2006 Volvo S60 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
New performance all-wheel-drive model available.
The Volvo S60 combines excellent performance and a great shape with outstanding safety features. It feels like a tight European sedan and does a good job of smoothing out rough roads.
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.
Its interior is handsome and the available leather has a high-quality look and feel. Notable improvements for '06 include a revised all-wheel-drive system for better performance, newly designed wheels and simplification of the options and packages.
Four models are available for 2006: S60 2.5T ($30,270), S60 2.5T AWD ($32,045), S60 T5 ($32,045), and S60R ($37,920). The S60 2.4 has been deleted. Revisions for '06 include reorganized options packages, newly designed wheels and a new exterior color.
The 2.5T uses a turbocharged 2.5-liter engine rated at 208 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque stretching from 1500 to 4500 rpm. A five-speed automatic is standard, while a five-speed Geartronic automatic with Auto-stick is part of an option package.
Standard equipment for the base 2.5T is copious and includes central power door locks with keyless entry, power windows, front and rear fog lights, power heated outside mirrors with memory, tinted windows, a pollen filter, cruise control, dual-zone electronic climate control, trip computer, leather gearshift knob and tilt/telescoping steering wheel with illuminated cruise and audio controls, illuminated glovebox and vanity mirrors in the sunvisors, power driver's seat with memory and lumbar support, spilt/folding rear seat, 16-inch wheels and tires. A 100-watt stereo with in-dash CD player is the standard audio system across the S60 lineup.
Options for the 2.5T: Convenience Package ($995) adds an auto-dimming rearview mirror, grocery bag holder, Homelink remote garage door opener, rear parking assistance, sunglass holder and laminated side windows. For increased security, a Run Flat Package ($1,375) consists of self-supporting tires, a tire pressure monitoring system, 17-inch Orestes 10-spoke alloys with 235/45-17 run-flats, plus Dynamic Stability and Traction Control. The 2.5T Premium Package ($2,995) adds leather upholstery, power passenger seat, power tilt/slide moonroof, wood dash inlays, and rear shelf speakers. The 2.5T Sport Package ($795) requires the Premium Package and adds sport seats, Geartronic auto-stick control for the transmission, and 17-inch Thor multi-spoke wheels with 235/45R17 tires. Stand-alone options include metallic paints ($475), Dynamic Stability and Traction Control ($695, as part of a package), Interior Air Quality Sensor ($175), DVD-based navigation system ($2,120), satellite radio prep ($75), bi-xenon headlamps ($700 but requires the climate package), a wood steering wheel ($325), and a 3425-watt Dolby Pro-Logic II stereo with six-disc in-dash CD changer ($1,200).
The 2.5T AWD boasts an improved version of the sophisticated Haldex electronic all-wheel-drive system for 2006 models. Volvo calls it Instant Traction, and it provides better acceleration by instantly delivering up to 50 percent more torque to the rear axle when needed. The 2.5T AWD is equipped similarly to the 2.5T and has the same powertain choices as well as similar option packages but is equipped with specific Echo 17-inch seven-spoke alloys. Because all four wheels are driven, stability and traction control isn't required.
The sporty T5 uses a 2.3-liter inline five-cylinder engine with a high-pressure turbo producing 257 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque for much quicker acceleration. A five-speed manual transmission is standard. The T5 also gets a sports suspension, 17-inch Orpheus wheels and tires, Dynamic Stability Traction Control (DSTC), speed-sensitive steering, HomeLink, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, leather upholstery, wood trim, sport seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, leather parking brake cover, power adjustable passenger seat and other interior upgrades.
Options for the T5 include the Geartronic automatic transmission ($1,200), the Climate Package ($675), Premium Package ($2,400) with leather upholstery, aluminum mesh inlays, power tilt/slide sunroof, and black mesh inlays, and the Four-C chassis ($1,100) with driver-selectable Sport and Comfort settings. The Run-Flat Package ($975) is available but not with the Four-C chassis. The T5 Convenience Package ($795) delivers a grocery bag holder, rear parking assistance, sunglass holder, and laminated side windows. Other options inc.
