I’ve actually owned about 11 Volvos over the years, so I may be a little bit biased when it comes to the new S60. It’s not the bias you’d expect, however. As the proud owner of a veritable fleet of “brick-“era Volvo 240s and 740s, the marque’s gradual shift from plain and simple to svelte and luxurious has had a tendency to leave me behind, ideologically. The pragmatic old 240 is a much, much different animal from the new S60, which has high rollers like Audi and Infiniti in its sights.

If you’re expecting criticism of that direction from this Volvo diehard, you’re not going to get it. Change is good, and Volvo’s evolution has resulted in a handsome and unique addition to a rather crowded segment of the premium-car market. I spent a week with the 2015 Volvo S60 T6 and, traditionalist or not, we got along just fine.

Continue reading to learn more about the Volvo S60.

Exterior

Volvo S60 - Driven Exterior
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So this is how you do a premium sedan, Gothenburg-style. Compared directly to the now-two-decades old 240, the S60 is a huge departure, but Volvo’s styling evolution has actually been very consistent.

So this is how you do a premium sedan, Gothenburg-style.

The box started losing its edges in 1996 with the S70, and since then the silhouette has gotten consistently smoother, more dramatically windswept, and more muscular.

Character lines on the hood and lower front fascia combine with a very slight arch to the front fenders to give the impression of motion even when the car is parked. From the front three-quarter view especially, the S60’s curved greenhouse seems to cap a two-door coupe rather than a sedan.

The grille is a big eggcrate, with a prominent Volvo “ironmark” logo and a chrome sash. The slow and steady march of design evolution has enabled Volvo to keep a distinctive look, which is definitely a plus in a market segment that’s prone to copycatting.

Interior

Volvo S60 - Driven Interior
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Inside, the S60 continues to be not quite like any of its competitors. As soon as the door closes, any thoughts of the extinct 240 are permanently discarded, at least by this Volvoholic, and they’re replaced by comparisons to contemporary cars like the Infiniti Q70, Lexus IS and Audi A6.

The S60’s seats continue to be some of the most comfortable in the business, striking a perfect balance between supportive for spirited driving and plush for long trips.

The S60’s seats continue to be some of the most comfortable in the business, striking a perfect balance between supportive for spirited driving and plush for long trips. (Not to mention one of my favorite surprise-and-delight features: the kangaroo pockets on the front edge of the seats.)

Just as important, the S60’s interior looks good as well. Volvo’s signature flat-panel display has a cubby behind it, and the controls are familiar to the Volvo-faithful while remaining intuitive enough for first-timers. Touchpoints are first-rate. Volvo has tended to suffer from a bit of inscrutability in its ergonomics, so there may be more guesswork than expected when it comes to figuring out the climate control. As a premium sedan, the S60 features seat heaters front and rear, and there’s an available Harman-Kardon sound system.

Volvo’s Sensus Connect infotainment system is standard on all S60s. The comprehensive, interactive system does pretty much what all the other similar systems do, integrating navigation, radio and other controls into a single touchscreen or voice prompts, and using a smartphone for Internet and application access. The S60 has an internal modem and can serve as a Wi-fi hotspot as well.

Drivetrain

Volvo S60 - Driven Interior
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Pointing the hood at the horizon brought a surprise and a smile to my face. When did the S60 get so…assertive? ‘Tis a surprisingly small powerplant too, but it lays down the power like nobody’s business. The S60 T6 is powered by the more powerful of Volvo’s two new 2.0 liter four-cylinder engines, and throws down 302 horsepower. The S60 T6 Drive-E has a turbocharged, supercharged engine with direct fuel injection and it’s churning out effortless horses. Without any outward indicators that it’s got hidden muscle, the S60’s ability to launch hard comes as a pleasing surprise.
The standard T5 Drive-E is turbocharged (no supercharger), and puts out 240 horsepower. Fuel economy improves slightly, to 25/37.

"‘Tis a surprisingly small powerplant, but it lays down the power like nobody's business."

A chief component of Volvo’s new Drive-E powertrains is a stop-start system that kills the engine at traffic lights to save fuel, automatically restarting when the brake’s released. The startup is quick enough for normal driving, but if you’re hoping for a drag-race start you’ll want it turned off. Once it’s rolling the S60 T6 Drive-E will rip off six-second 0-60 times with ease. An eight-speed automatic transmission is new, and high-tech for Volvo. The additional gears provide smooth and clean acceleration, contributing to the S60’s silky-smooth demeanor as well as enabling the engine to stay in its most efficient powerband. To achieve maximum economy, Volvo’s added a new ECO+ mode, which has a "sail" mode that disengages engine braking on the freeway to decrease parasitic drains on fuel usage. When in ECO+ mode, the S60’s performance edge is somewhat blunted, but it still drives with poise.

