Facing big guns like the BMW 3 Series, Infiniti G and Mercedes-Benz C-Class in the entry-level luxury sport sedan game is like going up against NBA gamers like Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Kevin Garnett. But as we found out while soaking up the miles on the freeway, commuting, running errands and enjoying a coastal drive, the 2012 Volvo S60 T5 has got game.
As a Volvo, the S60 has plenty of cutting-edge safety features designed to protect, well, not only the driver and passengers but also pretty much everyone in the vicinity. With its available Driver Alert Control (which senses lane wander and which would be working overtime in L.A.), it can even protect its driver from himself. And should you suddenly be bearing down upon a pedestrian (who is at least 31 inches tall), the available pedestrian detection feature can help you avoid hitting that seemingly suicidal jaywalker by automatically applying full braking force if you don't react quickly enough.
When you're not avoiding animate and inanimate hazards of the urban jungle, the S60 T5 makes for a fine automobile. The turbocharged five-cylinder engine might sound a little gruff, but power delivery is broad and fairly smooth and there's more than ample urge on tap. A supple ride over neglected city roads, sure-footed (if not inspiring) handling, decent fuel economy and expectedly superb seats round out the S60's amiable, utility player personality.
Good as the 2012 Volvo S60 T5 is, there are other free agents worthy of consideration. More serious driving enthusiasts should check out the BMW 328i, while those who need a larger backseat could consider the Infiniti G. Other worthy players in the mix include the Acura TSX, Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
The S60 T5 runs with a turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-5 engine (hence "T5") that cranks out 250 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque. The sole transmission available is a six-speed automatic, and it doesn't have the sportiest calibration in the sport sedan segment. Those who revel in sonorous engine sounds might not dig the T5's somewhat gravelly voice. Think Volvo's Rod Stewart to BMW's Barry White.
Overall, the 2012 Volvo S60 T5 provides solid if unexciting performance. Programmed for fuel efficiency like most automatics these days, the T5's transmission can make the car feel lazy as it hurries into higher gears and requires a deliberate prod to the gas pedal to downshift. But putting it in Sport mode perks it up, as it holds lower gears longer and steps down more readily. The T5 is respectably quick as it sprints to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds, about midpack for the segment.
You won't get punished at the pump either, as fuel economy is pretty good for a 250-hp luxury sport sedan. Despite our leaden feet, penchant for Sport mode and traffic-ridden commutes, we averaged 22.3 mpg against the EPA's combined estimate of 23 mpg. A kicked-back cruise up the Pacific Coast Highway yielded 28 mpg.
With their progressive action and fairly firm pedal action, the brakes performed well in daily driving, while at the track the T5 stopped from 60 mph in a drama-free (quietly, with no pedal shudder or wander) 128 feet. However, that's a bit below average for this class where we'd expect closer to 120 feet.
Volvo unabashedly trumpets the S60 as a sport sedan. But although you can make fairly short work of a winding road, hustling it along isn't quite as much fun as it would be in a few of the S60's rivals that offer sharper handling and a more involving drive. Although the S60 sticks well in the corners, there is more body roll than we'd expect when pressed harder. Still, the reality is that most folks won't drive that hard and would likely be pleased with the T5's competent handling and well-weighted, precise steering.
Long a Volvo virtue, the front seats are about the best in the business with their well-shaped cushions and solid support. We found enough adjustment in the power driver seat and tilt-and-telescoping wheel to accommodate both the short and the tall among our editors. The same can't be said of the rear seats. Sure, they're comfortable for folks who are about average in height, but legroom isn't in great abundance and the sexy sloping roof line robs it of rear headroom.
Although the 2012 Volvo S60 T5 gives away all-out athleticism to its competitors, you can't criticize the ride. Whether it's traversing pothole-riddled city streets or grooved concrete freeways, the Volvo remains composed, taking the hits without jostling its passengers. It's also fairly quiet at speed. At 70 mph the T5's cabin registered 64.5 dBA, even quieter than the BMW 328i.
At first glance, all those little buttons populating the center stack can be confusing, but some seat time makes this a non-issue. The climate controls feature familiar twist knobs for temperature and fan speed as well as Volvo's clever "Mode Man," wherein you simply press on the part of the seated humanoid's body where you want the air to flow. The navigation system is also straightforward to operate, with a conventional dial interface and intuitive display graphics.
Our car had adaptive cruise control and, once you get comfortable with the idea of the car slowing down on its own if need be, it's a welcome feature. Rather than having to cancel and resume your set speed to allow for the ebb and flow of freeway traffic, the system smoothly adjusts your velocity to match the car in front of you as you come up upon it. This once was a feature found only on large premium sedans and it's a pleasure to see it used in a car that's more affordable.
At 12 cubic feet, the S60's trunk capacity is on the small side, though it's about the same as the A4's and C-Class'. Well-shaped and with concealed hinges, it is easy to load and makes the most of its capacity. You can drop the fold-down rear seats via a couple of levers conveniently located in the trunk, rather than having to walk around and reach into the rear seat area to access the releases — a nice touch.
Design/Fit and Finish
With its swoopy roof line and flared fenders, the latest S60 looks rather buff and is a handsome example of Volvo's newer styling direction. To our eyes, the 2012 Volvo S60 T5 is one of the best-looking cars in its class, which is saying something when you're keeping company with the likes of the A4 and 328i.
Volvo's trademark slim profile center stack highlights the cabin, while metallic accents provide a sporty and upscale touch. Although a two-tone interior is available at no extra cost for Premium package-equipped cars, ours had the monotone black. Most staffers prefer the two-tone treatment, as they feel it makes for a richer and more interesting cabin. One can also warm things up inside by opting for real wood accents.
Overall, the interior exudes quality, with solid, well-finished materials and tight, evenly spaced panel gaps all around.
Who should consider this vehicle
If competent overall performance, long-haul comfort and unique, handsome styling carry more sway for you than ultra-sharp and communicative handling, the 2012 Volvo S60 T5 deserves serious consideration. Those who like the T5's attributes with even more kick and a more engaging soundtrack may consider the T6 version of the S60, which features a 300-hp turbocharged V6.
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