Driven: 2011 Volvo S60 T6

Written by Review and Photography by Lee Bailie on .

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Just out of sheer curiosity, I asked Nelson Baptista, the Fleet Manager at Volvo of Oakville (which also administers Volvo Canada’s press fleet), how long the outgoing S60 had been around for.

I was somewhat stunned by his response.

He told me that the old model had been on Volvo lots in essentially the same form since 2000 (a minor freshening in 2005 notwithstanding), when it was introduced as the replacement for the S70.

In automotive terms, 10 years is a near eternity, the point at which a model is either retired or completely recast.

The 2011 Volvo S60 represents the latter, rather emphatically.
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The new car bears almost no resemblance to the model it replaces, with its raked, yet muscular appearance and vaguely menacing stance. The old car, by comparison, looks downright sedate, the sort of vehicle that becomes easily indistinguishable in a mall parking lot.

With the new S60, Volvo has jettisoned its staid and bland styling cues, in favour of sexier and more aggressive lines.

From the front, the iconic circular Volvo badge and diagonal bar are prominent in the large grille that looks familiar and forms a very prominent nose extending down from an expansive hood.

What was most visually striking to me about the front of the car were the headlamps. They’re pitched on an angle, recessed from the grille and flow into distinctive ‘shoulders’ that run the length of the car on either side and merge into the rear tail lamps.

The result is a not only a slipperier aero look, but one that is also more muscular and sculpted, as the sheet metal wraps around the car’s athletic physique like a skin-tight suit on a world-class sprinter.

The roofline is coupe-like thanks to a C-pillar that sweeps back into the short rear deck lid, which is completed by LED tail lamps that wrap around the corners.

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In the words of Volvo Cars’ Design Director, Peter Horbury, the look of the new S60 is designed to be anything but vanilla: “Every single line in its design is there to transport you both physically and emotionally.”

My flamenco red tester certainly looked the part, with its high-gloss metallic finish and optional 18” alloy wheels.

Inside the cabin, the leather-trimmed seating surfaces (standard on all S60 T6 models) looked great, smelled good and had a quality feel to them.

Up front, the driver’s seat was quite comfortable and supportive, and I had no difficulty finding the right position using the motorized controls. The steering wheel is stylishly finished in two tone leather, with a nice thick and solid tactile feel, with contours designed to give the driver’s hands a natural place to grasp it.

The longer wheelbase (2.4 inches / 6.1 cm) has yielded an additional 5.3 cm (2.1 inches) of leg room for rear seat passengers, although entry and exit can be somewhat tricky due to the aforementioned roofline. My advice to adults that sit back there is to mind your head getting in and out.

The rest of the interior had a similar feeling of quality and smooth operation. The centre console has quite an array of buttons and knobs on it, which seemed a little daunting at first. They are, however, laid out in a logical manner and everything worked well.

The main instrument cluster features two large, round analogue gauges (speedometer and RPM) backlit in a tasteful silver hue, inset with LED readings for the odometer, trip, outside temperature and time.

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The middle of the dash above the centre console houses a 7-inch LCD screen that displays the optional navigation system (absent on my tester), along with a wide variety of settings for the stereo, satellite radio, climate controls and many other car settings. The system also features USB and 3 mm jack plug-ins for MP3 players and is Bluetooth enabled to allow for hands-free phone calls.

In short, it’s the sort of system one could spend hours playing with, as it offers levels of customization that seemed previously unimaginable (at least to me).

The car also features all of Volvo’s latest and greatest safety and collision avoidance gadgetry.

In addition to the usual stuff like ABS and Advanced Stability Control, my tester was also equipped with the Driver Support Package which, for $4,500, includes the Driver Alert System, the Blind Spot Information System (the most useful of the bunch, in my view), Park Assist Front and Rear and the ACC & Collision Warning with full Auto Brake.

Yes, that last one means the car will stop itself if you’re about to accidentally mow down a pedestrian at a crosswalk.

2011_Volvo_S60_6First, the car will flash a red light onto the windshield and beep loudly to warn the driver. If the driver doesn’t respond in time, the system will apply the brakes to stop the car to prevent the collision. At this point, it only works at low speeds (up to 35 km/h). At higher speeds, the system reduces the vehicle’s speed prior to impact but will not bring the car to a full stop.

This feature is the big headline-grabber in terms of new safety technology available on this car, but not the one I was most impressed with.

BLIS (Blind Spot Information System) is the one safety aspect of the S60 I would immediately transfer to my car, simply because it’s so handy for commuting on crowded highways. Sensors mounted in the side mirrors detect other vehicles that are hovering in the S60’s blind spot and illuminates orange warning lights in the corner window trim on both the driver and passenger side.

During my back and forth commute to work, those lights came on constantly and were a great benefit for navigating the clogged roads of Greater Toronto safely.

All of these systems can be turned off with a push of a button on the centre console, but given the various obstacles thrown in drivers’ paths these days, leaving them on is definitely a wise choice.

Impressions

I thoroughly enjoyed the six days I spent in this car. Its driving dynamics are quite good and it’s a handsome car to boot.

It was comfortable to drive in all conditions on a variety of road surfaces, handled well, had plenty of acceleration when needed and got reasonably good fuel mileage (and doesn’t require premium gas).

The turbocharged inline six can easily pin the driver to his or her seat with a stab of the accelerator, but it hardly breaks a sweat doing so. I could hear pleasant sounds from the engine while it was going about its business in the quiet (but not silent) cabin, but it was never loud.

The suspension, with MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link set up in the rear, felt firm without being harsh but wasn’t willowy either – a good compromise overall. An adjustable suspension is available for an additional $1,200.

The S60 starts at $45,450 and tops out near $60,000 fully optioned out. It’s certainly not cheap by any standard, but not too pricey either when compared to offerings from its intended (German) competition.

With its slick marketing campaign Volvo is touting the S60 as its naughty model, and while its performance is much improved and it looks a lot better than the car it replaces, it’s still a Volvo: safe, reliable and, ultimately, sensible.

Looks like a winning combination.

2011 Volvo S60 T6 AWD
Price: $45,450
Price as tested: $52,435
Engine: 3.0L turbocharged inline 6 cylinder – 300 hp / 325 lbs.-ft. torque
Transmission: 6 speed automatic with all-wheel drive
Fuel Consumption (mfg):
City – 11.3L/100 km (18 mpg); Highway – 7.7L/100 km (26 mpg)
Performance (mfg): 0 – 100 km/h (60 mph) – 6.1 sec.

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