In the interest of competing with Audi and BMW, Volvo continues the Haldex-equipped all-wheel drive S60 as well. AWD models are still equipped with the previous-generation powertrains, with a standard 2.5-liter turbocharged five-cylinder making 250 horsepower and the well-received 3.0-liter turbo straight-six producing 325 horsepower in the range-topping R-Design. Six-speed automatic transmissions are the order of the day in the all-wheel drive models.

The AWD model is probably the only reason that Volvo’s keeping the five- and six-cylinder models around, for the moment. The Drive-E four-cylinders are smooth, powerful and efficient, and if Volvo chooses to take the same path that other premium manufacturers like Lincoln have taken, simplifying and decreasing the size of its powerplant offerings, I wouldn’t be surprised.

That power’s backed up by a pleasantly athletic suspension. I took the S60 for a quick fling down my favorite twisty roads to the west of Ann Arbor and around some fast freeway cloverleaves, and came away suitably impressed. The suspension is fully independent, with sport-tuned MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link rear. My T6 Drive-E tester was equipped with a sport package that lowered the car slightly and included 19-inch wheels. Handling is predictable and neutral almost to the point of boredom. The electronic power steering provides enough feedback to keep casual enthusiasts from feeling too disconnected from the process, and enough for more serious enthusiasts to wish for a manual transmission.

The S60 uses a forward-looking camera to identify human-sized objects in the its path and will auto-brake at low speeds if the driver doesn’t notice.

The S60 is available with a host of active driver aids, of course: can’t have a premium sedan without them, these days. Especially a Volvo. The Lane Keeping Aid uses a camera to read the lane markers ahead of the car, and gives a little buzz on the wheel and a nudge from the steering if the car drifts out of its lane without signaling. For me this made it an aggressive reminder to use turn signals more than anything else; it is subtler than similar systems from Infiniti and Mercedes, at least.

There’s also a blind-spot monitoring system and a low speed parking aid. The wave-of-the-future pedestrian and cyclist detection system that Volvo announced a couple of years ago is an option on the S60 now; it uses the forward-looking camera to identify human-sized objects in the S60’s path and will auto-brake at low speeds if the driver doesn’t notice. It’s an extension of the City Safety system, which detects vehicles in front of the car and will brake the S60 at low speeds to prevent a collision. (Note: City Safety does have limitations! The S60 managed to hit my personal car at parking speeds in one of four tests at home.)

Prices

Volvo S60 - Driven Exterior
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The S60 is available as a T5 or T6, and in a choice of four trim levels. The base T5 stickers for $33,750, the more powerful T6 at $39,000. Drive-E is standard on front-wheel drive models, while the all-wheel-drive model is the other half of the equipment tree, with a starting price of $35,250. The Premier starts at $36,350 and adds standard navigation. One more step up is the Platinum, with a standard Convenience Package and high-tech pedestrian detection. If you’re keen to go chasing BMWs, you’ll be interested in the S60 R-Design, which sits comfortably at the top of the line, with a 325-horsepower six-cylinder engine, standard AWD, a distinctive appearance package and an MSRP of $43,550.

My tester was an S60 T6 Drive-E, upgraded with navigation, the premium Harman-Kardon sound system, the Technology Package, heated seats front and rear and the upgraded 19-inch wheels, all bringing the bottom line to $47,575. That may seem steep at first blush, but it’s par for the course with near-luxury sport sedans, which usually price in the $40,000 to $50,000 range.

Competition

2015 Acura TLX

2015 - 2016 Acura TLX High Resolution Exterior
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The TLX is the face of technology in this class, with styling as smooth as video game animation and a smooth four-cylinder engine providing entertaining performance and reasonable fuel economy. Like a video game, though, the TLX lacks personality, and goes about its business in a very cold and methodical way.

Read our full review here.

Audi A4

2014 - 2015 Audi A4 High Resolution Exterior
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Audi’s A4 may have been the template for the S60, with its broad, versatile lineup that stretches from one end of the premium-sedan spectrum to the other, and with noted all-wheel-drive performance. The A4 has extremely refined handling, and shows Audi’s skill at using subtle styling to great effect.

Buick Regal

2014 Buick Regal High Resolution Exterior
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Buick has leaped into the near-luxury market in a big way with the Regal, and it’s having some success by offering an American twist on the sporty-premium sedan. The Regal is plush yet refined, and performance from the turbocharged four-cylinder engine in the Regal GS provides a very entertaining shove from behind when the hammer is dropped.

Read our full review here.

Conclusion

Volvo S60 - Driven Exterior
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The mood of the latest S60 is that of a capable road-tripper and accomplished athlete that doesn’t have anything to prove. The Volvo’s always had its own style, and the most recent versions express that in a unique and awesome way. So what if it’s not boxy any more? Volvo has evolved beyond its staid reputation without becoming a clone of everyone else, and that’s no mean feat.

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    • Confusing HVAC controls
    • Aggressive lane-departure prevention
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