New & Used Volvo S60: In Depth
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The Volvo S60 is a mid-size sporty luxury sedan offering a wide selection of safety technology. The S60 competes with a trio of German models—the Audi A4, BMW 3-Series, and Mercedes-Benz C-Class—and arguably with the Cadillac ATS, although we're not sure how many buyers actually cross-shop the brash American luxury brand and the sensible Swedish one.
You could also call the Buick Regal and Acura TLX potential alternatives. And with the addition of the extended-wheelbase Inscription model, the S60 may be aiming a bit higher at larger entry-luxury cars like the Lincoln MKS and perhaps the Lexus GS.
MORE: Read our 2015 Volvo S60 review
Volvo launched the first-generation S60 for the 2001 model year. It was positioned as a smaller counterpart to the range-topping S80 luxury sedan, sized to compete with mid-size luxury and sport sedans. These cars carried standard front-wheel drive, with sportier models offering all-wheel drive. Unlike the long-lived XC90 crossover—which is just now being replaced for the first time—this S60 didn't weather the years very well; the same basic model was offered for a decade and was unable to hold its place in the market toward the end.
Despite starting prices of $30,000 or more, S60 sales were strong following its release and remained high until the 2005 model year, when consumer interest started to wane. But even the introduction of the 300-hp S60 R in 2004, an extensive facelift program in 2005, and updates in 2006 couldn't keep the car from fading away into obscurity. By the time the new S60 was shown at auto shows in 2010, it was long overdue.
The S60 was redesigned in 2011. This latest generation is significantly more attractive and stylish than the boxy, square, and indestructible Volvos of yore. It’s a luxurious mid-size sedan and the most affordable four-door in the brand's current lineup.
When the current S60 arrived in the U.S., it was offered only in one model, the high-performance T6. At this level, the S60 used a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six engine, a six-speed automatic transmission, and all-wheel drive. It was certainly quick, but couldn't quite compare to the other Europeans in the segment when it came to handling.
The S60's more aggressive, fashion-forward design still manages to keep the visual identity of a Volvo. Inside, the new S60 is lavish in terms of its driver-oriented details--especially the ultra-cool floating center stack. Four adults can sit comfortably, with a fifth passenger in the back if everyone's friendly. The rear seat splits 40/60 and the trunk opening is much larger than that of the first-generation S60. A new infotainment system keeps driver informed and passengers entertained, with information from the audio unit, navigation system, mobile phone, and other functions presented on a five- or seven-inch color screen at the top of the center console.
The 2012 model year brought two more models to the S60 lineup, the entry-level T5 and performance-oriented T6 R-Design. The T5 came with a 250-hp, 2.5-liter turbocharged inline-five and front-wheel drive. The T6 R-Design used a hotter version of the T6's inline-six, with 25 horsepower more for a total of 325 hp. R-Design models come with standard all-wheel drive to help put all of the power and torque down.
In 2013, Volvo added an all-wheel-drive option to the T5 model while also boosting that engine's performance. The company also rearranged S60 trim levels somewhat, into Premier, Premier Plus, and Platinum trims, and added more technology features like rain-sensing wipers as standard equipment. The 2014 model adds a slightly redesigned front end and various minor updates to the instruments, dashboard, and interior.
After receiving a number of minor styling, cabin, and technology improvements, as part of a light refresh it received for the 2014 model year, front-wheel-drive versions of the S60 received new Drive-E powertrains for 2015, with a new 240-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine powering the T5, and T6 models getting a 302-hp version that's turbocharged and supercharged. A completely new version of Volvo's Sensus infotainment system (with new premium audio) followed, as part of a '2015.5' model year.
For the current model year, the S60's wagon cousin, the V60, has finally made its first appearance in the U.S. The V60 falls somewhere between hatch and wagon status, offering slightly more cargo capacity than the S60 sedan. A V60 Cross Country is also available.
Volvo also recently announced two new versions of the S60, with one aimed at the luxury crowd and the other for the adventurous sedan buyer, if such a thing exists. The S60 Inscription is basically a long-wheelbase version of the standard car, offering what Volvo claims is the largest rear seat in the segment. It was no doubt developed for the Chinese home market of Volvo's owner, Geely, where long-wheelbase versions of luxury standard sedans far outnumber the kinds of cars Americans buy. The other new model is called the S60 Cross Country; it's basically an S60 on stilts, done up in the style of Volvo's XC models and recalling the AMC Eagle sedan in its jacked-up stance.
Volvo is launching an S60L Twin Engine hybrid in China, which uses a gas engine to drive the front wheels and an electric motor to turn the rears. This setup is often referred to as a through-the-road hybrid, as the gas and electric portions don't share a direct connection. A model like this could make its way to the U.S. at a later date, although no plans have been confirmed.
Like its competitors, the S60 is packed with features, though on the Volvo they lean more toward safety than opulence. The host of advanced safety technology features includes active suspension dampers, a special cornering-traction control system, CitySafe obstacle detection and automatic braking system, and a pedestrian-detection function as well.