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.
What you can't see is all the engineering designed to protect the people riding in the structure. It's there. Volvo's reputation for safety continues and deservedly so.
The S60R is distinguished from the other models 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 interior of the Volvo S60 is handsome and comfortable. The seats are cushy with the optional pigskin-type leather; they were redesigned for 2005 using orthopedic principles to provide better support and comfort on long trips. The pigskin leather has a high-quality look and feel. There's good interior space up front.
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.
Heating, ventilation and air conditioning controls are well designed and easy to operate, with big metaphoric controls to direct the airflow. Power 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, it works well. The leather-wrapped steering wheel has controls for the audio system that makes operating it easier while driving.
The center console features a covered storage bin and cup holders that fit all standard sizes of beverage container. 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.
Getting into the back seat requires a duck of the head. Once back there, the S60 offers good rear headroom, but adult males will find it short of legroom.
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.
The Volvo S60 offers an excellent ride, even over nasty bumps, even with the optional 17-inch wheels. It doesn't offer the razor-edge handling of a BMW, however. 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. This setup works better on rough roads, though.
Front-wheel-drive models exhibit some torque steer, especially with the more powerful engines such as the T5. Stand on the gas and you'll feel a tug on the steering wheel. It's really no big deal, though, and 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. It's extremely stable at high speeds, however.
The T5 produces prodigious thrust from its high-pressure turbocharger. And Volvo's turbocharged engines get good gas mileage. The T5 rates 21/27 mpg with the five-speed manual transmission.
We found the brakes on the soft side. We didn't feel thrown forward in the seat under hard braking as we have with other sports sedans. But braking was stable and the ABS was very smooth.
The steering is slightly heavier in the S60 AWD because of the weight of the all-wheel-drive system. It also has a more on-center feel (less play, in other words). The ride is firmer on the all-wheel-drive version, which has stiffer shocks to handle the increased weight. Overall, we think the AWD model's improved traction and handling in the rain and snow are worthwhile for anyone who annually faces those conditions.
We drove over gravel roads in the S60 AWD, and found directional stability on loose surfaces excellent. Power in the S60 AWD is distributed between the front and rear wheels using a wet multi-plate clutch controlled by electronics according to driving conditions. With a steady throttle on dry pavement, about 95 percent of the power is transmitted to the front wheels; but up to 70 percent can go to the rear wheels when required. The balance changes seamlessly and instantaneously. Of course other automakers say that, too, but the difference in Volvo's Active-On-Demand system is the degree of instantaneous-ness, particularly with the new Instant Traction system, which pre-charges the AWD system to provide instantly available torque. When one wheel slips, 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. 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 R 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 management. There is a distinct difference between the three settings, and each performs exactly as defined by the buttons. No more compromises with the ride of your high-performance car. You have a suspension that's soft when you want it to be, and stiff when you need it to be. Up to 500 times a second, sensors measure things like longitudinal, lateral and vertical acceleration of the car relative to road conditions and driving actions, and use this information to constantly adjust the ride. But the real leap with this technology is that sensors from the suspension, wheels, throttle, steering and brakes all communicate with each other before the various instantaneous s.
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, 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.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Sam Moses filed this report from the Columbia River Gorge.
Volvo S60 2.5T ($30,270); 2.5T AWD ($32,045); T5 ($2,045); R ($37,920).
Options As Tested
Premium Package ($2,995) includes leather seating surfaces, 8-way power adjustable driver's seat with adjustable lumbar support, power tilt-and-slide glass moonroof, rear shelf speakers, wood dash inlays; Climate Package ($675) includes heated front seats, headlight wipers/washers, Rainsensor wipers; Convenience Package ($995) includes auto-dimming rear-view mirror, Homelink universal transmitter, grocery bag holder, rear parking assistance, sunglass holder, and security laminated glass.
Volvo S60 2.5T AWD ($32,045).
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