Review: 2013 Volvo S60 Sedan

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by TOM VOELK / KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on August 3, 2012 at 3:01 PM

Volvo is known for safety.  Duh.  Let’s ditch Captain Obvious and focus on fun because, in case you haven’t heard, the S60 sedan offers a lot of that. Trouble is, to get the security and handling of all-wheel drive you had to buy the more expensive T6 model.  For 2013 that’s been rectified.  It’s now available on the less spendy T5.  Dropping one cylinder can save a buyer more than six grand.

6K is not an insignificant chunk of change.  It begs the question- is the less powerful T5 version still a desirable car?  Volvo is certainly confidant. They’ve brought a bunch of us auto writers to Park City, Utah.  At a base altitude 7,000 feet, and with roads that wind like the plot of an episode of CSI, it is a good place to test an automobile.

If you want to see the more detailed “director’s cut” of my videos, check out my website- drivecarreviews.com

A front-drive 2013 T5 starts at around $32,600 with destination.  Add two grand for all-wheel drive.  My well-equipped but not loaded tester goes for just under 39K.  You know the price, now let’s see how it stacks up against Audi A4, BMW 328i, Infiniti G250, Lexus IS250, and Mercedes C250.

Dissecting the Go Parts

T5 stands for “turbocharged five-cylinder” and the 2-5-liter unit gets a bunch of improvements for 2013.  New pistons and crankshaft, a higher compression ratio (9:0:1 to 9:5:1) and some internal friction reduction expands the torque range.  It runs on regular fuel.  You thought I was going to say premium didn’t you?  Horsepower is 250 @5,400 rpm, torque is 266 lb-ft @ 1,800 to 4,200 rpm.

An improved six-speed automatic with noticeable quicker shifts is the only gearbox. Shove it to the left for sport mode, there’s manual shifting on the console.  T5 does not get the T6’s steering wheel paddle shifters, but hey, think of how much money you’re saving and how little you’ll use them. I will gripe that BMW and Audi use eight speed trannies though.

The generation five Haldex all-wheel drive system is smaller and lighter.  Electrically controlled, it generally saunters about town with 95% of the power routed to the front rubber.  An instant traction feature delivers torque to all wheels at launch.  Stomp on it and up to 50% of the power goes to the rear wheels.   
 
EPA rated fuel economy is up. The AWD T5 gets 20 city/29 highway, the front drive S60 is rated at 21/30.

Swedish Work Ethic

With satisfying low-end power, S60 T5 sprints to 60 in 6.4 seconds for the front-drive model, 6.6 with AWD.  That’s nearly half a second quicker than the 2012 car, you may not miss the T6’s extra 50 horses much.  Remember, you’re saving over six grand.

The subtle engine growl from the T5 makes you want to floor it.  Often.  At high cruising velocities, the S60 is pretty quiet.  It also has a distinctive gyroscopic-like locked down feel about it on the straights, which reduces fatigue when driving long distances.  Ride quality is firm and sporty but hardly uncomfortable. This Swede’s structure feels steel girder solid.

If you think you have to buy a German car for a good time, think again.  S60 is surprisingly fun on Utah’s twisties with a new torque vectoring system that builds confidence turn after turn.  Steering is accurate and responsive, road feel is good for electric power assist.  With a heavier steering effort, S60 doesn’t feel as light on its feet as a BMW 3-Series and part of that has to do with Volvo’s front-wheel power bias.  But if you like your car to feel like the vault at your local Wells Fargo, you may prefer the Volvo’s dynamic.

Obviously, all-wheel drive is great on snow and gravel, but it helps on dry pavement too.  With the transmission in sport mode the shifts are very quick and gears are held in the right ratio when accelerating through turns.  Even when climbing to an altitude of nearly 8,000 feet, the T5 doesn’t wheeze.  Got to love those turbo engines.

What Driver’s Look At The Most

All this fun is had in a cockpit that’s awfully attractive. Soft touch materials look and feel good.  I especially like the door trim that flows into the door release, all of which look like solid cast metal.  The signature Volvo storage space is behind the thin center console stack.  Elegant human shaped airflow selectors make it easy to know where you’re directing heat and AC. 

Volvo makes some of the most comfortable seats in the biz and the S60’s chairs are supportive in hard corning.  Sadly, no ventilation option.  Not a big deal in Seattle but Park City is getting toasty.  As expected, Bluetooth and iPod integration are here.  Being black on silver, the numbers on the speedometer and tach are not readily easy to read wheel driving hard.

A small knob that controls the seven-inch screen’s user interface is fine for personalizing the car but use it to program the optional nav system and things gets tedious.  There is voice control but generally those systems don’t work that well (though I’ll admit I didn’t try it).  Being the brand synonymous with safety, I’m surprised S60 doesn’t come standard with a rear camera.  Like many sedans these days, the S60’s tail is raised, blocking rearward visibility.

I’m having too much fun driving to specifically check out the sound system but in passing, it’s quite good.  The brushed pattern on the metal center stack is very rich looking.

Friend Friendly

Moving to the back seat, the cushions are very nicely sculpted to coddle passengers.  The outside positions get decent knee, leg, and foot room, about the same as A4 and C-Class.  Phones can be charged with the rear power port, arms can be rested on the folding rest.  Basically this space is good for two average adults.  Slide to the middle position and the drivetrain tunnel is a bother and the raised cushion reduces headroom.  Pretty common among competitors.

The trunk is average in class, though lots of undulations caused by the shielded hinge arms will hurt its usefulness some.  Like many cars these days there is no spare tire, just a repair kit (Volvo provides excellent complimentary roadside service).  A ski pass-though is nice on AWD cars, split folding seatbacks are welcome on any vehicle.

Where They Don’t Play It Safe

Volvo does style just as well as safety these days, taking more chances with each new model.  Subtle sweeping lines give the S60 a firmly planted look.  It’s a great looking vehicle, Volvo’s sculpture doesn’t get the credit it deserves.  Not only are S60, XC60 and C30 great looking cars, they’re original, not slavishly copies of other premium brands.  Buyers are beginning to notice too.  S60 sales are creeping very close to Audi’s A4, and Volvo believes the lower cost T5 with AWD might put them over the top.  It’s a safe bet.

Oh yeah, safety.  Most know the S60 has the optional- and awkwardly named- Pedestrian Detection with Full Auto Brake that automatically stops for people you don’t see (a reminder to NEVER text while driving).  The standard City Safety system slams on the binders by itself when you don’t react to stopped cars.  It makes fender benders as rare as rain in Reno.  There is a lot more to cover about Volvo’s safety commitment but this review is already getting long.

Most people buying a Volvo can afford the service but there’s no need.  All scheduled maintenance, including wear and tear items are complimentary for five years or 50,000 miles.

Could be Volvo be getting a performance rep?  We’ll see.  Powering through turn after turn in the Utah hills, I keep thinking about how most people don’t understand how much fun it is.  It’s definitely a car that deserves consideration when shopping Audi, BMW, Infiniti, Lexus, and Mercedes.  Good looks, performance, and all-wheel drive make the Volvo S60 T5 very desirable.  The more reasonable price should make it very popular.

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