You have a lot of choices if you're shopping for an entry-level luxury sedan, and starting in September 2010, you can add the 2011 Volvo S60 T6 AWD to the list. Maybe you'd forgotten that Volvo still sells a medium-size premium sedan. The original S60 debuted way back in the 2001 model year, and the Swedish automaker is just now getting around to redesigning it.
Stunning is the only way to describe our 2011 Volvo S60 test car as we approach, keys in hand. Sixty miles later, we're still thinking about how sleek and sophisticated the redesigned S60 looks. This is a good start. Other points in the new S60's favor include a strong turbocharged six-cylinder engine, smooth ride quality and leading-edge safety technology. Notably, the 2011 Volvo S60 is the first car to enter the market with an optional pedestrian detection system that spots real, live humans and automatically applies the brakes to help you avoid colliding with them.
Although Volvo is keen to emphasize that the 2011 Volvo S60 T6 AWD is also the sportiest sedan it has ever built, this new S60 still isn't going to change your mind about buying the similarly sized and priced BMW 3 Series or Infiniti G37, at least not if you're looking for thrills on back roads. It is, however, a fine alternative to middle-of-the-road cars like the Acura TL, Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, especially if you're drawn to its avant-garde design or legendary Volvo safety.
Initially, the 2011 Volvo S60 will come only with a six-cylinder engine. Known as the T6, this turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder is the most potent engine Volvo has ever offered in the S60. It's rated at 300 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission with sport and manual shift modes is standard, as is all-wheel drive. A front-wheel-drive model won't be offered at launch, but Volvo will add one in early 2011, along with a second, more fuel-efficient engine option.
Step on the gas pedal and the 2011 Volvo S60 T6 AWD moves out briskly. Overtaking other cars on the freeway is effortless, and Volvo's claimed 6.2-second 0-60-mph time should be right on target. The engine delivers its power in a smooth, aurally pleasing manner, and the six-speed automatic shifts smoothly, too. Fuel economy is average compared with other six-cylinder models in this class, with projected EPA mileage ratings of 17 city and 26 highway mpg.
Three different suspension programs are available on the 2011 S60 T6 AWD. The standard setup is called "Dynamic" and is meant to give the S60 a sporting character. Buyers wanting more compliance over potholed highways can opt for the less aggressive "Touring" setup for no extra charge. If you want the best of both worlds, there's the optional Four-C adaptive suspension, which has driver-selectable "Comfort," "Sport" and "Advanced" settings.
Our S60 T6 AWD test car had the Dynamic setup, along with standard 18-inch all-season tires (17s are also available). We wouldn't call it a sport sedan, but handling is sure-footed and it's easy to find a groove as you go from corner to corner. The steering has a nice weight to it (not too heavy) and feels precise as you enter cloverleaf freeway ramps.
There's really no downside to the 2011 Volvo S60's improved handling either. The Dynamic suspension provides a comfortable ride over cobblestones and expressways alike. It's quiet in the cabin, too, with minimal road noise in spite of the 18-inch tires.
Seat comfort is exceptional up front, thanks to Volvo's orthopedically correct seat design. These seats are comfortable as soon as you sit down, and they remain supportive after hours in the saddle. The steering wheel has a generous range of telescope adjustment, too.
Unfortunately, the backseat isn't quite as accommodating. The seats themselves are supportive, but as in the previous S60, legroom and foot room are tight for adults over 5-foot-8. Rear legroom measures just 33.5 inches, and the TL, A4, 3 Series and G37 all offer at least an inch more.
The 2011 S60 has the thin center stack design that has become a signature feature in Volvo interiors. We like the straightforward dual temperature adjustment dials and the humanoid pictogram for fan mode adjustment, but the sea of small audio buttons is starting to look dated. Auxiliary and USB inputs are standard, as is a six-month satellite radio subscription.
The available DVD-based navigation system dispenses with the complicated back-of-the-steering-wheel controls in the XC60 and adopts a more conventional dial-type controller (which also happens to be the radio tuning knob). In practice, this interface works fine, though Volvo's navigation software still feels a few years behind the times. Still, the system incorporates real-time traffic and a back-up camera, and Volvo dealers will additionally sell you a front blind-view camera that extends your field of vision when pulling out of a blind driveway.
Other key active safety features on the 2011 Volvo S60 T6 AWD include standard City Safety, which can help you avoid rear-ending other vehicles at speeds of up to 19 mph. Included in the optional Technology package is Volvo's new pedestrian detection feature, which can apply full braking force (reducing speed by as much as 22 mph) to help you avoid hitting pedestrians who are at least 31 inches in height. This package also includes adaptive cruise control and a lane departure warning system.
Finding a place to put iPhones and snacks is no problem in the S60, as the front door bins, glovebox and cupholders are generously sized. Trunk capacity is typical for this class at 12 cubic feet, and a low liftover height makes it easy to access the space. Both the rear seats and the front passenger seat fold down, and there's a separate ski pass-through.
Design/Fit and Finish
Interior materials in the 2011 Volvo S60 are on par with the rest of the entry-level luxury sedan class. You may not care for the heavier graining on the dash and doors, but there's no denying that the leathers, vinyls and plastics in this cabin are of solid quality. Besides, Volvo offers some unconventional wood and metal treatments that give the S60's cabin more personality than other sedans in the segment. Some buttons and stalks lack the weightiness of German-car switchgear, but there's nothing overtly cheap.
Who should consider this vehicle
The 2011 Volvo S60 T6 AWD is a well-rounded entry-level luxury sedan. It's an excellent choice, of course, if you want all the latest safety technology in a moderately priced premium sedan. But it should hold equal appeal for those who take a shine to its trendy design and just want an entry-luxury sedan with plenty of power, a smooth ride and tidy handling. Its standard all-wheel drive makes it a good choice if you'll be driving in snow.
That said, nearly all of the Volvo's competitors have AWD as an option, and most of them offer an equally agreeable ride-handling balance. And as we noted, many of them have larger backseats. Most of them give you more engine choices, too. In particular, Audi's A4 is a better bet if you're looking to maximize your mpg.