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Published: 05/24/2001 - by Erin Mahoney, Contributor
The Volvo S60 is, quite simply, our cup of green tea. Why green tea, you may ask? Well, there are several reasons (besides our insatiable need to come up with cute little analogies for the vehicles we test). There's a certain serenity that comes with driving the S60, attributable in part to the confident and soothing whir of the turbocharged engine, and partially due to the comfortable, isolated and well appointed cabin environment. We were initially inclined to dub this sedan the vehicular version of Valium; but after realizing how much fun it could be to drive, we had to come up with another metaphor. You see, green tea has caffeine not as much as coffee, but just the right amount to give you that extra bit of pep to get through the day. It boosts your energy steadily and seamlessly, without the head-spinning buzz that comes from downing an espresso at 3:00 in the afternoon. Furthermore, green tea is good for you.
For 2001, the S60 replaces Volvo's rather staid and boxy S70 sedan. But the S60 aspires to be a jauntier sedan, a vehicle that offers four-door livability and Volvo safety with coupe-like styling and sporty performance. Our 2.4T tester slots itself between the S60 2.4, with its 168-horsepower 2.4-liter five-cylinder engine, and the S60 T5, the top-of-the-line model that features a 2.3-liter turbocharged engine good for 247 horsepower.
The S60 2.4T's 2.4-liter turbocharged engine operates with deceptive stealth and fluidity. Delivering 197 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 210 foot-pounds of torque at a low 1,800 rpm, the inline five prompted our road test coordinator to exclaim, "This engine is sweet. It's almost as quick as its 50-horsepower-advantaged brother, the S60 T5." Our five-speed automatic transmission-equipped test vehicle made it from 0 to 60 mph in a brisk 7.5 seconds, and covered the quarter mile in 15.8 seconds at 88.3 mph. Much like the healthy beverage with which we insistently continue to compare it, the S60's turbocharged engine gets you up to speed smoothly and effortlessly. And it does so with a consistent and pleasurable hum that some drivers may prefer to the audible grunting and groaning of some competitive V6- and V8-powered sedans. A manageable EPA fuel mileage rating of 21 mpg city/28 mpg highway also makes a strong recommendation for the S60's inline five.
Upon full-throttle acceleration from a stop, the 2.4T exhibited just a smidgen of turbo lag to keep our heads from snapping back the way they might in a Mercedes C320 or Lincoln LS V8. Once we got going, however, the S60 delivered us into the upper echelons of mph swiftly, with maximum twist coming relatively low in the rev band and a steady pull throughout the higher rpms. The S60 performed with a decided light-footedness, imparting a feeling of grace and sensibility directly to the driver.
Our tester's five-speed automatic transmission (the 2.4T isn't available with a manual) operated with the same unruffled proficiency as the engine; it responded intelligently even to haphazard throttle inputs, upshifting unobtrusively and downshifting in a timely and perceptive manner, even as we wound our way up canyon roads. A five-speed Geartronic automatic transmission gives drivers the option of rowing their own gears when the mood strikes it's a $200 option on the 2.4T that didn't come on our test car.
Braking action in the S60 was you guessed it smooth and confidence-inspiring. Taking hold quickly and modulated with ease, the four-wheel discs with ABS and Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD) pulled us down from 60 to 0 in a mere 123 feet.
Before we begin to sicken our readers with our Pollyanna-esque gushing and proselytizing, we'll switch gears for a moment (excuse the pun, though it's quite inexcusable, really, considering our 2.4T tester didn't give us the option of changing our own gears) and focus on some of the slightly tarnished characteristics of our golden Volvo.
Much like in the S60 T5 we tested shortly prior to the 2.4T, we discovered that this Volvo's MacPherson strut front/multilink independent rear suspension occasionally seemed to suffer from an identity crisis. While it proved exceptionally absorbent over most road surfaces, it would stiffen up suddenly over broken pavement, making for a jarring change in ride quality. And even though the coil springs and hydraulic shock absorbers were adept at damping most irregularities, they occasionally did so intrusively, making it apparent that the suspension componentry was working overtime to keep the cabin isolated from the road. On smooth roads at high speeds, the S60 hunkered down and barreled forward like a true sport sedan. But upon hitting a significant bump or dip, a thud would resonate through the cabin, and the vehicle would rebound up and down for a little longer than we would have preferred. Driven on twisty canyon roads, the S60 rolled moderately through turns. It's not as fun to drive as some other vehicles in this segment, such as the rear-wheel-drive Lexus IS 300 or BMW 3 Series. But it's no wet noodle, either; during track testing, our tester got through the slalom at a nimble 61.9 mph.
