the T5 ($1995) adds leather and power moonroof.
Volvo is a leader in safety and all S60 models get a raft of safety and security items: front, side and head airbags up front; five head restraints; seats that move on impact to reduce whiplash injuries; an immobilizer and an alarm; a Safe Approach and Home Safe Lighting System; and anti-lock disc brakes with electronic brake distribution.
Convenience features common to every S60 include air conditioning with a pollen filter; power windows, trunk release and door locks; illuminated visor mirrors; a trunk light; a tilt/telescopic steering wheel wrapped in leather; headlight wipers; power folding headrests; 60/40 split-folding rear seat; cupholders front and rear, steering-wheel controls for the audio system; and remote keyless entry.
The Climate Package (standard on 2.5T AWD, $495 on other S60's) includes Rainsensor wipers, which replace the intermittent wiper control and automatically adjusts wiper speed based on the amount of water sensed on the windshield. A Dolby Pro Logic Surround Sound stereo ($1200) is available on 2.4T, 2.5T AWD, and T5. Volvo's new On Call Plus telematics/mobile phone ($835) is available for all models.
Volvo S60 looks like a smaller version of the big S80 luxury sedan. It's handsome in a Lars-in-a-cable-knit sweater kind of way. Not a remnant remains of the 'boxy but safe' styling that Volvo championed so doggedly for decades. The S60's design predates the S80, so the bigger car is actually the copy. Volvo crafted this shape back in 1994 but lacked the funds to build both, so they launched the more profitable S80 first.
The man who led the S60's design team, a Hungarian named Geza Loczi, likes to say that the mid-range Volvo represents 'the essence of contemporary Scandinavian design,' whatever that means. The S60 seems compact at first glance, and there's a hunched-shoulder look to the part behind the rear doors, suggesting a hockey player ready to lead a charge up the ice.
Overall, the Volvo S60 interior is handsome and comfortable. The seats are cushy with the optional pigskin-type leather; however, you tend to slide around a bit in them. The leather looks and feels like quality. There's good interior space up front, more than in the BMW 3 Series or Mercedes C-Class.
The dashboard flows in a pleasant shape. Attractive wood trim appears sparingly on the glovebox lid and on all four doors. The quality of the material used to cover other surfaces is good. The gauges are attractive, with their flat gray background, and easy to read, while the switches are intuitive and easy to use. The heating, ventilation and air conditioning controls are well designed and easy to operate, with big buttons that use Volvo's clever metaphoric design to direct the airflow. Electric window buttons with auto-down are conveniently mounted on the door. Inside door handles are easy to grab.
The innovative radio controls take some familiarization to master. Changing preset channels involves turning a knob, rather than pressing a button, for example. Once understood, however, it works very well. The leather-wrapped steering wheel features controls for the audio system that makes operating it easier while driving.
The center console storage is awkward to reach as it is positioned rearward. The cup holders, mounted just forward of the console, are covered with a flimsy lid. There's another mini cup holder on the center of the dash. The manual shift lever has a silver-colored plastic cover at its base that looks like silver-colored plastic. A traditional boot would look so much classier, especially with the S60's luxurious leather.
Getting into the back seat requires a duck of the head. Once back there, the S60 offers more rear headroom than a BMW 3 Series sedan. An average-sized male will be short of legroom, however. It offers less legroom than 3 Series.
To get the S60's swoopy shape, Volvo had to make design concessions that constrict the trunk opening. The trunk itself is roomy and deep, so many smaller bags will fit, but big hard-sided trunks might not go in sideways. Rear seats are split 60/40 and fold down to carry long items. Fold down the right rear seat and front passenger seat, and you can carry something quite long.
Volvo S60 rides well and is stable at high speeds, but it doesn't offer the razor-edge handling of a BMW 3 Series.
From inside, the S60 doesn't feel physically big, but when you get it going, it feels larger. The fact that its shape doesn't allow you to see the four fender corners enhances the illusion. Driven hard around turns, it almost seems like a '90s version of a '60s muscle car. The relatively long throw of the five-speed gearbox adds to the retro feel.
