Chris Walton, Chief Road Test Editor
Naughty. That's how Volvo is describing the 2011 Volvo S60 T6 in current advertising. It's a cute idea, but we're not on board with "naughty."
It implies misbehavior, and the all-new Volvo S60 T6 doesn't misbehave. It's actually a very disciplined sport sedan, maybe a little too disciplined for the kind of flogging we gave it. By the end of our test, we'd determined that the Volvo S60 T6 is as far from bad as any modern Volvo has ever been.
The Naughty Bits
You can't be "bad" without a little horsepower under the hood, and the S60 is well equipped in that department. For the moment, Volvo offers only one engine in the 2011 Volvo S60, a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline six-cylinder that makes 300 horsepower. Sound familiar?
All those horses get to the ground through a six-speed automatic and a standard Haldex-built all-wheel-drive system. Not ideal for all-out speed, but well suited to getting the power down effectively.
At our test track, the turbo-6 propelled the 3,890-pound sedan to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds (5.7 seconds with a 1-foot rollout). With an uncharacteristically snarling intake and exhaust honk, the S60 blew through the quarter-mile in 14.2 seconds at 99.1 mph.
While these are respectable performances, they are not the stuff of legend in the sport sedan realm. The fastest sedans in the category, the BMW 335i and the Infiniti G37, would leave the S60 in their jet wash. The Volvo would hold its own against the Acura TL SH-AWD and the Cadillac CTS, though, so it's not completely outmatched.
As sporty as it may be, the 2011 Volvo S60 is still a midsize sedan, so fuel economy and the ability to drive the car every day are still important. The silky-smooth inline-6 provides the basis for the entire car's character and the addition of turbocharging only makes it better. When turbos are done right they add an overlay of torque to an already decent curve, and the Volvo engineers have found the sweet spot.
There's a slight, almost imperceptible, hesitation just as the car begins to move from a stop, but from then on, the deep reserve of torque (a maximum of 325 pound-feet at just 2,100 rpm) carries the S60 with the same effortless composure you'd expect from a big V8.
Of course, if you drive like us and fire up the S60 with an "all right, let's see just how naughty you are" attitude, you'll pay for it at the pump. We recorded one tank at just 17 mpg while our best, largely cruise-controlled tank returned 22.3 mpg. Our overall average over 1,000 miles was 18.8 mpg — a bit shy of its official 21-mpg combined EPA estimate.
A Curvy Volvo in the Curves
The new S60 T6 still goes down the road with the "road-hugging-weight" sensation we've come to expect from Volvos. The difference now is that the suspension feels far more sophisticated and better prepared to deliver more than just a road-crushing ride.
Our tester was equipped with the modestly priced Four-C Active Chassis option ($750). So equipped, the driver may select from three damping modes: Comfort, Sport and Advanced. The differences are subtle in normal driving, though Comfort mode brings a slight decrease in the harshness over poorly matched freeway transitions.
But when we really start throwing the S60 through the twisting canyon roads above Malibu's Pacific Coast Highway, the differences between modes are far more evident. Advanced mode is particularly adept at limiting body roll while also coping with midcorner bumps. Through it all, the driver seat remains comfortable and supportive like something out of an "old" Volvo — but one that's been to a track day or two.
Similarly, the 2011 Volvo S60 T6's Haldex-sourced AWD system behaves invisibly in everyday traffic but shows its merit when you floor the throttle at the exit of a tight corner. A viscous coupling manages front/rear distribution, while electronic front and rear differentials direct side-to-side allotment of power. When a wheel loses traction, the system can apply a single brake and/or send more power to the opposing side. Even better, a corner-vectoring rationale allows it to send power to the outside wheels as you accelerate out of a turn.
There are limitations to all this electronic traction management, however, and most of it has to do with the 235/40R18 Continental ContiSport Contact 3 tires. On several occasions, when we requested thrust in fast corners, we ended up with a gentle-but-determined tendency for understeer, as the front tires weren't able to steer and put power down simultaneously.
There was a time when 0.80g lateral acceleration was a big deal, but now to get any respect, a sport sedan worth its monthly lease had better make 0.90g or better. Well, the 2011 Volvo S60 T6 is nearly there, posting a 0.87g best on our 200-foot skid pad and managing to miss slalom cones at 64.6 mph. Again, a really good performance, but still not up to the sport sedan segment leaders' level of ultimate grip and reflexes.