Part of the S60's lack of driver involvement comes from the its rack-and-pinion steering. The light rack lacks feel and sharpness. But for those potential buyers who are looking for more of an entry-luxury sedan, and who appreciate a significant amount of assist in their steering system, the S60 will elicit virtually no complaints at all. Our own assessment: At moderate speeds, the rack felt adequately weighted and responded promptly to inputs, but at highway velocities, it was a little too light for some of our drivers' tastes. Torque steer was nearly nonexistent in the S60 2.4T, which is not surprising, considering it makes a relatively modest 197 horsepower. It was more noticeable in the higher-horsepower T5.
Once you get past the strong, chemical smell of the dyed leather seats, the S60's cabin proves a hospitable and well-appointed environment, certainly not the worst place to spend an hour or so while stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Volvo interiors are typically uniquely and attractively designed, and the S60 is no exception. We appreciated the broad, flat center stack that's angled slightly toward the driver; we were delighted by the quirky little pictogram of a seated figure that incorporates the buttons for direction of airflow; and we were pleasantly surprised to find little storage pockets hidden on the front seats just behind our knees. Heck, we even appreciated the little headlight wiper blades. In essence, we loved the very Swedishness of the Volvo S60. Other niceties on our test car included the optional dash-mounted cupholder (two more are hidden in the center console), steering wheel stereo controls and a dandy trip computer that displays attributes such as miles to empty, average mpg and average speed.
Of course, our generously optioned tester wasn't without several other typical luxury sedan accoutrements. Extra-cost options on our S60 included the aforementioned leather seats, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, a power sunroof, a power passenger seat, a CD player, simulated wood trim and metallic paint. We also had two packages, Touring and Cold Weather/STC, which added stability traction control, heated front seats, the trip computer, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a HomeLink transmitter (which can be programmed to control home security systems and exterior lighting), and memory side mirrors, among other little niceties. All of these extra doodads brought our price up from $30,375 to $36,260 a pretty significant jump. We could've done without the fake wood trim, which was attractive but decidedly sparse; the smelly leather seats; and the leather steering wheel. Come to think of it, we might even bypass the Touring package, which was responsible for our tester's auto-dimming mirror, trip computer, dash-mounted cupholder, HomeLink system, grocery bag holder and electric folding rear headrests. And we definitely don't need that metallic paint. That would bring the price down to a tidy $33,360. Still not cheap, but getting closer to what we'd like to pay for an entry-level luxury sport sedan. We might even give up the $1,200 sunroof, but according to Volvo's Web site it's a mandatory extra cost option on the 2.4T.
Even without all the optional goodies, the S60 provides a commodious interior. The front seats are certainly comfy and well contoured; they even featured a much-appreciated lumbar adjustment feature. Dual zone climate control comes standard to keep everyone up front happy. Backseats are likewise cozy, with seat bottoms angled to provide thigh support and ample foot room under the front seats. The seatback angle, however, might be too reclined for the comfort of particularly upright individuals, and taller passengers will probably wish for more legroom. Especially useful are the B-pillar-mounted air vents for backseat riders, a feature we don't usually find in midsize sedans. Wind and road noise are beautifully quelled in the S60 (unless the suspension happens to take a direct hit), and rattles and squeaks in the cabin are almost nonexistent.
The S60's ample interior accommodations are rendered even more impressive in light of its coupe-derived exterior design, an effect accomplished with a sloping roofline, short rear end and thick C-pillars. Strong shoulder lines culminate in distinctively styled taillights very similar to those found on the S80, gracing this sedan with a strong, curvy figure. In our humble opinion, the S60 is one of the more attractive four-doors on the road today. Five years ago, who would have thought we'd be saying that about a Volvo?
