2019 Volvo S60 first drive: Sublimely looking beyond SUVs

October 18, 2018

Volvo refuses to ignore sedans—and wagons. Even though about 80 percent of the vehicles that leave the automaker’s showrooms are high-riding crossover SUVs, it’s sedans—and wagons—that put Volvo on the map.

The 2019 Volvo S60 and its V60 wagon sibling may not tip the boat, but it’ll certainly rock it. These are the latest models to take advantage the trickle-down Nordic minimalism Volvo bestowed on the rest of its lineup. And, as we recently learned on a test drive in  Santa Monica, California, where luxury-brand sedans are the default buy (or is it lease?) for the locals, the S60 is all the better for it.

MORE: 2019 Volvo S60 luxury sedan first look: Carolina on its mind

The S60 comes in three trims—Momentum, Inscription, and R-Design—that start around $37,000 and top out at a hefty $63,000.

S60 trims can be paired to one of three powertrains, a “T5” 250-horsepower turbo-4 with front-wheel drive, a “T6” 316-hp turbocharged and supercharged turbo-4 with all-wheel drive, and a “T8” 400-hp plug-in hybrid that shoots power to all four wheels. All S60s use an 8-speed automatic transmission.

Volvo may have built a following for its wagons, but it knows buyers aren’t there. The long-roof V60 is a more practical S60 and it’ll follow later but just in three trims with the 316-hp powertrain paired to all-wheel drive and the 250-hp version with front-wheel drive.

2019 Volvo S60

2019 Volvo S60

2019 Volvo S60

2019 Volvo S60

2019 Volvo S60

2019 Volvo S60

Nordic Minimalism

The S60 wears the new Volvo design aesthetic begun by the larger S90 sedan well; perhaps even better than the big brother with fewer awkward hints, particularly from the rear three-quarter view.  

Meanwhile, the S60's interior is a master class in Swedish reservation. Perhaps even too reserved; a few more traditional buttons might cover quick adjustments better. Changing the fan speed requires a distracting dive into the submenus of the vertically arrayed infotainment screen. We understand why button proliferation in a modern car is a Very Bad Thing, but there should be basic audio and ventilation controls at the ready. Thankfully, though, Volvo updated (and therefore sped up) the chipset orchestrating its tech.  

The upgraded system, which Volvo calls Sensus Connect, is otherwise simple, presenting a configurable four-tile layout after startup. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, Bluetooth connectivity, a wi-fi hotspot are standard and buyers can opt for several third-party apps like Spotify, Pandora, and Yelp. Mid-level audio means a perfectly fine Harman Kardon system, but a thundering 1,100-watt Bowers & Wilkins system tops the line.  

All S60s come with automatic emergency braking with forward-collision warnings. Oncoming lane mitigation (also standard) applies extra braking if it senses oncoming traffic encroaching into the S60’s lane. Blind-spot monitors, cross-traffic alerts with automatic braking, lane-departure warnings, and adaptive cruise control are all optional.

The S60 is an attractive alternative to bigger-selling small luxury fare such as BMW's 3-Series and Mercedes-Benz's C-Class, and it drives very well, even in base, front-drive, 250-hp "T5" guise.

R-Design To The Rescue

The base $36,795, 250-hp “T5” configuration (we briefly drove the V60 wagon with this drivetrain) obviously offers less performance, but will tick all the boxes a high-value buyer might look for.

With black trim and unique 19-inch, five-spoke wheels, the S60 R-Design looks and smells the sports sedan part. The T6 316-hp S60 R-Design we drove left us wanting for nothing more in power, handling agility or braking ability. The steering effort level is extremely light, but you can dial in a bit of heft using the Dynamic driving mode.

 

The T6 R-Design swallowed a couple hours’ worth of Los Angeles traffic with poise, aided by supportive (but not overbearing) seats that come from a long lineage of superior automotive chairs. One bit of exterior design from all S60s (and V60 wagons, too) that impacts driving is the outward vision. The new S60’s side glass covers a slightly larger than average opening, making for a more expansive view several other cars have slowly risen their side window sill line. Better view out, more visual information, calmer driver, more relaxed experience.

Volvo also offers the S60 T8 Twin Engine plug-in hybrid drivetrain (only with all-wheel-drive), which combines the 2.0-liter turbocharged and supercharged engine with a 10.4-kwh battery spinning a rear-mounted electric motor, for a total system output of 400 hp and 472 lb-ft of torque. Pure electric range is fairly limited, though, at 21 miles.

A hot rod as only the Swedes could do

While it's a tiny drop into a huge bucket— all 20 (yes, 20) examples are already sold—the Polestar Engineered S60 is the strongest visual statement of the family. It’s also a mechanical as statement with its 416 hp and a stunning 494 lb-ft of torque from its 2.0-liter turbocharged and supercharged mild-hybrid inline-4.

The electric motor accounts for 87 of those 416 hp, a reminder that the Swedes are indeed green. It trades bright trim for black, sports aggressive 20-inch alloy wheels that allow gold-painted Brembo brakes to poke through the spokes.

Like all S60s except the base front-drive models, the Polestar S60’s all-wheel drive is front-biased but can divert up to 50 percent of the engine's power to the rear wheels when needed. Specialist supplier and sport-bike regular Öhlins furnishes the shocks for the Polestar V60, mated to slightly stiffer springs making for an able dance partner.

2019 Volvo S60

2019 Volvo S60

The hybrid drivetrain is willing and almost never at a loss for thrust, though the transmission is not the snappiest cog-snapper and won’t hold a gear longer than a few seconds before upshifting when manually selected with the shift paddles. That’s hardly a concern for your average Volvo driver, but the V60 Polestar is hardly your average Volvo. And it darn nearly crushes the scales at almost 4,000 pounds.

Despite the weight and gearbox trouble, the Polestar S60 proves to be a capable sports sedan. Until you use the brakes. Huge gold Brembo calipers give massive stopping power. Unfortunately, they're saddled with a blended, regenerative braking system as part of the hybrid's energy recovery. As frustrating as they are powerful, they proved to be very difficult to modulate, as early hybrid braking felt about 12-15 years ago. Even worse, however, the pedal travel was inconsistent in our drive, biting at different pedal stroke distances from one minute to the other. The result was highly inelegant lurching, especially at low speeds and in traffic.

And we have to wonder what the precise point of this Polestar Engineered S60 is if merely 20 will be made in this first year, available only through the Care by Volvo subscription service that bundles all running costs including insurance into the monthly price.

The T6 drivetrain in R-Design trim hits the sweetest spot for us. Its 316 hp from this turbocharged and supercharged four-cylinder engine is in no way peaky, but with 295 lb-ft of torque to the Polestar's electrically-enhanced 494, it does whimper a bit on the spec chart.

Solution?

Never drive a Polestar. Again, with only 20 already spoken for, problem solved.  

Volvo provided travel and lodging to Internet Brands Automotive to bring you this firsthand report.

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