2004 Volvo S60 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
The S60 gets some good upgrades, and the new S60R shows what Volvo can really do.
The Volvo S60 offers more than a Swedish-modern alternative to BMW's 3 Series sedans. It offers a style all its own. The S60 combines excellent performance and a great shape with Volvo's outstanding safety features. It feels like a tight European sedan, with a smooth ride.
For 2004, there's a new engine option and a new rack-and-pinion steering system, improving on its already good acceleration and precise handling.
The 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.
No less than five 2004 models are available: S60 2.4 ($26,960), S60 2.5T ($29,610), S60 2.5T AWD ($31,385), S60 T5 ($33,285) and S60R ($37,250).
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 is optional ($1,000). A Sport Package ($795) adds fog lights and 16-inch alloy wheels. The Premium Package ($2,995) adds leather upholstery, wood trim, electronic climate control, a trip computer, a moonroof, and a power driver's seat with adjustable lumbar support and memory.
The 2.5T gets a turbocharged 2.5-liter engine for 2004 that produces 208 horsepower and 236 foot-pounds of torque. The 2.5T comes standard with the equipment included the S60 2.4 model's Sport and Premium packages. The 2.5T Sport Package ($795) adds sport seats, Geartronic auto-stick control for the transmission, 17-inch Thor wheels with 235/45R17 tires. A Premium Package ($2,595) for 2.5T adds leather upholstery, trip computer, moonroof, power memory front seats with adjustable lumbar support, and rear hat shelf speakers.
The 2.5T AWD comes with Volvo's sophisticated electronic all-wheel-drive system and the five-speed Geartronic automatic, which offers a mode for manual operation.
The S60 T5 uses a 2.3-liter inline five-cylinder engine with a high-pressure turbo to produce 247 horsepower and 243 pounds-feet of torque for much quicker acceleration. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, with the Geartronic automatic optional ($1,200). The T5 gets the same equipment and package options as the 2.5T, and adds Dynamic Stability Traction Control, or DSTC, or as standard equipment.
New to the lineup is the ultra high-performance S60R, which boasts 300 horsepower and 295 foot-pounds of torque beginning at just 1950 rpm. It comes with a choice of a new Volvo-built six-speed close-ratio gearbox or five-speed automatic with a manual mode, and high-performance brakes.
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 ($495) includes Rainsensor wipers, which automatically adjust wiper speed based on the amount of water on the windshield. A Dolby Pro Logic Surround Sound stereo ($1,200) 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 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.
The 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.
Volvo says the S60 represents 'the essence of contemporary Scandinavian design. The S60 seems compact at first glance, and there's a hunched-shoulder look to the rear flanks, suggesting a hockey player ready to lead a charge up the ice.
The S60R is distinguished by a smoother, longer nose; a smaller, lower grille; and a larger air dam with bigger intake openings for the big turbo and twin intercoolers.
Overall, the Volvo S60 interior is handsome and comfortable. The standard seats are cushy with the optional pigskin-type leather; you tend to slide around a bit in them, but the optional sport seats are designed to put a stop to that. 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 positioned rearward, so it's harder to reach. 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 leather boot would better complement the S60's luxurious leather upholstery.
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 the BMW.
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; it'll hold a lot of small bags, but big hard-sided bags might be a challenge. The 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.
From inside, the Volvo S60 sometimes feels bigger than it is because its shape doesn't allow you to see the four fender corners. 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 doesn't offer the razor-edge handling of the BMW 330i. Pushed through bumpy, high-speed corners, the S60's steering can't keep up. The suspension is tuned for comfort, not hard cornering, so the body leans in the chase. But 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 S60 is front-wheel-drive, and torque steer rears its head, especially with the more powerful T5. Stand on the gas and you'll feel a tug on the steering wheel. It's really no big deal, though, as you get used to it. Still, the S60 definitely engages the driver, because you have to pay attention to the steering when you're driving hard. But it's extremely steady at speed if the road isn't too bumpy.
The T5 produces prodigious thrust from its high-pressure turbocharger, but you need to keep the revs up to keep the engine responsive. The T5 won't impress you until the revs climb to 4000 rpm where the power comes on really strong. At 50 mph in fourth gear the engine is turning 2500 rpm, so you'll generally have to downshift to third gear to pass on a two-lane. Volvo's turbocharged engines get great gas mileage. With the five-speed manual transmission the T5 gets 21/27 mpg.
The brakes were on the soft side, but the ABS was very smooth. We didn't feel thrown forward in the seat under hard braking, as we have with other sports sedans, including the BMW 330i.
The steering is slightly heavier in the S60 AWD, because of the weight of the all-wheel-drive system. (Volvo prefers to say it has a more 'on-center feel,' which is fair enough.) The ride also is firmer on the all-wheel-drive version, using stiffer shocks to handle the weight. We think it's a worthwhile tradeoff to get the AWD's improved traction and handling in the rain and snow.
We drove over gravel roads in the S60 AWD, and the directional stability on this loose surface was 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 front wheels; but up to 70 percent can go to the rear wheels when required. The balance changes instantaneously. Of course other automakers say that, too; but the difference in Volvo's Active-On-Demand system is the degree of instantaneous-ness. When one wheel slips 15 degrees, far less than any human can detect, the balance of power shifts away from that wheel, thus replacing the slip with grip. In other words, it's just more secure and better stuck to the road when the weather gets nasty.
The S60R is another animal altogether. It was designed and developed by Hans Nilsson, who's been a Volvo engineer for 26 years and races his own Volvo in 24-hour endurance races. Volvo let him alone to do what he knows how to do, and he did such a bang-up job they now call him the 'Czar of R.'
The twin-turbo engine makes 300 horsepower, the big vented discs use four-piston Brembo calipers, and there is a close-ratio six-speed gearbox. We tested the S60R on the road course at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and it was a perfect day in a perfect car. The balance is brilliant, the engine train-like, the gearbox bulletproof and the brakes bomb-proof.
The suspension is what's really special. Volvo says it's the most advanced active chassis on the market. A button on the dash allows three settings, Comfort, Sport and Advanced, which mostly address the shock stiffness and engine managemen.
The 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.
Volvo S60 2.4 ($26,960); S60 2.5T ($29,610); 2.5T AWD ($31,385); S60 T5 ($33,285); S60R ($37,250).
Options As Tested
Premium Package ($2,595) includes leather seating surfaces, 8-way power adjustable driver's seat with adjustable lumbar support, power tilt-and-slide glass moonroof, trip computer, speakers; Climate Package ($550) 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.
Volvo S60 2.5T AWD ($31,385).
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