And since this is a Volvo we're talking about, you know a whole mess of safety features comes standard. Dual stage front airbags, side-impact front airbags, inflatable side curtains, side-impact protection system, whiplash protection system, three-point seatbelts for all five seating positions, ISO-FIX child seat fixation system, headrests for all seating positions, daytime running lights, approach lighting activated with the key fob and an engine immobilizer are standard on all S60s, as are ABS brakes with electronic brake distribution. And that brings us to our next and final reference to the green tea analogy: The S60 is good for you.
Competition in the entry-level luxury sedan segment is getting fiercer every year, so Volvo was wise to reinvent its somewhat stodgy sedan image by replacing the S70 with the smaller and sportier S60. While the 2.4T might not appeal to stubborn enthusiasts who prefer the more sharply tuned driving dynamics of a 3 Series or Lexus IS 300, we maintain that it holds an appeal that is all its own, and purely Volvo. The automaker has managed to create a competent sport sedan without in the least bit compromising its rep for safety and luxury, and the company is to be commended for it.
While the 2.4T might not appeal to stubborn enthusiasts who prefer the more sharply tuned driving dynamics of a 3 Series or Lexus IS 300, it holds an appeal that is all its own, and purely Volvo. The automaker has managed to create a competent sport sedan without in the least bit compromising its rep for safety and luxury.
System Score: 5.5
Components. This system is a major letdown from recent Volvos we've listened to. If you're serious about buying a Volvo vehicle and good audio is important to you, you owe yourself the opportunity to listen to the optional system available in this vehicle. Option coded HU-803 and priced at $1,200 MSRP, the step-up system has about twice the number of speakers, a 400-watt amplifier and incredible sound. It's truly one of the best-sounding factory audio systems available in the market today. The stock system in this S60 pales by comparison.
This system offers a pair of 6.5-inch speakers in the rear doors. The front doors contain a pair of 1-inch tweeters above and a pair of 6.5-inch mid-bass drivers below. That's it for speakers. The head unit has a lot of pluses and minuses. On the plus side, it's well appointed and logically laid out, with large buttons and widely spaced controls. On the negative side, Volvo chooses to use a funky dial arrangement for radio presetting, instead of the industry standard row of presets. Guess they have a lot of free time up there in Sweden.
Performance. Mediocre. Everything about the sound in this system is flat and uninteresting. With the exception of aggressive attack in the percussion area and some liveliness with horns, this one is nothing to write home about. Pass.
Best Feature: Some nice touches on head unit.
Worst Feature: No push button presets.
Conclusion. It's hard to recommend this system. With a confusing user interface and ho-hum sound, we strongly suggest stepping up to the upgrade system. You'll be glad you did.
Executive Editor Karl Brauer says:
Volvo has undergone an astounding metamorphosis in the last few years, no doubt a result of getting access to Ford's purse strings. Like Jaguar, modern Volvos manage to be completely functional without completely diluting the brand's original identity. For Jaguar, that means they're still fun to drive and fun to look at, but they don't break down on a regular basis.
For Volvo, that means they offer orthopedic seat comfort, a serene interior with vault-like security and unique styling that sets them apart from competitors. It also means they're fun to drive with excellent power and handling characteristics (how many classic Volvos can you say that about?). The S60 accurately represents the "new" Volvo with its palatial seating, quiet cabin and willing engine. While other front drivers in this price range, such as the ES 300 and Millenia, offer limited enjoyment on twisty roads, the S60 feels downright sporty due to its stable chassis.
I'd like to see larger gauges that are easier to read at a glance, and the steering wheel-mounted cruise control buttons have a cheap feel. The interior A-pillar covers and sun visors also seem a bit chintzy for a car in this price range, which brings me to the main issue I have with the S60. Our test car was over $36,000, and only by cutting some basic luxury items, like leather, sunroof and power seats, can you lower the price to a more respectable $33,000. And remember, this is still just the 2.4T model, not the upscale T5. That kind of money buys you a lot of entry-luxury car these days, such as the more powerful Acura TL Type S or the sportier Lexus IS 300.
I still like the Volvo, but I like some of its lower-priced competitors even more.
Technical Editor Miles Cook says:
Having driven both the higher-end S60 T5 model and this car, I'm finding it hard to remember their being really that much different. I suppose that's either paying a high compliment to the 2.4T or slighting the T5 variant.