A Few Words About DSTC
Here's where we wish Volvo hadn't played it so safe. While in Advanced mode, a highly trained professional driver may elect to shut off the S60's dynamic stability and traction control (DSTC). However, you only get a partial "off" mode that Volvo calls DSTC Sport mode. Volvo describes DSTC Sport mode's intent thusly: "to allow controlled rear-wheel slip for performance driving."
True, we were able to record two distinct levels of computer-controlled results at our test track, but this measured oversteer business only works if your throttle foot is asking the engine room for full steam ahead.
According to Volvo, "Advanced Stability Control uses a roll-angle sensor to detect and react to oversteer at an earlier stage and understeer in situations such as slip build-up. These situations may occur if the driver suddenly releases the accelerator while steering."
Ah, but those are precisely the circumstances under which a trained driver would recognize understeer and attempt to coax oversteer. In an AWD car, there's nothing more satisfying than being able to sense the midcorner push, momentarily lift off the throttle for rotation, and then whack it to the floor for the exit with all four tires clawing at the pavement. That's how a truly naughty car would react.
Transmitting Our Desires
During our canyon run, we used the six-speed automatic transmission's Sport and Manual modes. Some automatic transmissions' sport modes do a good job of recognizing the car piling into a corner, hard on the brakes and supply preemptive downshifts. Sadly, this one does not. Instead, when you roll back on the throttle at the corner's exit, the transmission gets caught flat-footed and needs to downshift a gear or two.
To get around this, we'd left-foot brake into the same corner, then manually downshift with the console shifter while blipping the throttle with our right foot. (Nope, this transmission doesn't automatically match engine and wheel speeds, either.) Shift paddles would allow the same routine, but with two hands on the steering wheel. Again, not so naughty after all.
The absence of shift paddles speaks to our feelings about the rest of the control layout in the 2011 Volvo S60. There's an undue reverence for symmetry and style in this sport sedan's cabin. All the necessary buttons and functions are here, but not always where we'd expect them.
Short Tale of Whoa
Inevitably, the spirited roads come to an end, and brakes become as important as going or turning. Luckily, the 2011 Volvo S60 T6 has those in spades. The T6 gets ventilated front and rear discs (12.4 inches across in front, 11.9 inches rear), both with single-piston calipers.
At our test track, the shortest stop from 60 mph consumed 114 feet, a competitive distance for the class. Out on that canyon road, the brakes resisted fade quite well, the brake pedal going only a little soft after our quick session. Overall, a solid setup.
What Does "Naughty" Mean in Swedish?
Alongside its handling and braking abilities, the 2011 Volvo S60 offers all the leading-edge safety technology you would expect.
One of them is a system that can keep multiple electronic eyes on the traffic in front of you — and even self-apply the brakes if it determines an inebriated pedestrian has stumbled in front of it, or that its texting scofflaw driver is about to rear-end another car (all part of the latest version of Volvo's City Safety system).
We reluctantly tested the Volvo S60's new dynamic cruise control, which remembers your target highway speed while it automatically comes to a complete stop in traffic, then goes back up to speed when traffic permits — all without you touching either pedal. It's both cool and spooky, but we'd call that downright responsible behavior, not naughty. Maybe in Swedish, naughty translates to something like "precocious" or "vigilant."
Interior Needs No Translation
The interior of our 2011 Volvo S60 T6 comes across as a mix of austere German and artistic Scandinavian. The overall black-on-black treatment is set off by satin-metal accents and a pass-through center stack that now appears to be a Volvo trademark.
There seems to be an undue reverence for symmetry and style, especially when you consider the center stack. The rear seats, though a little tight on headroom, are comfortable for two-across, tight for three. We were surprised to find that like some high-end Mercedes-Benz sedans, the Volvo S60 can drop the rear headrests at the simple press of a button on the dash. An easy and effective means of increasing rearward visibility.
When we first drove the 2011 Volvo S60 T6 last summer, we wrote, "At last, a Volvo with charisma." And there really is something to admire and enjoy in this new sedan, with its smooth and powerful engine, and sophisticated and comfortable ride. Still, we feel the demure Swedes could've let their secret hooligans out a little more. Perhaps we'll see a truly remarkable Volvo S60 T6R in a year or so.
In the meantime, the biggest problem Volvo faces with the 2011 S60 T6 is that so many other automakers already sell cars with a similar package of attributes. As Cadillac has learned with the CTS, simply building a competent sport sedan isn't enough. In the near term, Volvo would be better off touting the S60's Swedish individuality than its capacity for naughtiness.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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