Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor
With the exception of the sloth-like humans that inhabit your local DMV, recent studies have shown that Americans are working more hours per week than ever before. It would also seem that Swedes, or at least the engineers at Volvo, have been putting in major overtime, as well. All of Volvo's U.S. products are of recent vintage, with the svelte C70 Coupe debuting in 1998, the stately S80 in 1999 and the entry-level S40 Sedan and V40 Wagon in 2000. For 2001, Volvo is still pumping out new models: the new V70 Wagon and S60 Sedan.
The midsize S60 drops into the slot opened up by the departing S70 Sedan. But to just say that the S60 is the S70's replacement wouldn't be quite correct. Volvo has higher aspirations for this car. Without sacrificing any of the usual Volvo trademarks such as safety and upscale features, Volvo wants the S60 to be a sporty car, a car that would appeal to someone who likes to drive. Someone who would otherwise buy an Audi or a BMW, for instance.
To go about this, Volvo has built the S60 on the P2 platform. This is the same platform that the company uses for its S80 and 2001 V70. Neither the S80 nor the V70 are known for their Olympian athletic ability, however, so for the S60, Volvo reduced the P2 platform's dimensions to give the car a more sporting character. Compared to the 2000 S70, the S60 is 5.7 inches shorter, has a 2-inch shorter wheelbase, and has wider wheel tracks both front and rear. What this means is that Volvo has located the wheels further toward the outer edges of the vehicle to enhance stability. Slimming down the size of the P2 platform for the S60 has also granted additional torsional rigidity; it's 100 percent more rigid than the 2000 S70 and 20 percent more than the S80. In comparison to other manufacturers' cars, the S60's overall length is a few inches longer than cars like the Audi A4 and BMW 330i, but still smaller than cars like the Chrysler 300M or Infiniti I30. Base curb weight for the S60 is 3,146 pounds.
Making the car look sportier than the S80 was a top priority for Volvo. To do this, stylists gave the car the lines of a coupe without intruding on interior space. This effect is most noticeable when looking at the sloping roofline and thick C-pillars, as they look similar to the ones found on the C70 Coupe. Up front, the raised "V" hood lines hark back to Volvo's mid-'60s 122 series. If there is a complaint about the styling, it would probably be that the S60 looks too much like the S80 from the rear, as both cars have similar-looking taillights and broad-shouldered rear fenders. Overall, though, Volvo has cleverly created a distinctive midsize sedan that washes away the last remnants of the S70's cardboard box exterior styling.
Besides being smaller than the old S70, the S60 also has fewer trim levels. Volvo will offer three for 2001: the base 2.4, the mid-level 2.4T, and the range-topping T5. The three vary in levels of standard equipment and what kind of engine the car has. The S60 2.4 comes with a 2.4-liter five-cylinder engine that produces 168 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 170 foot-pounds of torque at 4,500 rpm. The 2.4T, as you might guess, is turbocharged, and it has 197 horsepower and 210 foot-pounds of torque. The biggest pecs and abs award goes to the T5. Its 2.3-liter turbocharged five-pot engine generates 247 horsepower at 5,200 rpm and 243 foot-pounds of torque from 2,400 to 5,200 rpm. Both the 2.4 and T5 come standard with a five-speed manual transmission. The manual can be replaced with an optional five-speed automatic transmission. The 2.4T is available only with the automatic. All of the cars are front-wheel drive only.
At Volvo's press launch, we were able to briefly drive a 2.4T with an automatic transmission and a T5 with a manual. The 2.4T has more than enough power for the mundane world of driving, but for maximum progress and velocity, the T5 is clearly the model to get. Volvo says the T5 will accelerate from zero to 100 kilometers per hour (about 62 mph) in 6.8 seconds. In first gear, mashing the T5's throttle pedal will likely bring on some torque steer or wheel spin (with the traction control turned off), but generally the power delivery is smooth and tractable. The shifter and clutch pedal for the T5 aren't as refined as those found on BMWs, but they are better than the combo found in Saab's four-door 9-3 Viggen.