Besides the approximate 50-horsepower difference between the two cars and the T5's beautiful 17-inch wheels, there really isn't that much difference. Even the 2.4T's 16-inch wheels are nearly attractive as the 17s. In other words, these cars are much more similar than a BMW 330i and the hyper-fast M3. Furthermore, there's less torque steer in this car than in the T5, because there's less power trying to make its way through the front halfshafts and to the ground.
In general, the S60 lineup is a fine alternative to other entry-level luxury sport sedans such as the 330i, the Lexus IS 300 and the Mercedes C320. The transmission in this car worked just as nicely as the one in the T5, despite lacking the T5's Geartronic mode. The ride quality in this car and the T5 were also very comparable, as both cars are as smooth as glass on the open road, with maybe a bit more understeer tuned into the chassis than we might go with, given the choice. There are also the exceptionally comfortable seats that made it a breeze for me to find a perfect driving position.
Speaking of seats, one of the finest aspects of all about the S60 is its sumptuous, if maybe a tiny bit austere, cabin. It's simply one of the nicest interiors in this class of car. While the radio controls take some getting used to, the 20 presets for the radio stations are more than I'd ever need.
You'd be hard-pressed to go wrong with Volvo's S60 sedan in any trim level.
Senior Editor Brent Romans says:
About 9 months ago, Volvo held its S60 introduction to the press in Sweden. As a purely altruistic move, I volunteered myself to be the Edmunds.com representative sent for a grueling week of eating Swedish meatballs, seeing the countryside and occasionally driving an S60. Coming away from the trip, I had a positive impression of the car. While it couldn't provide the type of driving pleasure that comes from a BMW 330i or Lexus IS 300, it did come with a comfortable interior, a high level of safety and good feature content. That impression was confirmed when we had the 2.4T test vehicle for a week. I think I'd buy a 2.4T over a T5 model. The T5's extra performance isn't worth the price premium, in my opinion. It also frees up money for options. A base price of about $30,000 sounds good, but Volvo doesn't include many upscale features at that point. Using our Web site's pricing calculator, I equipped a hypothetical 2.4T with most (but not all) of the available options. The price jumped to almost $40,000 a 33 percent increase! This is still cheaper than a comparatively equipped BMW or Mercedes, but it's a lot more than most of the Japanese near luxury sedans. My advice? Pick your options wisely.
"...I thought I'd post a few comments on my new S60 2.4T, 3 months w/ 3k on it: Good: (1) Safety need I say more? (2) Built like a tank, very solid feel. (3) Great engine, good performance. This car really wants to fly. (4) Attractive styling, draws attention. (5) Interior quality is nice. Optional equipment is very high quality. (6) Dealer was great. (7) Stops very quickly. Adds a lot of confidence to the driving experience. (8) Volvo brand perception is just right. Perceived as high quality, but not eyebrow-raising like MB or BMW. (9) Resale value is great. Not as good: (1) Minor defects related to alarm system and plastic molding. (2) Trunk lid has cheap, lightweight feel to it. Closes with 'clank' sound as opposed to solid sound the doors make. (3) Remote control is not very responsive. Often takes two or three tries to unlock the doors. (4) Two design flaws: Coin 'holder' in armrest is almost comical. Must have been an afterthought. When the driver's window is rolled down, the wind deflects off the pillar and into the driver's head. Makes driving with the window down at any speed almost unbearable. (5) Blind spots. The wide pillars make visibility difficult. (6) Suspension is very stiff for daily commute. That could be a function of my Pirelli tires. I may consider sacrificing performance for a more comfortable ride...." graham24t1, "The new Volvo S60 sedan," #376 of 377, April 27, 2001
"I just recently obtained a S60 2.4T. Prior to the S60, I was involved in a very serious car accident. I have two young children and I wanted a safe but sporty car. This fit the need. I have had no problems with the car. I have been impressed with the pick-up, ride and brakes. No rattles or thumping. I have found that there is understeer when I push its limits (which I rarely do). The interior has a nice, refined feel to it, and the stereo is different but once I read the owner's manual, I had no problems. This car is different from the BMW and Lexus. Basically, it doesn't have the true sports car feel that the BMW has, but it won't punish you like the BMW does with daily driving. It has a more luxurious feel than the Lexus, and I think it looks better inside and out. The Mercedes was a bit too pricey (selling for MSRP plus) in my area, so I didn't even look at it. All in all, I couldn't be more satisfied. It has been a fun car to drive as a highway/city hybrid and the trunk space makes long weekend trips with my family easy (I couldn't do this with the BMW trunk size)." david167, "The new Volvo S60 sedan," #355 of 377, March 20, 2001
