2015 Volvo S60 T6 Drive-E: Quick Spin

April 27, 2014
Can subbing in a completely new engine and transmission significantly change the character of an existing model? Yes, it certainly can—and the Volvo S60 is the best example of how dramatic the change can be.

While last year's model (and this year's model with all-wheel drive, as we'll get to in a bit) was powered by a turbocharged in-line six-cylinder engine, this year's 2015 Volvo S60 T6 comes with a new 2.0-liter turbocharged and supercharged four-cylinder, making 302 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. The new, so-called Drive-E engine is fitted to an eight-speed automatic transmission.

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The result is a sedan that responds, in its Sport mode, more vividly and sharply than the outgoing model with the six—due probably both to the loss in weight (about 150 pounds), and to the turbo- and super-charged approach. All the while, it's far more fuel-efficient than before, with our test car carrying EPA ratings of 24 mpg city, 35 highway.

We covered nearly 150 miles over the course of a week with the 2015 Volvo S60, and that included 130 miles of spirited driving, enjoying the power and torque on offer from this new engine, doing daily around-town and suburban errands, and making no effort to drive 'economically.' Yet we were rewarded with a 25-mpg average. Cruising on the Interstate at around 70 mph for 15 miles or so earned us an average of 33 mpg—so we're quite sure you'll be able to match the highway rating if you keep your speed down and steady.

2015 Volvo S60 T6 Drive-E - Driven, April 2014

2015 Volvo S60 T6 Drive-E - Driven, April 2014

One of the keys to the great around-town average we saw was likely this Volvo's included engine stop-start system, which starts doing its job after the engine's warmed up for a few minutes, shutting it off when you're idling at stoplights, and starting it back up right when you reduce your pressure on the brake pedal. Here, the Drive-E engine starts and stops with barely a shudder, and your passenger isn't likely to notice it if the sound system's on.

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Where four is better than five or six

With its turbo fives and sixes, Volvo never quite achieved the level of sharp, instantaneous throttle response that's been offered by BMW in its turbocharged engines; but this new engine gets there. And the eight-speed automatic acts as a willing companion. Ease down partway with your right foot and the transmission stays in one of the higher gears, riding the wave of torque; likewise it's quick to deliver a decisive downshift with a harder prod—all with a resolve the former six-speed didn't have. More gears don't usually add up to less indecision, but that's the case here and the entire powertrain feels stronger and more confident, yet more at ease at the times you're not pushing it.

The S60 T6 has always been an appealing sporty sedan, for its poise, and offering up just enough sport-sedan responsiveness to satisfy real enthusiasts, all without feeling too raw and uncomfortable for daily-driver duty. It remains that way, with the ride quality of a larger sedan—quiet, settled, tight, and rattle-free—yet, with this new engine, less resistance to quick changes in direction than it has been in the past.

The seats in the S60 are excellent, and with exposed stitching and supple leather, they're arguably a class above what you'll find in the $40k range. We also love the low dash layout, which affords a good view outward ahead and to the side (rearward vision isn't quite so good). There's a full array of power-seat adjustments not just for the driver, but for the front passenger, too—a rarity in this class—and the cushions for the front seats include just the right amount of lateral and thigh support to keep taller drivers like this one comfortable while adjusting up and forward for shorter drivers who need it.

Controls, displays could use some help

One thing we might have liked to see change is the way that the S60's center-stack controls are laid out. The cluster of buttons, with four equal-size knobs, and a virtual racetrack of buttons, isn't the sort of layout that you can intuit quickly, at first glance down from the road. While the climate controls in the middle seems smart, the rest is an odd choice from a company that's been focused and fixated on ergonomics for decades.

2015 Volvo S60 T6 Drive-E - Driven, April 2014

2015 Volvo S60 T6 Drive-E - Driven, April 2014

The infotainment system in the S60 is also a bit behind the curve. While Volvo's next-generation Sensus Connect system isn't here in the S60 yet, the system has become better (and easier to control and navigate through) than it was a few model years ago. And while it might be primitive in layout and screen appearance, it's not at all laggy—something that, if you have experience with some of the newest systems, you'll appreciate.

On the other hand, one addition for 2015 is absolutely on the right track. The 2015 S60 gets a new configurable gauge cluster that offers three different display modes—Performance, Eco, and Elegance—each giving you a screen of different 'gauges,' in a different layout and a different color. We spent most of the week with Elegance, which was easy on the eyes at night, and in Performance, which has a red theme with a sweeping tachometer.

Our car added up to $47,925. Ours included the Platinum Package, (navigation with real-time traffic, premium audio, accent lighting, an integrated garage-door opener, power retractable mirrors, a rear park assist camera, and grocery-bag holder); the Technology Package (Adaptive Cruise Control, Collision Warning with Full Auto Stop, Pedestrian/Cyclist Detection, Lane Departure Warning, Active High Beam, Road Sign Information, and other high-tech driver aids); the Blind Spot Information Package (park assist, Cross Traffic Alert, Lane Change Merge Aid); as well as heated seats, active xenon headlamps with washers, and 19-inch diamond-cut wheels.

Despite the flaws, feels like a good value

The context for our drive of the 2015 Volvo S60 T6 was interesting. We had just returned from getting our first drive of the 2015 Audi A3 when we had this week with the S60. With the loaded A3 we'd driven adding up to around $44,000, the S60 T6 felt like a strong value, even at that. And we dare say we'd rather have the S60's far better seats and more mature, refined ride over the A3's big advantage, its leading-edge infotainment system.

Overall, the new engine and the other changes for this year sum to the impression that there's value added, with nothing taken away. By the way, all-wheel-drive versions of the S60 remain in lots with the outgoing engines; but if mileage and all-wheel drive matter and you like the S60 a lot, you might want to hold off a model year.

With new engines and a willingness to refresh the product and the presentation, Volvo's proving that it's still a strong alternatives to the top premium models in this class from Japan and Germany—and perhaps that it's a little more spry, post-Ford. This is what Acura needs to face off with as it readies its upcoming 2015 TLX sedan, and we're looking forward to that comparison later in the year.


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