On the road, the S60 provides a firm and controlled ride. On other Volvo cars, the suspensions are often softened for the North American market to suit our driving style and generally rougher pavement. For S60 2.4s and 2.4Ts, however, Volvo will tune the suspension on North American-bound cars the exact same way it tunes Euro models. The only change will be on the T5, in which case the North American suspension will be a little softer, but Volvo plans to offer a sport package that will include the stiffer Euro T5 suspension tuning. In our half day driving the S60, we found it to be an entertaining ride, and certainly more sporty than any other four-door Volvo in recent memory. Dynamically, the S60 probably matches up best to Saabs like the 9-5 Aero or the 9-3 Viggen. It likely handles better than Japanese front-drive sedans like the Acura TL, but its steering and responsiveness are still a cut below rear-drive sport sedans like the 330i and Lexus IS 300.
Ah, but handling and power aren't the only components for a sedan, are they? You still have to live with the car, driving it to and from work everyday. To make the daily commute a pleasure instead of a chore, the S60 has an interior that is similar in design to the S80 and V70. The broad instrument panel has large and easy-to-use knobs and buttons for the sound system and climate control. There is seating for five, with more legroom, headroom and shoulder room for front passengers when compared to the 2000 S70. A bit of a shocker, though, are the reductions in rear legroom and trunk space. Rear legroom is listed at 33.3 inches, 2.7 inches less than the S70 and 1.3 inches shorter than a BMW 330i. Trunk space is down by 1.2 cubic feet, but it still very respectable at 13.9 cubic feet.
Making its usual appearance is Volvo's roll call of safety equipment. Each passenger gets three-point seatbelts with pre-tensioners. Front passengers are protected by dual-stage front airbags, side airbags and whiplash-reducing seats. Volvo's Inflatable Curtain (IC) further helps to reduce injuries to front and rear seat occupants during a side impact. If a side impact occurs, the IC deploys from the headliner and covers both the front and rear side windows to help cushion the occupants' heads by absorbing side impacting forces. For the little ones, there's ISO-FIX, a child seat-fixation system that simplifies and improves the process for installing and locating a safety seat. Volvo will also offer On-Call Plus on the S60 as an option. Similar to GM's On-Star, On-Call Plus is a mobile phone- and GPS-based system that can send out an emergency signal to Volvo's assistance center in case of an accident. Volvo says that the system isn't solely dependent on mobile cell site access, and that the backup system employs satellite communication technology to transmit vehicle condition and location to the assistance center.
Besides safety hardware, the S60 comes with plenty of standard and optional equipment. Highlights on all trim levels include a tilt/telescope three-spoke steering wheel, B-pillar mounted air vents for rear passengers, keyless remote, a replaceable pollen and dust filter, cruise control, one-touch up/down windows and a 60/40 split folding rear seat. The T5 gets the most standard equipment, of course, with goodies like eight-way power-adjustable front seats, a trip computer, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a metallic-looking "Space Ball" shifter (manual transmission only) and a CD-equipped sound system.
In terms of optional equipment, one of the more useful is the GPS navigation system. As in the V70, the navigation system's screen rises out of the top of the dash when in use, allowing the driver to more easily keep his or her eyes on the road. A dynamic stability control system is available on the 2.4T and the T5, as are 17-inch wheels and tires. Other optional features include traction control (standard on the T5), a sunroof, upgraded sound systems, heated front seats, headlight washers and rear seat headrests that can be lowered by a button on the dash to improve rearward visibility. There is also an optional Interior Air Quality System (IAQS). IAQS monitors the level of impurities in the outside air. If pollution rises high enough, IAQS recirculates the air in the passenger compartment, which is then cleaned by an active carbon filter.
In terms of equipment and safety, there are only a few entry-level luxury cars that can match up to the S60. But would you want to buy one? That probably depends on what you are looking for. If you have owned Volvo sedans in the past, but you want one that's more like Pace Hot Picante sauce rather than Tostitos Restaurant Style mild salsa, the S60 will be an excellent match for you. It could also be a good pick over an ES 300, a 9-5 Aero or a TL. But if you want your four-door sedan to be Frank's Original Red-Hot sauce or Pico Pica hot sauce, than the BMW 330i or the IS 300 would likely suit you better. Now, where are the tortilla chips?
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