Volvo’s S60 is an all-new mid-size model that brings the Swedish firm’s safety legacy and standards to consumers for whom the S40 is too small and the S80 too big. Not surprisingly, it also fits between those models in price — starting at $26,500 but running to about $35,000 for a full prom dress edition.
The 2001 Volvo S60 replaces the S70, which replaced the 850, which replaced the 740, which, if memory serves, replaced a wooden cart with stone wheels.
The S60 handles really well when you get it going, but getting it going depends greatly on which engine you choose. If you like lots of launch and passing power, avoid the base engine.
Interestingly, the S60’s general shape predates the S80, so the bigger car is actually a copy of this car. Volvo crafted this general shape back in 1994 but lacked the funds to build it and the S80, so they shelved this one and went with the more profitable S80.
The man who lead the S60’s design team, a Hungarian named Geza Loczi, likes to say that its exterior shape is ’’the essence of contemporary Scandinavian design,’’ which is the essence of bafflegab to me.
It seems compact at first glance and there’s a hunched shoulders look to the part behind the rear door, which makes it seem like it’s ready to lead a charge up the ice toward the other team’s goal, if we can take that hockey analogy another step.
Overall, the S60 interior is handsome and comfortable. The seats are cushy and covered in a nice pigskin-type leather. Switches are well designed, including the electric window buttons mounted conveniently on the door (instead of inconveniently on the center console) and feature auto down. There’s a nice leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and other controls. The dashboard is organic, with flowing shapes that form a cohesive whole. The inside door handles are easy to grab.
The S60’s primary weakness is evident the first time you open a door or the trunk lid and examine its interior space. There’s no problem at all if you’re sitting up front, but if you’re in the back and you’re in high school or above there will be legroom issues. Just getting into the back seat requires a duck of the head. Two people could sit in the back for an extended trip, but they’d have to be two of the more patient people you know.
Up front, there’s better news. I found the gauges easy to read and the control switches easy to use. They were intuitive, which means you could figure most of them out without having to admit total failure and read the manual. The gauges are attractive, on a flat dark gray background.
The heating, ventilation and air conditioning controls are very nicely designed, using that flat gray color. The buttons are big and use Volvo’s clever metaphoric design to direct the airflow. The radio will require study of the owner’s manual to master.
The material used to cover the surfaces was pretty good, though not as good as you’ll see in the S80. But they seemed crisper and sharper and more competent. The center console is mounted so far rearward that it’s awkward to access. The cupholders mounted just forward of this console have a flimsy lid covering them. There another mini-cupholder on the center dash.
Attractive wood trim is used sparingly, on the glovebox lid and on all four doors. Silver painted plastic on the shifter surround looks out of place.
To get the swoopy shape, Volvo had to make certain design decisions that make the trunk opening small. But the trunk itself is quite roomy, and very deep. So it will hold a bunch of stuff in little bags; big hard-sided trunks will not fit. Be careful about what you put in first, because the trunk is so long that it will be difficult to impossible to reach something up against the back seat without leaning against the car (which may present dirt-on-the-skirt issues) or half-climbing in after it (which may present modesty issues). If you fold down the rear seat and the front passenger seat, then you can carry something quite long, like skis.