2012 Volvo S60 T5 Review [Video]

Now available with a turbo 5-cylinder, Volvo’s new S60 is growing a segment, and a brand

2012 Volvo S60 T5 Review [Video]
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Volvo’s all-wheel drive 300-hp S60 T6 could easily find its way on to a lot of different shopping lists. The same would not, at first, appear to be true of the entry-level T5 model. But that will change.

FAST FACTS

1. While a 300-hp T6 model is available for $37,700; the T5 makes 250-hp and starts at just $30,975.

2. Some very cool à la carte options can raise that to an as-tested $42,460.

3. T5 models come exclusively in front-wheel drive.

4. Options include stunning upgraded leather, a blind spot assist system, lane departure warning and Volvo’s pedestrian detection with full auto brake.

Traditionally, front-drive premium-but-not-quite-luxury sedans haven’t been a very large segment, with only one real rival to Volvo’s S60, the Acura TSX. The segment is growing, however, with Buick’s new Regal Turbo recently joining the fray.

FAMILY SEDAN, OR LUXURY SPORTS SEDAN: YOU DECIDE

With modest entry pricing and a long list of high-end options that can tack-on a significant chunk to the bottom line, the new Volvo S60, in its T5 model form, should help grow the Volvo brand considerably, offering an enticing package to those in search of an optioned-out mid-size sedan, while even enticing a few luxury sports sedan buyers away from cars like the Audi A4.

Take on the A4? Yes, thanks in part to a very Germanic list of options that will raise the car’s base price from $30,975 to an as-tested $42,460 (including $875 charge for freight).

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Transforming the car from a smart alternative to fully-loaded family sedans, the spec’d-out S60 has a lot to offer in both the luxury and technology departments.

LUXURY OPTIONS TRANSFORM THE CABIN

While already a solid and smooth machine at supra-legal highway speeds, the $1,900 Premium Package makes the single largest difference to the overall feel from the driver’s seat. Along with some more trivial items like a sunroof, auto-dimming rear view mirror, Homelink remote garage door opener and power passenger seat comes your choice of upgraded leather. Our tester showcased the extra soft and incredibly unique Beechwood colored hide. And when paired with the laughably affordable $300 wood trim in the center stack, makes the interior really pop. This one add-on does more for the Volvo than even its attractive new sheetmetal – or its torquey turbocharged 5-cylinder engine.

It’s an absolute must for any S60 buyer, especially as the car’s dash retains all the austere squareness the brand is so famous for. That’s not to say it’s unattractive, but the singular use of dark gray for almost every item on the dash is devoid of drama and we’ve never come across a push-button ignition more in need of a little Red Bull and Viagra.

TELEMATICS IN NEED OF AN OVERHAUL

Dull doesn’t mean it’s bad, although the same cannot be said for the in-car controls, with the infotainment system looking and operating like an early and rejected prototype for Ford’s MyFord Touch setup. The resemblance is uncanny, which is a good thing as the Ford system looks as good (or better) than any in the business. Unfortunately it doesn’t have the same ease-of-use, with dials and buttons that are almost out of arm’s reach required to scroll through menus. Requiring the driver to take his or her eyes off the road for too long an interval, this hardly meshes with Volvo’s safety-first mentality, although on the flip side it may keep your teenage son safe with the traction control button buried so deep in the system he might never even know it’s there. You might also have trouble finding the three adjustable settings for the speed sensitive steering, which comes included with 18-inch wheels in the $900 Dynamic Package.

And despite being a step backwards in telematics, the S60 is perhaps a bit too forward-thinking when it comes to Bluetooth – unable to recognize this author’s Blackberry.

The complaints don’t stop there, however, with the center stack populated by miniscule buttons – strange considering the car comes from a country where four months of the year everyone’s hands are covered in gloves.

Interior controls aside, and apart from an unusually small 12 cu-ft trunk, there’s almost nothing wrong with the S60 T5. And as mentioned, those add-ons offer some tempting toys.

TECHNOLOGY BRINGS SAFETY

One of the best is the Adaptive Cruise Control. When systems like this first hit the market two years ago we raved at their value and the wow factor hasn’t worn off. When your 40 mile commute home includes 15 solid miles of bumper to bumper traffic, being able to just set the space between you and the car ahead and let the car do all the rest is about as valuable as having a chauffeur. On the flip-side, it does seem to go against Volvo’s ‘safety first’ mentality, and practically promotes surfing the web on your smartphone while behind the wheel.

The system comes as part of the $2,100 Technology Package which also includes lane departure warning (to notify you if you’re leaving your lane at highway speeds), as well as pedestrian detection with full auto brake – meaning you don’t have to pay attention because the car does that for you. Joking aside, the system is incredible and will actually stop the car completely at speeds below 22 mph if it you’re about to hit the car in front of you or if a pedestrian walks out into the road.

Bringing the S60 to a true luxury level there’s a $2,700 Multimedia Package with park assist, navigation and an upgraded audio system. Then toss on the $800 Climate package with heated seats and a $700 blind spot information system.

BASE ENGINE DELIVERS POWER, BUT IT’S ROUGH AROUND THE EDGES

But the S60 is more than just its many add-on features. Even the base T5 gets a turbocharged 5-cylinder that makes 250-hp and 266 lb-ft of torque to deliver a 6.8 second 0-60 mph time – significantly faster than the Buick Regal Turbo. Plus, it gets better fuel economy than even the non-turbo Regal at 20/30-mpg. With full torque at just 1800 rpm there’s plenty of thrust for passing or getting up to speed. We wouldn’t call it fast (the T6 is fast), but unless you fancy yourself a Swedish rally car driver it’s more than sufficient.

Noise and vibration from the turbocharged engine is pronounced at times during low speed driving – an issue that we’d like to see addressed. Likely due to increased efforts to meet those mpg numbers, like most modern cars the transmission defaults to the highest gear possible sending a low hum and shudder through the cabin.

A capable handling machine, it’s not quite as light on its feet as the Acura, though a 3,548 lb curb weight and relatively compact dimensions do deliver rewards. In many ways it feels the perfect size; big enough to be luxurious while small enough to be sporty.

T5 models come exclusively in front-drive form, meaning it doesn’t stick quite as well as the AWD T6 model. While AWD does have its performance advantages, don’t write off the T5 if you live in the snow-belt, as a good set of winter tires will have you dicing through the slush and leaving SUVs in your wake.

Where the S60 does shine is on the highway, eating up miles of paved road with silent effort. Even at lofty speeds it slides silently and confidently along, leaving you, the driver, calm and relaxed. Absent is the sort of strung-out feeling that you might expect from a smaller-displacement turbo engines.

THE VERDICT

While competing in a small segment, the wide variety of options available for the S60, plus its solid luxury drive, powerful engine and handsome styling, make worth a serious look to a far wider group of customers. It starts at just north of the Buick Regal Turbo and is handily the better car. A comparable Acura TSX will run you $35,000 and depending on how you spec out a T5 model it’s an unconventionally attractive choice.

Built to stretch the segment, Volvo is already having considerable success, with the S60 recently eclipsing the XC60 as the brand’s best selling model; a trend that is certain to continue.

LOVE IT

  • Optional interior
  • Handsome styling
  • Auto-brake feature
  • Wide selection of options allows for budget or luxury pricing

LEAVE IT

  • Turbo a bit harsh at times – low rpm
  • Hard to navigate telematics

RELATED READING

2011 Volvo S60 Review 2011 Buick Regal Turbo Review 2010 Acura TSX V6: First Drive

2009 Lexus ES350 Review 2010 Cadillac CTS Review

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