by Dan Carney
When they introduced the mid-size S60 sedan, Volvo said they intended to attack all aspects of the sporty European sedan segment. Asked if that meant an all-wheel-drive variant, the company candidly admitted from the beginning that it would.
Fans of proper sport sedans should rejoice, because the resulting S60 AWD is not a dressed-up, macho SUV wannabe. It is, instead, every bit the refined near-luxury sedan the S60 is, but it is one that is even more surefooted than the conventional front-drive version.Sure-footed luxury
2002 Volvo S60 AWD
That’s because the system sends 95 percent of the engine’s power through the front wheels under typical dry, straight-line acceleration. If wheels start to slip, as when we floored it from a stop on a gravel road, power is rerouted as needed. Between the AWD system and the traction control, we weren’t able to induce any wheelspin on the gravel road, which bodes well for traction in rain and snow.
As always, the S60 is a supremely comfortable sedan, capable on twisty roads, where it feels agile, as well as in the school parking lot, where its spacious back seat carries three in comfort. Naturally, the car is loaded with safety features, such as just about every imaginable airbag and advanced seatbelts.
2002 Volvo S60
The stereo is worthy of note because of its startlingly realistic surround sound when playing CDs with the Dolby ProLogic surround sound feature switched on, and for its aggravating pre-set selector. While virtually every car radio since the dawn of time has employed a row of buttons assigned to different stations, Volvo decided to use a rotary knob to move between preset stations. Rotary knobs are the best for adjusting volume and for tuning the radio manually, but it is a poor interface for radio pre-sets.Direct feel
The S60 AWD’s steering is direct, with good feedback, without the over-boosted lightness of some luxury-market contenders. The brakes are powerful, and are backed up by emergency brake assist technology that detects emergency stops and applies full power to the brakes more quickly to shorten the stopping distance.
The automatic transmission works unobtrusively, as is its job, and features manual shifting capability for those who want to choose their own gears. But a true manual transmission is not available for the S60 AWD, and none is planned, so hard-core enthusiasts will have to shop elsewhere, as they may have been inclined to do anyway.
Ever the iconoclast, Volvo equips the S60 with a five-cylinder engine that has recently become the company’s signature engine. The five lacks the inherent perfect balance and sweet engine note of an in-line six, but it produces ample power thanks to a turbocharger. The turbo, which is as difficult to detect as the AWD system, gives the engine competitive power while letting it return better gas mileage than a comparable six. The five also takes up less space in the engine bay than a six, and has a sound and texture that help the car stand apart from the rest, even if it is not as smooth and refined-feeling.
Like BMW’s recent addition, Volvo’s all-wheel-drive system doesn’t carve out an entirely new product niche. It simply makes the most of an existing, winning entry in the near-luxury market.
2002 Volvo S60
Base Price: $33,375; as tested: $34,975
Engine: 2.4-liter in-line five-cylinder, 197 hp
Transmission: five-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 106.9 in
Height: 56.2 in
Weight: 3529 lb
Fuel economy: 19 city/ 26 hwy
Major standard equipment: Five-speed automatic transmission, 16-inch alloy wheels, power windows and door locks, automatic climate control, six-speaker AM/FM/cassette stereo
Safety equipment: Anti-lock brakes, traction control, emergency brake assist, dual-threshold airbags for front seats, side airbags for front seats, side air curtain
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles