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Tested: 2011 Volvo S60 T6 AWD

Aug 08, 2023Aug 08, 2023

Emergence philosophy and the new Volvo sedan.

Volvo's last new large sedan, the S80, didn't exactly wow us. We might have said—actually, we did say—that the S80 had all the flavor of  Wasa crispbread. That car left us worried that the wacky engineering folks who created the 150-mph turbocharged bricks of the 1990s had left the company, or perhaps were hit with a debilitating depression after hearing that the hoped-for ABBA reunion would never materialize.

But we don't let the vehicles of the past cloud our new-car judgments. We’re ready for surprises, good or bad, and occasionally the Swedes offer up shockers like the fleet-footed XC60, the chuckable C30, and transgender surgery. We weren't immediately surprised by the new S60 because nothing about it stands out. It doesn't have the overtly sports-car feel of its rear-drive peers. With a transverse-engine layout, a serious front-weight bias (61.7 percent of the 3896-pound curb weight rests on the front tires), and a standard all-wheel-drive system that is 95 percent front-drive most of the time, the S60 cannot pretend to be a sports car.

It took several days of study before we began to appreciate the way in which every aspect of the S60 sings with equal intensity and timbre. The primary controls, the powertrain, the ride, the sound—even the way the seat is cushioned—all come together in a harmonious and consistent way. The fact that there are no surprises or irregularities is itself an accomplishment. The S60 is at once refined, comfortable, and even a little sporty. Ultimately, it may not offer the graceful handling of the BMW 3-series, the serenity of a Lexus, or the elegant sheetmetal of an Audi, but the Volvo manages to rouse near greatness from a chorus of nicely entwined parts.

Constructed off the same sturdy platform as the larger S80, this S60 is fractionally bigger and 176 pounds heavier than the last one we tested, an S60R model. Like that S60R, the new S60 makes 300 horsepower, but the R had a high-strung five-cylinder engine that, while potent, had us reaching for the noise-canceling headphones. Crammed between this car's strut towers now is a transversely mounted 3.0-liter, turbocharged inline-six that spins eagerly and doles out power with the progressivity of a non-turbo engine. The engine isn't new—Volvo's S80 and XC60 also use it—but the S60 was the first to get an internal-friction-reduction treatment and a bump from 281 horsepower to 300 (at 5600 rpm); torque is also up, from 295 pound-feet to 325 (at a higher 2100 rpm). The all-wheel-drive S60 hits 60 mph in an easy 5.5 seconds, a time that puts the heavier Volvo neatly between the BMW 328i and 335i. In most driving conditions, the six works quietly and keeps its combustive efforts on the far side of the fire wall. Spin it toward the 6600-rpm redline, and a 77-decibel growl sneaks into the cabin.

Building speed is easy enough in the S60. Wind noise is muted, which makes the hum of the W-rated 235/40R-18 Continental ContiSportContact 3 tires that much more evident. We measured 72 decibels at 70 mph (which verges on loud for this class of car), but inside the cabin, the tire noise isn't intrusive, merely noticeable. Okay, so those tires may call a bit of attention to themselves, but they’ve got cling. Skidpad grip came in at a serious 0.90 g, and the sticky rubber helped the Volvo stop from 70 mph in 161 feet. Although it cannot be completely shut off, the stability-control system comes with an algorithm called Corner Traction Control, which clamps the brake calipers of the inside wheels when cornering to help pivot the S60 through turns. As a result, the S60 is easy to drive quickly, as it securely bends toward apexes with an agility that belies its nose-heavy  weight distribution.

Volvo's Dynamic chassis setup is stand­ard (the softer Touring suspension is a no-cost option), and despite the performance tires and 18-inch wheels, the ride is never abusive. The S60 is especially compliant in roll, which makes its center of gravity feel high, almost like it's at the top of the dashboard. At times, the easy-handling nature of the S60 reminds us of an Audi A6 3.0T, but the slightly tippy feel also had us recalling Volvo's own XC60 crossover.

Steering feel, a theoretical aspect of the previous S60, is now present in this generation. Volvo tells us it worked hard to improve feedback and that the new steering rack has gotten 100 percent stiffer in torsion. What we noticed is that the effort builds predictably with cornering loads and there is little lost motion, even on center. There are three driver-adjustable effort settings for the steering; we found the middle one to be just right. Serving up the road is a beefy, leather-coated steering wheel that tilts and telescopes. Sweet-potato-colored leather, grained to look like elephant skin, covers the interior. Thrones, not mere seats, are a Volvo tradition, and the S60 doesn't disappoint in this regard. Padded like a pillow-top mattress, the chairs have an initial pliability that yields to firmer foam below. One staffer compared them to baked bread fresh from the oven, but he may have been on his way to lunch. Dashboard plastics are gloss-free and convincingly mimic animal hide. Much of the switchgear is shared with the S80 (that's one part of the S80 we never complained about). The S60's interior doesn't annoy, a huge accomplishment in a modern car.

VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, 4-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan

PRICE AS TESTED: $46,200 (base price: $38,550)

ENGINE TYPE: turbocharged and intercooled inline-6, aluminum block and head, port fuel injection

Displacement: 180 cu in, 2953 ccPower: 300 bhp @ 5600 rpmTorque: 325 lb-ft @ 2100 rpm

TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic with manumatic shifting

DIMENSIONS: Wheelbase: 109.3 in Length: 182.2 inWidth: 73.4 in Height: 58.4 inCurb weight: 3896 lb

C/D TEST RESULTS: Zero to 60 mph: 5.5 secZero to 100 mph: 13.4 secStreet start, 5-60 mph: 6.0 secStanding ¼-mile: 14.1 secTop speed (governor limited): 133 mphBraking, 70-0 mph: 161 ftRoadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.90 g* *Stability-control-inhibited.

FUEL ECONOMY:EPA city/highway driving: 18/26 mpgC/D observed: 19 mpg

Tony Quiroga is an 18-year-veteran Car and Driver editor, writer, and car reviewer and the 19th editor-in-chief for the magazine since its founding in 1955. He has subscribed to Car and Driver since age six. "Growing up, I read every issue of Car and Driver cover to cover, sometimes three or more times. It's the place I wanted to work since I could read," Quiroga says. He moved from Automobile Magazine to an associate editor position at Car and Driver in 2004. Over the years, he has held nearly every editorial position in print and digital, edited several special issues, and also helped produce C/D's early YouTube efforts. He is also the longest-tenured test driver for Lightning Lap, having lapped Virginia International Raceway's Grand Course more than 2000 times over 12 years.

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