The S60 suspension is tuned more for a comfortable ride than for quick maneuvers. Push the T5 model through bumpy, high-speed corners and the steering feels slow. The body leans noticeably, and you notice it especially in right-hand turns, because there's no good place to brace your right knee.
Like many front-wheel-drive cars, the S60 suffers from torque steer. Heavy application of power can be a little tricky on some surfaces as the steering wheel tugs to one side. Back off the throttle or slow to a stop and it tugs or gets heavy.
The upside to the softness of the suspension is that the ride is excellent, even over nasty bumps, even with the optional 17-inch wheels fitted with Pirelli P6 all-season 235/45HR17 radials. The fact that you pay for your comfort in the corners is merely an indication that Volvo has emphasized ride quality over handling. One thing you can say for the S60 is that it definitely engages the driver, because you have to work to stay with it, and pay attention to the steering. But in a straight line at speed, even high speeds, the S60 is extremely steady as long as the road is smooth.
The T5 produces prodigious thrust from its high-pressure turbocharger, but the boost doesn't really come on until 4000 rpm. Mash your foot to the floor in any gear at 3000 rpm, and the T5 won't impress you until the revs climb to 4000 rpm, at which time it might even get you in trouble because the power comes on so strong. But if you're ready for it, it's way fun. You need to keep the revs up to keep the engine responsive. At 50 mph in fourth gear the engine is turning 2500 rpm, so you'll almost always have to downshift to third gear to pass on a two-lane.
One of the great features of Volvo's turbocharged engines is that, when driving sensibly, there's little penalty in terms of fuel economy. When equipped with the manual transmission, the T5 gets 21/27 mpg, which is only one point down on the highway rating from an automatic 2.4T.
The manual transmission shifter has a longish throw and is not particularly smooth, sometimes even a bit clunky.
The brakes feel soft, which makes it hard to coordinate heel-and-toe downshifts. We were impressed with the smoothness of the ABS, however. We didn't feel thrown forward in the seat under hard braking, as we have with other sports sedans, including the BMW 3 Series. An S60 AWD stopped in a shorter distance than a BMW 330i in a Car and Driver test, however.
The steering feels heavier in the S60 AWD version, which Volvo says is a result of the increased weight of the all-wheel-drive system. (Volvo prefers to say it has a more 'on-center feel,' which is fair enough.) The ride feels firmer on the all-wheel-drive version as well, because the shocks have been stiffened to handle the additional weight. We didn't have a chance to test the AWD model in high-speed bumpy turns, but we can say that although the ride wasn't as absorbent as in the T5, we much prefer the AWD's capability to take more challenging terrain in stride.
During Volvo's introduction of the S60 AWD on the Maine coast, a slalom course was set up on dirt for the gathered journalists, and the directional stability of the car on this loose surface was indeed excellent. Power in the S60 AWD is distributed between the front and rear wheels using a wet multi-plate clutch controlled by electronics, and the distribution varies according to conditions. With a steady throttle on dry pavement, about 95 percent of the drive is transmitted to the fro.
Volvo S60 rides well and handles well. It feels stable at high speeds. The all-wheel-drive model provides excellent driver control on slippery surfaces. The turbocharged models, designated by a T in the model name, offer strong acceleration performance.
Volvo is renowned for safety engineering and the S60 is fully equipped with active and passive safety features including a rigid safety cage.
S60 2.4 ($26,370); S60 2.4T ($30,425); 2.5T AWD ($32,175); S60 T5 ($32,825).
Options As Tested
Premium Package ($2,755) includes trip computer, leather seating surfaces, 8-way power adjustable driver's seat with adjustable lumbar support, power tilt-and-slide glass moonroof; Climate Package ($495) includes heated front seats, headlight wipers/washers, Rainsense wipers; Touring Package ($595) includes auto-dimming rear-view mirror, Homelink universal transmitter, grocery bag holder, air quality system, security laminated glass.
S60 2.5T AWD ($32,175).
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