While the S60's more aggressive new look might be indication enough that Volvo intends to provide serious performance this time around in the S60, the base spec—300 horsepower and all-wheel drive—confirms it for those who live and breathe performance. While other markets will get smaller engines, the S60 is being brought to the U.S. in only one powertrain flavor for now: a 3.0-liter turbocharged in-line six-cylinder engine. It's an impressive engine, making a peak 325 lb-ft of torque, but drive the S60 normally in traffic and you probably wouldn't know it, thanks to a soft throttle calibration and a smooth, refined character. It's hooked up to a six-speed automatic transmission on all models (there's no manual transmission available).
The six doesn't have tremendous torque right off the line, but keep your right foot into it and it pins you back with impressive thrust after a moment, especially at the top of first and second gears. The dash to 60 mph takes just 5.8 seconds. Overall the S60 feels perky and pretty responsive and could easily handle the mountain grades on our drive as well as the abrupt 400-foot elevation changes of the track.
The S60 steers and handles exceptionally well, with surprisingly good steering feel considering there's such good isolation from harsh surfaces. The S60 is still based on the same platform and underpinnings as the new S80, as well as the XC60, V70, and XC70, but of all those models it has the stiffest, sportiest tuning suspension tuning yet. The steering-gear ratio is also quicker than in Volvo's other vehicles, and the column itself gets stiffer bushings to help bring more feel of the road. Through a "MyCar" menu accessed when stopped, the driver can dial up one of three settings for steering feel. Surprisingly, the lightest setting was our favorite, as it brought easy maneuverability in the parking lot yet seemed, counterintuitively, to impart more a bit more feel of the road at higher speeds.
Yet despite those racy looks, dashing interior, and sport-sedan credentials, the S60 is certainly not a car that invites to be flogged. Not in the same way as a BMW 335i, or even an Audi S4. The sportiness is all there on the road, but you have to work a bit to bring it out; there's a slight delay from the time you press the accelerator pedal until the turbo six really comes to life, and in the on/off transitions of a twisty road, the Aisin six-speed automatic would get a little confused, hesitating for a moment, then downshifting a little late coming out of each turn. If you nudge the shift lever over to the right, the transmission will supposedly follow a sporty shift pattern and 'learn' the road; but we didn't have much better luck with that.
Further bruising the S60's sporting intent a bit: there are none of the requisite paddle-shifters to be had, and the transmission won't actually lock into a gear. Squeeze into the throttle too much coming out of a corner in manual mode and you might get an abrupt downshift.