"I have had my S60 2.4T since January, and I am very happy with it. Just over 4K miles so far, and nothing has gone wrong with it to speak of except the remote locks needed reprogramming once. I find the car to be very quiet and responsive. It was great in the snow this winter, and I haven't noticed any unusual noises. The stereo is fantastic, though, and may drown some of them out. I do mostly highway driving and can get 28 mpg easily." tensor, "The new Volvo S60 sedan," #354 of 377, March 20, 2001
"I own an Ash Gold Volvo S60 2.4 non-turbo with an automatic and the intro and winter packages.... Paid $29,600. I compared it to the Acura TL, BMW 325, Audi A4, Mercedes C240 and Lexus ES 300. What I like about the car: (1) Styling: I've always loved the styling of the S80 and I think the S60 looks even better. (2) Comfort: I've driven lots of cars and when it comes to long distance comfort, the Volvo seats are the best. This car is extremely comfortable. The S60's seats are infinitely adjustable, and with the tilt/telescoping wheel, it is easy to get into a supremely comfortable all-day driving position. (3) Value: Many people claim Volvos are expensive, but the value of the S60 is quite good. The Acura TL is a little better, but the Acura doesn't offer the whiplash reducing seats or the side inflatable curtains. All the other cars BMW, Audi, Benz were about $3,000 to $4,000 more expensive when equipped with close to the same options. (4) The handling of the car: The Volvo really feels sporty and unlike Volvos I've driven in the past, this car is actually fun to drive on twisty back roads...fast. (5) Safety: This car feels very substantial. All of the advanced safety features and Volvo's pre-testing on crashworthiness and [the company's] focus on safety add a peace of mind that I might actually survive a bad accident unless I get run over by one of those monster 7,000 pound-SUV's. (6) Front-wheel drive: I live in the hilly Northeast, and rear-wheel-drive cars are best left at home when the snow falls. I really considered going with the 325i or the C240, but I have several friends who have been stuck so many times, they are considering buying a second car for the winter. (7) Power: Believe it or not, the base 168-horsepower engine is no slouch. If you are a drag racer, go with the 2.4T or T5. If you drive with passengers or kids, you'll be fine. What I don't like about the car: (1) The rear seat legroom was reduced from the older S70 model that the S60 replaces. It's not terrible, but it would be nice to have more rear seat stretch room. It's on par with the C-Class and the BMW 3 Series. (2) The armrest should be covered in leather or fabric, rather than plastic. (3) The brakes are very strong almost too strong and take an adjustment period to modulate properly. On the plus side, this car stops...fast. Other than that I am very pleased with my S60." mike1123, "The new Volvo S60 sedan," #367 of 377, April 2, 2001
"I have had my T5 for almost two weeks now. Cheers: The black body moldings protect the doors from parking lot dings and give character lines. In New York, you'd wish that whole car was made of rubber, though. High-rpm kick-in-the-butt turbo boost. Excellent fit and finish, almost like an Audi, better than small Bimmers. Feel of solidness, Bimmer-like thump going over expansion joints. Luxurious leather, comfortable seats. Cool color no one else here has golden cars. Silent, but not quite as silent as a Toyota. ECC works like a dream. Jeers: No rear legroom, but that's not my problem really. I don't sit there. No visibility to left hindquarters. It is really dangerous to merge to the left almost blind. Windshield gets scratched very easily (anyone knows a way to make scratches less visible?). Imprecise steering, too much boost. High-frequency vibration from engine. No low-end torque whatsoever. Turbo lag. Quite useless manumatic the automatic mode cannot be beat. I would prefer the 2.4T's transmission, or selectable shift modes. Standard speakers are only so-so. FM radio sound quality. No clear-lens headlights (but very good lights otherwise). Touchy brakes. Those are all just minor imperfections; I still love the car!" inssi, "The new Volvo S60 sedan," #260 of 377, Feb. 3, 2001
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