For the past 20 years, the sport sedan segment has been dominated by German automakers that blend dynamic handling with luxury and outright performance. Recently, however, Cadillac snuck up on the BMW 3 series with the ATS, while Volvo is proving itself a worthy adversary to Audi with the Volvo S60.
|1. Using a turbocharged 3.0L straight-six engine tuned by Polestar, the S60 T6 R-Design makes 325 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque.
2. Fuel economy is 18 mpg city and 26 mpg highway.
3. T6 R-Design models feature a stiffer suspension, upgraded brakes, speed sensitive steering and sporty body work.
4. The S60 is one of the only cars in its class to earn a NHTSA Top Safety Pick Plus rating.
In its T6 R-Design spec, a potent power plant and surefooted AWD make it a rival to the well-received S4, while maintaining signature Volvo qualities.
Despite the rumors, Volvo is still very much alive, and is continuing to deliver the safest vehicles on the road. The S60 can stand up to the abuse of even the most gruesome accident and while such an event didn’t happen during our testing, a Top Safety Pick Plus rating by NHTSA assures it can take a hit and keep you and your passengers out of harm’s way. A true brown-noser when it comes to safety, the Swedish company has also outfitted our T6 R-Design with every driver aid and accident avoidance technology available.
Practically driving itself, our S60 featured adaptive cruise control that can stop the car completely and hold the brake until traffic picks up again. Distracted and drowsy driving is also taken care of with a driver-alert meter that can detect your wheel inputs and your driving behavior within your lane; should you be drowsy or not paying attention, the car can advise you to take a break to focus on the task at hand. In the city, the Volvo can even apply brakes if a pedestrian steps in front of the vehicle, or if another car blindly pulls out in front of you.
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Impressively, the car also features cameras which can literally read speed limits on the road, even in temporary construction zones, helping you avoid a pricey speeding ticket. Pair those impressive items with the usual suite of driving assists, like blind spot alert, lane keep assist, front-collision alert, adaptive lighting, parking sensors and backup camera, and the Volvo will make you feel coddled and safe, even in the most unpredictable driving situations.
TURBO-SIX GETS MORE BOOST
While high-tech computers and sensors are found throughout the vehicle, under-the-hood you’ll find the textbook European example of how to motivate a car to go fast. Volvo has literally put a spin on the inline six-cylinder, with the turbocharged engine developing 300 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque. That, however, is in normal trim. The R-Design model features some handiwork from Polestar, Volvo’s in-house tuning company, which has bumped up the T6 engine to 325 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque.
In theory, pairing such an impressive (or possibly excessive) safety suite with Volvo’s T6 engine could be like going to CES with a Luddite. Might one spoil the experience for the other?
Our time with the car says the two can very-much co-exist. In fact, the high-tech gizmos take the monotony and frustration out of gridlock driving, and when the road opens up, the S60 is as exciting to drive as any other sport sedan out there.
The overall driving experience can be best described as solid, with wonderful throttle and brake pedal response as well as a customizable steering feel. Without an adaptive suspension setting, however, the S60 T6 R-Design is a headache on broken or under-maintained roads. It’s far too stiff for many of the roads we drove on, detracting from our enjoyment of its other qualities.
While Volvo doesn’t have the name recognition of Audi’s impressive quattro AWD system, the setup in the S60 T6 R-Design isn’t dimwitted at all. In fact, it sends power to the wheels with the most traction, eliminating most torque steer.
All isn’t perfect in Volvo’s sporty model, however. The lack of a stick-shift means that drivers have to rely on the six-speed automatic, which while quick, lacks steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters, and is far too eager to shift.
That doesn’t sound like a bad thing at first, but it is. It’s essentially too eager to drop or raise gears at any modulation of the throttle. As a result, smooth cruising is hard to achieve. The car is also too quick to revert out of low gears in order to save fuel, dampening the enjoyment factor.
COMPARE: Volvo S60 vs Audi S4 vs BMW 3 Series
Furthermore, tight handling maneuvers do expose the weight of the S60. At nearly 3,800 lbs, this Swede clearly went to town on the meatballs, and doesn’t hide it as well as the Audi S4. At the limits, that means the S60 can understeer, but since those limits are so high, few drivers should be worried about this trait.
UNIQUE INTERIOR NOT THE FINEST
There’s plenty to enjoy in the cabin with luxurious leather seats that are extremely supportive and perfectly appointed, though rear-seat passengers will find legroom more accommodating in the Volvo’s main rivals. Other small touches help make the S60 T6 R-Design stand out as a truly special product, with R-Design embroidery on the seats, blue-glowing gauges and a slick rippled texture on the aluminum accents that put the usual wood or piano black trim in other luxury vehicles to shame.
While interior design is solid, Volvo drops the ball a bit when it comes to audio and infotainment. A cluster of buttons so small you’d need an Alan key to hit them sits in the center console. The lack of touch-screen, or joystick means you have to use these buttons to move about on the navigation screen. Simply put, it’s just not intuitive.
Outside of the Nav, you have to resort to a control knob and all the screens are littered with text selections, rather than icons and graphics. Reading those settings and descriptions and fiddling with the knob while driving is certain to trigger the driver alertness warning system, front collision alert, blind-spot assist and whatever other alert system that’s currently enabled.
You won’t miss the audible warnings either, thanks to a lackluster sound system. While Volvo dubs it “Premium Sound” it’s clear that the Swedes have a different scale for audio quality, and didn’t benchmark the high-end audio systems found in competing BMW or Audi vehicles.
SHOWING OFF WITHOUT MAKING A SCENE
Far sexier than the infotainment system is the S60’s bodywork. Naturally curvy without being inflated, it has an air of style and confidence without looking like it’s compensating for anything. Our tester was done up in a Passion Red paint scheme that is just a touch less eye-catching than the Rebel Blue hue. The R-Design model also features a slick trunk-lid spoiler and two-tone 18-inch wheels that give a closer look at those bigger rotors in the front.
Ranking up there with safety and performance in the list of things to love about the S60 T6 R-design is its pricetag, which at $44,100 undercuts the base BMW 335xi, Audi S4 and Mercedes-Benz C350. Outfit those cars with the same sporty additions and tech-gizmos like our $51,175 test car, including the Platinum package, climate package, technology package and it still manages to be a bargain, sitting almost $4,000 cheaper than a fully loaded S4, and $7,000 less than the BMW335xi with the M-Sport package.
An example of the phrase, with great power comes great responsibility, the Volvo S60 T6 R-Design has plenty of both, helping make it a well-balanced sports sedan.
It’s safe, yet exciting, luxurious without flaunting it and exclusive without an outrageous pricetag.
It might not set itself apart from the S4 or 335xi in the usual categories but it doesn’t price itself to set up that expectation either. If you can get past issues with the infotainment system, and can stomach the stiff suspension, then the S60 delivers much of what makes an Audi so attractive, in an even safer package.